Parents frazzled by unexpectedly being quarantined at home with kids during the work week — OK, sure, there’s dark humor in the memes, but the reality has increased stress and tension at home related to school closures, economic anxiety and job loss.

During the first month of stay-at-home orders during the pandemic, the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline reported a 23% increase in calls and a 263% increase in texts compared to March 2019. Here’s another sobering statistic: NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, reports that the relapse and overdose rate has increased by 30% since March.

Even if you’re an experienced parent, you’ll add to your child-rearing toolkit in the free series of Active Parenting classes offered by Tawnee Johnson, Rim Country’s youth and family educator with Arizona Youth Partnership’s Starting Out Right program.

Due to COVID-19 social distancing precautions, classes that met in-person a year ago moved online via Zoom, and a new series begins at 6 p.m., Monday, Nov. 9 and continues Nov. 16, 23 and 30 (or mark your calendar for Tuesdays next month Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 22).

Participants earn more than parental coping skills; they also get free diapers and $20 Walmart gift cards.

Do the classes help? Just ask Caitlin. She participated along with her husband in the debut Active Parenting series in Payson in 2018 — and she returned for more the following year.

She’s a mom to one very rambunctious toddler and she does an amazing job with him.

“I am so grateful for Active Parenting: First Five Years. As a first-time parent, these classes have really helped. They are fun, enlightening, and educational. They have provided me with the tools I’ve needed to better myself as a parent. I keep going back to these classes not only because I learn something new every time, but to hear other parents’ experiences and share mine. It really does take a village and this class is my village.”

Join an online class

• Positive ways to set boundaries

• Balanced parenting style

• Nutrition plays a huge part in your child’s brain development

• Interaction and time spent with your child help with their brain development (be present in their lives)

• Setting up routines with your child helps them feel safe and secure

• Building a bond with your child

Johnson arranges these classes in Payson, Charlene Becker and Liz Mata in Globe and throughout Gila County for the Arizona Youth Partnership. Johnson, Mata and Becker are certified as instructors in the Active Parenting Program.

“What’s special about these classes is easy-to-follow instructions in the curriculum and the tools that provide help for parenting,” said Becker. “Of course, every parent has to grapple with discipline, and there are many great ideas on how to deal with temper tantrums. We teach routines and how that helps the child feel safe and secure. Nutrition is another subject we teach our parents and the importance of giving your child healthy choices. Early literacy is also a big part of the Active Parenting curriculum and school readiness,” she added.

Early development

Even experienced parents are surprised when told that a 1985 nationwide study confirmed that “the single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school.” Additional elements for success include:

• Having books in the home is twice as important as the father’s education level (Research in Social Stratification & Mobility)

• By age 2, children who are read to regularly display greater language comprehension, larger vocabularies, and higher cognitive skills than their peers.

Arizona Youth Partnership promotes reading to children, helping sign up families with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides a “book of the month club” for kids under age 5, and is totally free.

“We have class discussions on being present in your child’s life and ways to interact and bond with your children — one of the simplest is to put down the phone and play with your child.

“We go through an ages-and-stages questionnaire with parents to make sure children are meeting certain milestones, these can help a child having development issues — and we can offer resources and suggestions for the child to get extra help they might need,” Becker said.

Does it work?

Becker responded, “Here’s an example — we had a father who felt he was not bonded with his 2-year-old son, he told us that despite always being with his son, they did not get along. Our next class was about routines and spending time with your child; assigned homework after that lesson was to spend at least one hour a day playing with the child — and that did not mean sitting in the same room while you look at your phone or computer or video game while your child tries to find ways to entertain themselves. Instead, it’s getting on the floor and playing; taking your child outside or to the park.

“Part Two of that dad’s homework was to set up a bedtime routine and do the same thing every night before bed. We explain to parents that not only did they have to spend at least an hour with their children, they also had to eat healthy foods together as a family — and have a predictable, stable bedtime hour and routine.

“The following week I asked the parents if they did their homework and tried to set up a bedtime routine, the young father said that he did — he played with his son for an hour without any distractions, and by day three his son was getting excited about their time together, it ended up being more than an hour.

“Bedtime routine and changing the boy’s diet were still goals to achieve, but the bonding was amazing, with fewer temper tantrums — and I asked the father for his thoughts.

“He said his son was trying to communicate with him all this time, asking for him to pay more attention to him.

“After that conversation, you could see a lot of light bulbs going off. One parent commented that changing her daughter’s diet has actually changed her attitude. The first few days were hard, but by the end of the week, she was a happier child.

“As part of the bedtime routine they had to read a book to their child every night at the same time. By the end of the week the child would actually bring them the book to read; parents who apply lessons from the class report stronger bonding with their kids.”

Active Parenting: First Five Years classes are relatively new. Becker and her crew have reached more than 100 parents and caregivers of pre-school age kids since the program started in 2018. The Active Parenting program is brought to the community by First Things First and is part of the program called Starting Out Right, which also provides Healthy Pregnancy and Childbirth classes for teens and adults.

AZ Youth Partnership

Connect with Charlene, Tawnee and other instructors from the team at Arizona Youth Partnership online at to read more about how AZYP builds solid foundations for youth and families by partnering with Arizona communities to prevent and solve local issues such as substance abuse, youth homelessness, lack of educational opportunities, teen pregnancy, and challenging family dynamics.

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