14/08/2014 16:57 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 10:12 BST

Parenting Classes: Why We Shouldn't Be Afraid To Ask For Help

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Parenting classes

Parenting classes were offered to some of the inhabitants of Channel 4's Benefits Street this week – triggering another round of sneering at 'bad parents' and the 'nanny state'.

Twitter was full of comments such as "this is why you don't have children ‪#Sterilisation is the only answer ‪#benefitsstreet".

So why does the idea of parenting classes make so many people spit feathers? And why are we afraid to ask for help? Don't we all need parenting lessons from time to time?

Suzie Hayman is a trustee of Family Lives, the charity offering advice, support, online and real-life parenting classes.

She says: "There is still a terrible stigma. It's very unfortunate that parenting classes are still seen as something that are imposed on bad parents.

"There is this idea that what they're there for is to punish bad parents. There's also a misapprehension of what goes on in a parenting class. People have this idea that there's going to be someone standing in front of them waving a finger and saying 'you're a bad parent and I'm going to tell you what to do'.

"Nobody wants to be told they're a bad parent and nobody wants to be lectured. Parenting classes are nothing like that at all."

Yes, some parents may be sent to classes as part of a court order, but more and more are going of their own accord, to get help and advice with one of the most difficult jobs on the planet.

"We've had parents who say this has transformed their family because they feel so much more capable and confident," says Suzie.

Many of the volunteers who work for Family Lives have received help with their own families first and been inspired to help others.

"A lot of our volunteers have been there and done that, they're not standing there in judgement," says Suzie.

"There is this perception that if you go to parenting classes you're a bad parent. That couldn't be further from the truth. It's about saying, every parent comes under pressure - it's a hard job."

Family Lives runs sessions for parents going through all those different, glorious stages - whether they're caring for tiny babies and learning about attachment, eye contact and bonding, or needing help coping with stroppy, rebellious teenagers.

Suzie says parenting classes should be universal. "They should be offered to everybody," she says. "Every school should offer parents these classes. If we started offering them to every parent, word would soon spread about how good they were."

After all, she says, we take lessons in many other things in life – and what's more important than learning how to raise our children?

"We don't expect to drive a car without taking lessons and passing a test," she points out. "We don't have parenting tests – but we do have the learning.

"We want to say to people 'there's no shame in asking for help'. It's a sign of strength."

So what about the idea of compulsory parenting classes for all of us? Should we have to get a 'parenting licence'?

"I don't think it needs to be compulsory," says Suzie. "If they were offered to everyone, once people realised how useful these classes were, you wouldn't be able to stop people coming."

But the bottom line is, all this costs money. And there's precious little of that around at the moment, as we keep being told.

Suzie says we need to take a look at our priorities. "What do we spend money on?" she says.

"What do we think is important? How much money are we spending on children with behavioural problems, on divorce, on separation? We know that for every £1 spent on this, we're saving more than £5 further down the line.

"In the long run it saves a massive amount of money and a massive amount of unhappiness."

To find out where Family Lives runs parenting classes, click here.

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