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Need help with disruptive children? YMCA offers support group

Schools aren't the only ones dealing with disruptive behavior from children.

Bethany Pitts, after-school programs director at the Rogue Valley Family YMCA in Medford, says the stories she heard in a June 19 Mail Tribune article about violent outbursts in schools sounded all too familiar.

“Here at the Y we have really noticed the challenging behaviors and the increase,” she said.

Opinions vary on the best ways to mitigate children's misbehavior. School districts have focused on increasing student resources, adding the equivalent of five full-time positions to work in early intervention and eight full-time positions in psychological services next school year.

But the YMCA is focusing on a different group: parents.

The YMCA and behavioral health specialist Jennifer Henderson are launching a joint effort they believe will help mitigate the issues impacting classrooms and beyond. They worked with a Behavior Task Force of Y officials and other community members who spent two years searching for solutions by incorporating various perspectives, including those closest to the children themselves.

Come August, YMCA members will be able to attend a parent support group that will focus on “how the brain affects behavior,” said Henderson, a licensed professional counselor specializing in pediatrics. They hope to later open it to the public.

Pitts said the group will provide parents space to ask for help, share their stories and receive professional feedback on how to meet their children’s needs so they behave better in classroom and group settings.

Bringing in the parents "actually helps the child more because they are doing the same thing at home as they are at school, so it gives them that level field – so it’s not, this way at home, this way at school," Pitts said.

Henderson said it was her work with Jackson County Mental Health before she started her own practice that opened her eyes to the needs of children going unmet because of a lack of resources and professionals, she said. The support group will provide parents access to therapy she believes is effective for changing behaviors long-term.

“What I love about viewing change from a neuro-developmental place is it really creates a more humanistic understanding that’s pretty compassionate for everybody involved,” she said.

Henderson said the theories that passive parenting or a failure to harshly punish children are responsible for increasing poor behavior "just doesn’t fit if you test it.”

“We really want people to be thinking and managing behavior outside of the fear that somebody’s going to catch them and they have to just learn to be sneakier. We want them to internalize that here, this is not what I want so I’m going to stop doing it,” she said.

Working with parents is a part of school districts’ processes to help children as well. Both Pitts and Henderson said parents worry about being judged for their children’s behaviors and so sometimes don’t seek help.

“Usually the turnout isn’t as much as we’re hoping for,” Henderson said.

Childcare will be provided at the site, so kids can recreate under supervision in the Y while their parents talk. Weekly meetings will run from 6 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, beginning Aug. 1.

"My end goal is to truly help the struggle that families and children are having and letting them know that they're not alone," Pitts said. "And that you can use each other as resources."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

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