Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Holy Child Program in West Bank Does Incredible Years Work to Instill Hope
Blog # 11

Today was the day I had been really looking forward to on this trip because I had been invited to visit a school in West Bank that was using the Incredible Years Parents, Teachers and Child Programs. Diane, a truly amazing and dynamic social worker, has single handedly introduced the IY programs to the Holy Child School. I first met Diane three years ago when she came for two of my parent and teacher training workshops in Seattle. As soon as she told me what she intended to accomplish in West Bank I knew I wanted to visit her and see first hand how our programs could work in a different culture, religion and language context. While I had seen successful delivery of my programs in countries such as Norway, UK, New Zealand and Denmark where there is substantial government support, in this case the program delivery is entirely dependent on donations for annual operating costs.  The Holy Child Program is a service of the Bethlehem Holy Child Program Corporation. The beliefs and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church provide the framework within which the services are offered even though the majority of the children are Muslim. The school’s goal is to provide an alternative education for children who suffer from untreated complex mental health issues and exposure to intergenerational trauma. It provides individualized programs for each child and seeks to highlight a rich cultural heritage and partnerships with local providers. The program is certified by the Palestinian Ministry of Education.

After researching evidence-based treatment programs for children with social and emotional problems, Diane chose the Incredible Years Programs to deliver at this school. She began this effort by training the preschool and primary grade teachers of student’s ages 4-12 years the IY Classroom Management Program. She met with the teachers for 4-6 hour workshops weekly for 9 months and additionally coached them in their classrooms. While the teachers initially found many of the child management strategies and principles foreign and difficult, as they tried to use them they began to see positive changes in their students’ emotional regulation as well as their academic learning.  Because of the teachers’ openness and willingness to try new teaching methods, next Diane introduced them to the IY Child Dinosaur School program integrating aspects of the child small group treatment model and prevention model. All of Diane’s training was done with the assistance of an Arabic interpreter who was also the academic administrator. The teachers worked together as a team to incorporate all aspects of IY emotional, social and persistence coaching, praise and incentives during their academic teaching.

Incredible Years Teacher and Child Programs

Preschool Teachers
Diane and I successfully crossed the border into West Bank showing our passports. 

Primary Grade Teacher
On my first day at the school I visited all 6 classrooms that had a ratio of 5 students per teacher. Wally Problem Solver, my puppet dressed in the school uniform came with me to the classrooms to talk about his injured arm, find out what the children had learned about emotional regulation and compliment the students for their focused work activities. I noticed that all the classrooms had the IY rules pictures, show me five posters, feeling cue cards and calm down thermometers on their walls as well as small chip bags for children to earn rewards.  The posters and cue cards all had Arabic translations added to the English words. 

The children seemed well behaved, were polite and delighted to hear Wally talk in English. 

Girl explains calm down thermometer
In one classroom a girl demonstrated for me in Arabic the calm down strategies and acted out each step of going from being hot and angry to taking deep breaths and thinking happy thoughts. As she brought the arrow down on the calm down thermometer into cool blue, her facial expression changed from anger and fear to happiness.  At the end of the school day, before the children went home they participated in Dinosaur school circle time. 

The children from all the classrooms joined together for this event. They sang Dina’s feelings songs and yelled out the emotion words in both Arabic and English. They played the “pass the hat game” and when the music was stopped the child holding the hat pulled out a question that presented a problem scenario asking them to name how the character felt. They cheered each other as they came up with the answers. I noticed that all the children were actively engaged and involved in this circle time. While one teacher led the games, another teacher was enthusiastically passing out stickers for responses and the third teacher was running the Dina music CD. They ended the session by singing one of Dina’s feeling songs in English! I thought perhaps I could be hallucinating or dreaming ~ was this really happening?

Incredible Years Parent Groups

On both days at the school I attended two IY parent groups. The first group was led by three group leaders including Diane herself, Suzanne, a Palestinian and school academic administrator, and Hanni, a Swiss nurse married to a Palestinian and fluent in Arabic. 

