Family & Corrections Network


The Fourth North American Conference on the Family & Corrections

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October 10-12, 1993 Quebec City, Quebec, Canada



Une approche concrete a l'education des enfants: un atelier pour les detenus et leur famille

Lynne Ouderkirk
162 Border Rd., Concord, MA, 01742
(508) 369-7466

Cet article decrit un cours d'education familiale elabore par les services externes de la prison de Concord. La formation de moniteurs etait egalement parrainee par le Mount Auburn Hospital Prevention and Training Center, qui emploie l'auteur. Pour ce programme, on a beaucoup recours a des benevoles comme moniteurs et participants, ce qui se traduit par des perspectives differentes et une nouvelle forme d'echanges en prison. Le cours consiste en 6 seances, dont l'une est decrite plus en detail: Seance 4: discipline positive, solutions de rechange a la punition, regles et consequences, phases de developpement. Les reactions des detenus attestent la modification des attentes a l'egard des enfants et l'existence de meilleures relations.

The teaching of parenting skills is of particular necessity in the prison system if the cycle of low self esteem and negative behavior is to be broken. Many inmates have experienced neglect and abuse in their families of origin, leading to lack of self worth, poor communication skills, and extreme anger. Consequently, this legacy of ineffective parenting is passed on to the prisoners children. Due to the inability to communicate feelings, fragile self-esteem, and unhealthy expressions of anger and frustration, the parent deals out harsh and inconsistent punishment. This punishment, along with other humiliating actions, may produce resentment, fear, and rage in children. Research bears out that anti social behavior may stem from these feelings, and perpetuate criminal activity.

This workshop will present a parenting course which has been offered to male inmates, with family involvement during one of the sessions. This workshop will describe the goals, philosophy, topics, and specific activities included in the parenting course, which is based on an experiential format.

The "Positive Parenting" course was developed through Concord Prison Outreach, a service oriented volunteer organization which provides educational programs to prisoners. This organization has a steering committee with representatives from local churches and a synagogue, and offers a wide variety of courses. Inmates at one of the 2 Concord prisons requested a parenting course, so I met with community volunteers and inmates to plan and then develop a curriculum.

Development and training of leaders was also carried on under the sponsorship of the Mount Auburn Hospital Prevention and Training Center. Eventually I began to train volunteers to lead the course, and revised the curriculum through the Mount Auburn Hospital Prevention and Training Center, where I am employed. The curriculum, is now in a "user-friendly" format.

Next, I will explain the philosophy and purpose of the course. It is an educational workshop, based on the belief that everyone is valuable and we can learn from each other, given the opportunity to share and practice in a non-judgmental setting. Awareness of one's own beliefs and behavior as they impact children is a first step in being able to look at options in childrearing. There is no one perfect way to parent, but we can all learn more effective methods to build children's self-esteem, to communicate clearly, and to understand their feelings and our own.

Volunteers from the community participate in the course, as well as lead the course. The value of volunteers is enormous as they bring their perspectives and caring into the prisons.

The course consists of 6 sessions:

Session 1:

Your Parenting Background

Your Strengths as a Parent

Your Goals for the Course

Session 2:

Self Esteem

Session 3:


Alternatives to Punishment

Rules and Consequences

Developmental Stages

Session 5:

Gaining Cooperating

Helping an Upset Child

Session 6:

Families and Addiction

In the first course, families gathered at the end for a potluck supper, and inmate role plays on what they had learned. We are currently working on integrating participation of caretakers and children for at least 2 sessions.

I would like to have you learn more about the Positive Parenting course by participating in some activities from the session on discipline:


Brainstorm three lists:

What would your parents say discipline is?

What would you say discipline is?

How did you feel about the way you were disciplined?

Discipline is: (on newsprint)

-teaching, guiding, helping children learn

-telling, explaining, or showing what to do and how to do it

-a skill which can be learned by parents

-providing ways for children to make amends

-encouraging children to try again

-unconditional love plus fair limits

Discipline isn't: (on newsprint)

-making a child obey by using power over him/her

-spanking, hitting (discuss -- see handout on hitting)

-yelling, threatening

-taking away, depriving of basic needs, withdrawing love

These things are punishment. They cause rage, fear and revenge fantasies in children. They don't provide for ways to do better, to make amends, or to learn right from wrong.

Punishment causes:






What are some positive ways to discipline? (If this is difficult, come up with some scenarios, and give positive discipline methods, you can use "Conflict in the Supermarket."

Rules: Important to have some rules so that a child has limits, feels safe. Rules guide, instruct, set limits. They protect self, others, and property.

Non-negotiable rules are made by parents and children together. They talk over ideas, and decide on the rules together. As children get older, there are more of these.

Consequences: What happens as a result of breaking rules, or as a result of behavior. (If you don't go to class, you fail.) Logical consequences are imposed by others if natural consequences take too long, aren't working well, or are very inconvenient to the rest of the family. They should be related directly to the rule broken or the situation (i.e. getting a speeding ticket means not having the car for a week.)

Note that young children "misbehave" because they're tired, hungry, curious, uncoordinated, trying to be helpful, don't know or understand, or are trying to get their needs met. They aren't usually trying to be bad.


1. State your expectations: "I expect my tools to be put back after they've been borrowed."

2. Express your feelings strongly (without attacking the person): "I'm furious that my new hammer was left outside to rust in the rain."

3. Point out a way to be helpful: "You can pick out one kind of cereal to put in the shopping cart."

4. Show child how to make amends: "What this hammer needs is some steel wool and your strong arm!"

5. Give a choice: "You can borrow my tools and put them back, or give up the privilege of using them. You decide."

6. Take action: "No, you may not run around the store. You must sit in the shopping cart."

7. Let child experience the consequences: "Why is the tool box locked, Dad?" "You tell me why."

Role play cartoon situations. Then, if time allows, do a few using scenarios from the group.

Remember to separate the doer from the deed; replace "bad boy" with "bad choice". Replace "good girl" with "good job". But always give love without conditions. Say "I love you" not "I love you because of what you've done, accomplished, etc."

Outcomes of the course have been largely determined by comments and anecdotes from inmates. The most consistent comments have been in regard to changes in the expectations of their children through better understanding of age-appropriate behavior, and of their own feelings of anger and frustration. Learning to communicate using "I-statements" had also produced better relationships in which needs are met and understanding is reached more often. The session on discipline has allowed many inmates to consider using less harsh, abusive punishment, and substitute teaching and setting limits with love.

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