A Parenting Course? How dare you!

Today marks the first column from Angela Kelly one of our four new columnists. The parent of two special needs sons and a trainee psychologist as well, Angela is Tania's 'co' in co-chair at Surrey's parent carer forum.

Her first column is about parenting courses, and what it feels like to be offered one...


‘There are parenting courses available’...The words slipping from the lips of a well meaning practitioner may fill you with anger, shock, surprise or even outrage. Why on earth would they suggest YOU go on a parenting course? How dare they and how utterly ridiculous!

Of course, not everyone feels like this, but in my experience of working with parents -  and my own reaction when I was offered one in the early days of special needs parenting –  I know it’s pretty common. For parents to feel this way.angkids3-copy

But why do we react to such a suggestion so negatively?  JI think the answer is we feel we’ve been judged and found wanting. When you’re already vulnerable, you can feel like you’re  not being a ‘good enough’ parent, and have a sense of injustice and unfairness: after all you know your child better than any professional, right?

It may also spark feelings of guilt that your ‘bad’ parenting has contributed to your child’s problems.

Reflect on the negatives and positives

This is where I think it is time to stop, think and take stock. While you may be experiencing any or all of the above emotions and reactions, try to remember that no one expects you to know everything about special needs parenting and to see this as an opportunity to learn a few new tricks of the trade that would bring further benefits to your child.

If looked at objectively, we sign up for courses, workshops and lessons in all sorts of things throughout our lives: Driving lessons, sports coaching, induction and on-the-job training. We might even choose to attend college or adult learning to learn or improve other skills.  Why should parenting be any different?

When it comes to our children however, our most precious gift, we react emotionally rather than rationally and even perhaps become a little defensive.  But when you think about it, aren’t they worth learning more about? For example their diagnosis, the future effects of the condition, learn different ways to relate and use all of the available information and tips. It’s also an opportunity to speak to other parents in a similar situation and realise you are not alone, to find a support group to keep the connections ongoing, or have the courage to set up your own.

My Experience

When my younger son, Monty, was diagnosed, I was desperate for any help and welcomed the change of attending an NAS Early Bird Autism class, and I think the fact it wasn’t described as a ‘parenting class’ helped (although this is in effect what it is).

However with my eldest son Edward, who was diagnosed later, I was horrified that CAMHS when suggest a parenting course. On reflection, this was because I didn’t feel my concerns were taken seriously. There I was, trying to explain that my child’s behaviour was  becoming problematic both at school and at home, and they offered me a parenting course! I was livid!

I decided though, that we were unlikely to get further help until we had jumped through the hoops, so I went along.  It was a generic parenting course, not targeted at children with special needs and I felt much of the content was irrelevant, but I did end up learning about my methods of relating that could potentially improve things at home. I also met some parents who were in a similar situation, so it was well worth going along

Where can I find out about parenting courses?

To find out about general or specialist parenting courses, you can try contacting one or more of the following:

  •  Your local Children’s Centre. Often they host support groups and can give you lots of information.
  • Your local Parent Partnership Service.
  • Your GP
  • Your area's parent-carer forum
  • Ask your school’s SENCo
  • Your area’s Family Information Service
  • CAMHS – they usually have a website and an email newsletter you can sign up to.
  • If your child has a recognised condition such as autism, contact the relevant national charity who should be able to put you in touch with any local branches.
  • Parent Champion Community This is a paid for service that has a 2013 half-price offer however there is a free lower level of service as well which you can sign up for.
  • The CANparent Classes and Advice Network brings together 12 organisations who are experienced in running parenting classes and offering support to families. They have been specifically chosen because they have a track record in delivering classes that work.  They have a voucher for classes in some areas of the country ad links to find a local parenting class.
  • Parentchannel.tv is an online service designed to support and encourage parents and carers of children aged 0-19, with a collection of videos addressing day-to-day questions and concerns spanning wellbeing, behaviour and learning. Supported by the DfE
  • Contact a Family is the only national charity that exists to support the families of disabled children whatever their condition or disability.
  • NetMums has an online parenting course
  • Mumsnet always has lots of advice about parenting

What's your experience of parenting courses?


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Jane Cross (@BehaviourA)

I run ‘parenting’ courses sometimes myself, but never call them this. Just calling them Parent Support sessions changes everything.More equal power dynamic, with everyone sharing problems and working on solutions together.

Tania Tirraoro

Thanks for your comment Jane, I’d love to hear more about your experiences running them and the benefits, maybe in a guest post? Tania

Angela Kelly

Hi Jane, Thank you for your comment, I think parenting support sessions is a far better description. It doesn’t feel judgemental in any way, I sense it involves parents in a much fairer way with more succesful outcomes.


I went to a group which used The Nurturing Programme. Although not specifically designed for SEN kids, we were all mothers of SEN kids and it was run through the special school. What made it so good was that we were not *told* anything. We were given things to discuss and followed pointers along the way and things to try. Also the two leaders were active in the process – they weren’t ‘experts’, just parents like us – warts and all. It was a wonderful experience and a great group of ladies. I would highly recommend The Nurturing Programme. Four… Read more »

Tania Tirraoro

Brilliant, thanks for the link. If you wish, please do submit it to out new resources directory!


I have done. I hope it worked.

Tania Tirraoro

Thanks, it did, hurrah!

Angela Kelly

I love the name, Nurturing Programme and have had a look at the website, what a great way to encourage parents to learn more about themselves and their children. I really like the term ‘build on pre-existing parenting skills’ Its very supportive. Is this programme available nationally?


My husband went on a parenting course and found it not only beneficial for our special needs son but for our other children also. He learnt so much about communication skills and then passed them onto me too. We would highly recommend these types of courses for any parent. It certainly can’t do any harm.


I was sent on one because I dared to ask for my son to be given a place in a special needs class, I din’t learn anything I didn’t already know but I saw how distressed some parents were and that they were not receiving the kind of supports that they needed. The health care professional I was dealing with was not helping me and my family but helping herself to a defense, it was paper file manipulation.

Angela Kelly

Hi Polly, yes this is a similiar story to some I have heard previously and sadly doesn’t help you or your situation. Were you able to source any other help for you or your son? We had a similiar experience a few years ago and had no idea how or who to complain to either. In theses instances I would now look to my local Parent Carer Forum or Parent Partnership service to see what help and advice they could offer.


I think it should be thought of more as parenting support. Another benefit is that you often meet parents in similar positions who feel similarly to you.