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SANTA FE - After attending three months of parenting classes for teenage mothers in Santa Fe, Jennifer Hermosillo, 18, said she learned to take better care of herself for her baby's sake.
"If I don't take care of myself, I won't have the energy to be a good mom," said Hermosillo, who has a 2-year-old son. "I try to get people I trust to baby-sit more now so I can go out and have a good time and get away from the stress. I felt guilty about that before, but the class taught me that it's OK."
Classmate Shawntae Barela, 17, said learning to satisfy her own needs was a welcome relief.
I get so tired sometimes, but I wouldn't ask for help," said Barela, who has a 6-month-old girl. "Now when I need to rest, I ask my boyfriend to help."
The class is part of New Mexico State University's Strengthening Families Initiative, a nationally recognized program that teaches parents healthy ways to raise children while encouraging them to take better care of themselves and their kids.
"Many parenting programs just teach about what you're doing wrong or right, but we take a different approach," said Noreen Romero, a parenting educator with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service who helped teach the class for teenagers at the Career Academy GRADS Program in Santa Fe. "We believe that before you can really nurture another person, you need to nurture yourself. By taking care of your own needs, you're more capable of being a nurturing, caring person with your child."
The program began in Santa Fe in January, starting with classes for teenage parents and pregnant teens at the Career Academy. A class for incarcerated mothers recovering from substance abuse will begin this month at the Santa Fe County jail. A class for incarcerated fathers will begin in July at the state penitentiary.
The program is free and open to anyone in a parenting role, including single parents, expectant parents, grandparents and other caregiving relatives. However, program coordinators particularly reach out to high-risk parents, such as incarcerated mothers and fathers, teen parents and parents referred by social services.
"Any person who is a parent can benefit from this program," said Lisa Garcia, another parenting educator in Santa Fe. "We have specific messages for teen parents and recovering addicts, but we use a universal parenting curriculum that applies to everybody."
Classes run from three to six months. Parents meet weekly for two-and-one-half hours.
The first half of each class focuses on parents' issues, such as handling stress and anger, communication skills, healthy relationships and substance abuse. Educators also review life skills, such as goal setting and money management, and nutrition issues such as food safety, stretching food dollars and healthy eating.
The second half focuses on nurturing children, including information about child development, positive discipline techniques, family rules and establishing routines.
Nancy Solis, 18, said the Career Academy class taught her ways to discipline her 2-year-old son, Yovanie, without spanking him.
"I've learned it's not necessary to spank my child," Solis said. "I can resolve problems by talking with him about what he's doing wrong."
She also learned the power of praise. "I trained my son to use the potty by praising him every time he went to the bathroom by himself," Solis said. "When he puts on his jacket by himself, or if he picks up his toys, I tell him I'm proud of him for doing it."
Cassie Read, who gave birth to a girl in mid-March, said the prenatal class helped prepare her for parenting.
"I learned about a baby's needs and ways to figure out what's wrong if my baby cries," said Read, who lives with her parents. "When she cries, I pick her up, even though my mom says that will spoil her. I've learned you can't spoil a child by loving her."
There are specially designed lessons for parents with children 5 to 11, and for parents of adolescents. Parents are encouraged to bring their children to the program.
"It works best if we involve the whole family," Romero said.
While the parents meet, children participate in a separate class where they play educational games that teach about feelings and getting along with others. At the end of each class, children and adults come together for family nurturing time, which includes a healthy snack and a fun parent-child activity.
Classes are available in English and Spanish. For more information, or to enroll in a class, call Romero or Garcia at (505) 471-4711.
© 2013 New Mexico State University Board of Regents
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