FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- There are thousands of books and videos on the market that claim to teach parents and caregivers how to change their children's behavior. Several Soldiers and Family Members agreed to try a different approach and learn how to change themselves during a ScreamFree Parenting class Tuesday and Wednesday at Army Community Service.

The course, which is facilitated by ACS's Family Advocacy Program, is a program that licensed marital and family therapist Hal Runkel created to help parents build and improve their parenting skills.

For the past few years, Runkel and his team have traveled to different military installations to train Family Advocacy Program personnel, chaplains and family readiness organizations to teach the ScreamFree Parenting course, according to Sue Pappas, FAP educator.

"(Hal Runkel) prepared these DVDs … and we are here to help facilitate a discussion," she said.
"Unfortunately, there's a high percentage of domestic violence and child abuse cases (in society). I feel the Army is being very aggressive about (abuse) and is trying to give parents the strategies to reduce (it).

"This particular program shares the philosophy that you don't have to do everything for your child," Pappas added. "You need to let them make mistakes, but you also have to control yourself and stay calm, cool and connected."

Participants receive a workbook to complete while Runkel explains several principles that he claims are key in successful parenting. One of the most important principles is the ability to understand that parenting isn't about changing a child's behavior; it's about a parent's ability to control his or her reaction to the behavior.

Being "scream free" means not yelling, but it also means parents shouldn't be disconnected or ignore a situation, Runkel said.

Portraying a calm demeanor can make a big difference on how children will react in certain situations, because children and teenagers need their parents to be in control of the situation and their emotions, Pappas explained.

"When we get stressed out, that seems to be when our children exhibit behaviors that we're not happy about," she said.

Another principle of ScreamFree Parenting is allowing children to make choices rather than commanding them to do something.

Many parents have the tendency to want to own their children's decisions rather than letting their children make their own choices, Pappas said.

"Parents want to cure all their ills because they don't want their children to get hurt," she added. "(However), children should learn that there are logical and natural consequences (to their negative choices)."

Dani'el Thompson-Reed, another FAP educator assisting with the course, agreed.

"Let kids make their own mistakes; owning their mistakes teaches them independence," she said, adding that giving children independence also means parents should give their children age-appropriate choices.

In addition to a certificate, participants also receive ScreamFree Parenting DVDs and a copy of Runkel's book to help parents continue practicing at home.

"Changes don't happen overnight; it takes time and practice," Pappas said.

Melanie Martin, a military spouse with a 3-year-old son, said she wanted to attend the class because there's always room to grow as a parent.

"You can only learn so much by sitting at home reading a book," she said. "I just feel like I question myself as a parent sometimes, and it's always nice to have a little more tools in your box. I'm enjoying the class."

Even though her son, Caleb, is only a toddler, Martin said she has learned ways she can help him learn independence and give him choices.

Pappas said she has worked at Fort Drum for only three months. Although she's an experienced parent educator, she said her mind has been completely opened to all the challenges military Families face.

"I thought I knew a lot about what military Families go through, but this has really opened my eyes," she said.

The next ScreamFree Parenting class is being planned for February or March. Free child care is provided for children registered with Child, Youth and School Services. Those interested in child care must provide advance notice to FAP.

For more information about ScreamFree Parenting, call 772-4244.