Parenting isn’t always easy and a program underway in Austin aims to give parents advice, resources and just plain ole support in raising children.

Erikson Institute is a graduate school for early childhood development and education. Through its Center for Children and Families, Erikson staff created parent cafes in two Austin schools where parents get together with others parents to share a meal and engage in candid conversations about the challenges of child rearing. The goal is to help parents understand what is developmentally going on with their children.

The cafes are hosted by a facilitator at DePriest Elementary School, 139 S. Parkside Ave. and Channing Childcare, 5701 W. Division St. The cafes are for parents of children age birth to 0-eight. Parents meet once a week at both schools however the Channing’s program is open to the public while DePriest is only for parents of whose children attend at the school. Channing’s program began in April this year while and DePriest opened a month later. Both schools are the first to offer the program in Austin.

“Parent cafes are a safe, warm, nurturing place where parents can come and talk about any kind of problem they are having with their child on a social and emotional level,” said Cassandra Ward, a staff clinician with Erikson Institute’s Center for Children and Families.

“It’s a way to help parents gain a better understanding for their child and have empathy for what their child may be experiencing,” she said added.

Workshop topics covered at the parent café vary, but often center on behavioral concerns like dealing with tantrums. Most parents dismiss tantrums as kids throwing a fit when they don’t get their way. But tantrums are much more than that.

Tantrums, said Ward explained, are children’s way of actually trying to communicate with parents because they don’t have the words to express how they are feeling. A tantrum could mean that the child is hungry, scared, frustrated, sleepy or distressed, Ward said.

“We help [parents] understand that a tantrum is not a tantrum,” Ward said. “There’s a reason why a child has a tantrum and it is because they are trying to communicate. As parents we become detectives to try to figure out why this child is having a tantrum so we can address their feelings.”

The workshops offer parents techniques to help calm the child or cope with the situation. And sometimes that is as simply as providing children with choices. If kids are throwing a tantrum because they didn’t get a toy or candy, parents should offer them something different, Ward said. Providing a choice helps build the child’s independence while giving them some control, she said noted.

Another technique is to acknowledge that the child is angry. It teaches the child to know what anger feels like and how to appropriately respond to it, Ward said. The biggest tip she can offer parents is to stay calm because kids ultimately mirror their parents’ behavior.

While these tips seem innate, Ward noted not all parent know this. Adults based their parenting skills on “how they were parented and what they learned as a child,” Ward said. “But sSometimes parents would use a response to the child that just makes the situation worse than what it is are interested in learning additional strategies as well.”

The key objective to the parent cafes is information. With the right information, parents are able to help their children develop mentally, learn good socialization skills and do well in school, Ward said, adding that it is all about being in tuned with one’s children.

“Sometimes there is so much stress going on, so much chaos, so much life going on happening that until [parents] sometimes just don’t see things the way [children] are seeing it,” she said. “So what we try to do ultimately is get parents to see life through the lens of their child.”

Ward hopes to expand the cafes to other Austin schools. The cafes are part of Austin Coming Together efforts to implement a consortium of care to foster early childhood development.

For more information contact Cassandra Ward at (312) 709-0508 or Sara Anderson at (312) 709-0954.