If a young woman has bounced from foster home to foster home and had no strong mother role models, it’s likely she may have difficulty when she becomes one herself. If she has witnessed or experienced abuse, things may be even worse. That’s why a new program has been introduced to a group of Independent Living Services clients who have young children.
Parents Interacting with Infants, or PIWI, teaches the young women how to nurture their infants and toddlers, how to observe and learn things from the way the babies act, basically how to be a good mother.
“The emphasis is on nurturing and bonding,” said ILS Supervisor Jane Ottow. “It’s an opportunity for our mom-clients to learn about attachment, babies’ cues, basic parenting skills. Its principles are closely related to trauma informed care.”
The goals of PIWI, which is run by the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental health, include promoting babies’ social and emotional development through interaction with their mothers and breaking the cycle of violence.
Funded with a $10,000 grant from the Children’s Trust Fund, the entire ILS staff and others from various agency programs attended two days of training to learn the PIWI model. Then the fun began.
Eight moms and about a dozen children, from young infants to about age 3, got together once a week for six weeks for 90 minute sessions where they put theory into practice. Desired outcomes include, in addition to competence and confidence, mutual enjoyment. And enjoy they did!
On PIWI class days, the Franciscan or Lakeside rooms looked like a combination day care center and a playground. Sessions started and ended with lots of singing, to the tunes of songs such as “The Wheels on the Bus,” and “The Hello Song.”
Perhaps because of the newness of it all, facilitators Lana Nenide and Staci Sontoski were met with some blank stares at the beginning. Then they realized singing was the key that opened the door.
After that, babies and toddlers crawled through play tunnels, hid in large cardboard boxes, banged on drums and clanged cymbals. Squeals of laughter and joyous clapping often pierced the air. Quiet times saw mothers lovingly cradling and reading to their babies.
Amid what at times seemed chaotic, lessons were being imparted: How to monitor your baby’s reactions to play, how to encourage joy, how to create routines that give your baby a sense of safety and control, how to learn when your baby is telling you she wants a nap and how to help her fall asleep at night. And how to recognize and control your own feelings of anger and frustration when they arise – and they will.
“Pay attention to what your baby’s telling you!” Lana would smilingly encourage the mothers as they crawled around on mats with their kids or got involved in games. “Talk to your baby about what you’re doing, make eye contact… See how excited she got with your expression of joy! Like, Wow!”
A big part of the classes entailed promoting an understanding that babies are very aware of their surroundings; they watch and notice how a mother talks, acts and feels.
“We’ve been anxious to start this initiative for some time,” Jane said. “We hope we can make an impact on the likelihood of generational abuse and neglect prevention.”
If the reaction of the moms to the program are a good indication, it seems PIWI was a big success.
“It really works,” Jasmine said about the time she spent there with her 17-month- old daughter, Justina. “It opened her up and she has better interactions with others.”
“She really looks forward to doing these things,” Tiona said about her 3-year-old, Taylor. “It benefits both of us; we learned how to interact more. and I learned the signs when she doesn’t want to be bothered, and about different things she wants to do.”
“They taught us how to focus more on our children,” said Jessica, the mother of two sons, Jayden, 2, and Jarrell, 9 months. “It makes me more aware and a better parent.”
“I would definitely recommend this to others,” Tiona said.