Parenthood can be rugged, notes Donna McIntyre, but quality practical advice smoothes out the rough bits.

When my husband and I signed up for a course on parenting teens, we were keen but also apprehensive. Would we be in a room of tut-tutting parents who were doing everything "right" while our kids sometimes tested the limits?

Within minutes of the first session our fears abated. The facilitator put us at ease and we realised our sometimes chaotic family life wasn't much different from that of the others on the course.

It was a judgment-free zone with lots of encouragement and we learned helpful techniques on communicating with our kids, creating a happier atmosphere at home and coping with the challenges parenthood throws at us.

The only bone I have to pick with our lovely facilitator is the increased size of our grocery bill. Instead of our boys spending time at other parents' places, they stay at home more now and regularly rock up with a bunch of friends to "chill" at ours. (I'm joking ... the cost of a few extra groceries is a price we willingly pay for an improved family life.) Here's a sample of the range of parents' courses available:


West Auckland Parents Centre: The core business for this Waitakere organisation is from parents of under 3-year-olds, but some courses are appropriate for parents with children aged up to 8 years.

Anna Edlington, who handles course bookings, says, "They start with Childbirth Education. Our next courses are called Baby and You, Moving and Munching, Tinies to Tots and Terrific Toddlers. These courses are all age/stage specific. Our conscious parenting courses - Parenting with Purpose and Magic Moments - are not so much stage-specific but look at parenting styles."

Ph: (09) 837 8481.

SKIP: Short for Strategies with Kids, Information for Parents, these workshops are a Ministry of Social Development initiative based on research into discipline and guidance of children, run through community organisations.

Rochelle Carr runs the workshops at the Auckland Women's Centre and, in West Auckland, where there is a high population of solo parents, workshop content has a focus on single mums with children 0-5 years. "We cover styles of parenting and principles of effective discipline. A free creche and morning tea are provided. And we have time for 'hearing and sharing' stories. We can weave SKIP philosophy and strategies into these to enhance day-to-day parenting."

Ph: (09) 376-3227 ext 203

Parents Inc: This organisation is familiar to many parents, especially their toolboxes for different ages. Senior presenter John Cowan says, "Competent parents appreciate being affirmed and encouraged in what they are doing and, invariably, they gain new insights and learn techniques to add to their store of knowledge. Of course, the most dramatic feedback comes from parents who have had setbacks and difficulties. Many get excited about how simple techniques can empower them and make family life easier and happier."

Ph: 0800 535 659.

Parenting Through Separation: A Ministry of Justice initiative run by various counselling agencies, this course covers what separation is like for children, how to talk with ex-partners about arrangements, how to keep children away from arguments and how the Family Court works.

Muriel Castelino runs the course for Home and Family Counselling in Auckland's Mt Eden. "It also covers how children of different ages are affected by their parents separating," she says. "It shows them the signs to look out for, if a child is depressed or acting out at school. And it answers questions from parents about access and contact."

Ph: 0800 211 211.