How Siler City Elementary helps Latino parents connect with their children

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“Because I said so,” is a response that many people grew up hearing from their parents. Although the phrase frequents households nationwide, a Costa Rican psychologist informed parents at Siler City Elementary School why this answer is detrimental for children.

SCE hosted its fifth meeting for the Latino Parents School on March 5. SCE’s Community Outreach Committee created the program in October 2018 to inform Latino parents about the North Carolina education system. The school’s student population is over 62 percent Latino, according to school records, and most of the parents are immigrants.

Monthly sessions have focused on providing parents with tools to help their children excel in school—for example, tutoring methods and understanding report cards and standardized test scores. However, psychologist Marco Camareno spoke at the March meeting about facilitating communication between parents and children.

“Communication has three components: what I think, what I do and what I feel,” said Camareno, who has a daughter in fourth grade at SCE. “As a parent, if I only worry about saying the right thing but I don’t pay attention to what my child feels, I’m not communicating in the best way.”

Camareno asked the seven parents who attended what their children say when they give them a new rule. One mother answered, “why?” to which the others commented was the same in their homes.

“How do we respond?” asked Camareno.

“Because I said so,” the mother said.

A 2015 study from the University of Texas at Austin found that Latino children are more at risk for anxiety and depression because of parenting styles common in Latino households. In general, the culture emphasizes obedience and respect, especially for authority figures.

“A lot of times what happens is we say things because we understand them, but we aren’t considering whether or not our children understand the message in the same way,” Camareno said. “The important thing in this situation is to speak at the level of your child… Asking ‘why,’ means they’re thinking, and our children deserve a real answer from us.”

The psychologist asked attendees why many parents often feel like they’re “talking to the wall.” One mother offered that most of the time, parents yell from across the house instead of communicating face-to-face with their children.

Camareno also talked about offering quality time with children as incentives for good behavior instead of common rewards like tablets or television time. For example, if a child enjoys listening to stories before bed, an incentive or treat could be extra stories.

Both Camareno and Community Outreach Committee member Alirio Estevez said that they wished more parents were attending the Latino Parents School. When registration opened in August 2018, 30 parents signed up. The best attendance they’ve had so far has been 15 parents.

“I want to make sure [the same number of parents who signed up come] so we can help them learn how school works, how they can help, how they can advocate for their children,” said Estevez, also an ESL teacher at SCE. “Hopefully we’ll do better next year.”

Estevez said that parents have expressed issues with conflicting work schedules or lack of transportation that prevent them from attending the meetings, which take place at 5:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month.

Camareno said he believes that a hindrance could be that some parents aren’t accustomed to the structure of school anymore. He said that the same methods for improving communication can be employed for attending the sessions.

“Developing a habit isn’t easy,” Camareno said. “You have to be consistent, you have to have patience, and above all you have to have a clear idea of what it is you want to accomplish.”

The next meeting will be on April 6, and the school’s PTA will talk to parents about how to be more involved.

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