CHHS launches program to foster healthy family communication

A unique program is helping families learn, while the students teaching them are learning about families.

Working with Changing Children’s Worlds Foundation, and using funds from through the NIU Foundation, NIU faculty and students are facilitating an international Parent-Child Relationship Development Program in DeKalb. Families gather weekly at a DeKalb elementary school to participate in the program whose goal is to improve family relationships and build stronger communities.

NIU communicative disorders students engage the children in activities while graduate speech-language-pathology students work with the children’s caregivers. But the program isn’t about speech and language skills or communicative disorders per se. It’s about helping families communicate.

“Parents gain positive interaction skills, but also they start networking with other parents,” said Patricia Tattersall, NIU Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) associate professor and one of the program’s facilitators.

One of the program’s goals is to help parents have more positive communications with their children in difficult times. “Children can be challenging, whether or not they have disabilities. Parents are seeking a way to improve their home environment,” Tattersall said.

Gwendolyn Brooks Elementary School in DeKalb was invited to partner in the program, and the principal, Brooke Condon, felt that it could enhance their school community. “With stronger families, children will feel respected, grow socially, and improve academically,” Tattersall said.

Weekly meetings begin with a shared meal before children and parents divide into their separate groups. The children, who work under the undergraduate students’ supervision, participate in activities and play that coincides with the skills and tools their parents are learning through their work with the graduate students. Activities and role play provide a format for the parents to discuss managing difficult situations based on guidelines for good interaction.

“The weekly sessions are set up in a way for parents to come together in a safe environment to share stories, ideas, and confide in one another,” said Kate Roe, an NIU SLP graduate student working with the DeKalb program.

“As a speech-language pathologist, it’s our responsibility to not only provide services to our patients but to also support families/caregivers by addressing their priorities and concerns,” said Megan Haduch, another NIU SLP graduate-student facilitator.

The initiative has been a win-win so far, Tattersall said.

“The NIU students are benefiting from this engaged learning, and the families who are attending the program appear to be having a very positive experience,” she said. “The hope is, if we help change the world of one family, they may go on to pay it forward by bettering their community.”

The program will continue at Brooks Elementary through the end of the school year with another starting in the school district in the fall. Contact Tattersall for more information at ptattersall@niu.edu.

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