Number One Mothers Group

On this day there were 9 foster parents (typically there are 12) and I Iearned that each of them cared for10 foster children in their homes. These women are employed by an organization called Save Our Children (SOS). They called themselves Number One Mothers Group in the Middle East and wore a crown sticker as the symbol of their group. They all wore hijabs (scarfs) and one wore a full burka and she pushed up the veil once she was in the privacy of the room. 
The group seems completely engaged in watching the video even though it was in English. Diane pauses the vignette frequently for translation and to explore the women’s ideas of how to handle this disrespectful behavior.  They practice the strategy of adding on time and warning about privilege removal and consequences and seem to love these role-play practices. They also seem to understand the difference between punishment and effective discipline and the value of a proactive approach. There is much laughter, sharing and replay of how to respond to misbehavior. Diane and Suzanne help them talk about how to stay calm, be patient and avoid attention to misbehavior and emphasize the importance of returning to the base of the parenting pyramid. I am so impressed with these parents’ understanding of the theory behind these methods especially when they began to talk about how important it was that they keep trying to build strong relationships with these children who had previously experienced trauma, abandonment and neglect.  The foster parents seem relaxed with each other and proud of their successes using the IY principles.  The 3 group leaders are collaborative, caring, enthusiastic and continually prompt the parents’ problem solving ability by testing their understanding of which parenting tools are best to use for particular situations. I learn that this group had been meeting together for 2 hours weekly for 3 years and had recently increased their meetings to twice a week!  They talk about not wanting the group to end ~ and it is clear they are clearly a support group for each other.  I can’t imagine the stress involved in caring for 10 children with special needs alone ~ this support seems more than essential.

The second day John goes with me to the school and is given a tour of Bethlehem while I met the 2nd group who call themselves the Butterflies. They consist of 5 parents who have children in the Holy Child School. 

Three of the women are Palestinian; one a Bedouin and one a woman previously from Texas who had married a Palestinian man. They have been meeting for 18 months and on this day they began by discussing their experience using the ignore parenting strategy. 

Four of the women tell stories of their successes and seem delighted and proud to share how they have used this parenting tool. One woman says her children are argumentative with each other and she finds this difficult to ignore. This results in a role play practice where the mother practices the ignore and distract strategy, an idea she has learned from one of the other mother’s stories of her successful ignore experience. In this practice I am her angel whispering in her ear positive self-talk while Honnie and Diane argue with each other.  Afterwards the mother says she feels confident enough to try this at home.  These parents attend regularly and rarely miss a session and are clearly supportive to each other.  They have moved through the program material faster than the first group and will likely finish in this 2nd year. One mother talks about wanting to train other day care providers in these ideas. Diane tells me that other parents in the community having heard about the parenting program have been requesting to participate. It seems there may be some potential future local group leaders who will emerge from this group ~ that is exciting in terms of future sustainability. Watching this group was an amazing experience, the parents seemed to have mastered the basic principles of behavior management and relationship building and were praising each other’s efforts. The group leaders clearly are doing incredible work.

On the 2nd day I see the dinosaur ceremony where the children who have completed their dinosaur homework get their Triceratops badges for completing the Triceratops feeling unit. They are excited to receive these awards and Dina Dinosaur and I have the special privilege of leading them in a feeling song at the end of the ceremony. Of course I wish I (or Dina) could speak Arabic. This is clearly one of the highlights of my life to see these children tell me about feeling proud, happy, excited as well as frustrated and angry at times. Afterwards the teacher and staff prepare a lunch for John and I. The salad comes from the school garden that the children help tend and we have a delicious chicken with rice, coffee and fruit desert. Yes I must be in heaven ~ not believing what I am seeing and experiencing. This school has incredible teamwork bridging the connections between home, school and community and I wish I could come back here to work with them.  Not only that but this is the story of what one charismatic person ~ that is, Diane ~ has been able to accomplish by partnering with a small group of committed professionals and parents to sew the seeds of hope for future peace.

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