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updated: 4/14/2014 6:58 PM

Parent support groups forming in Naperville

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A Naperville-based nonprofit is helping parents find support through the formation of Conversation Circles to address issues of raising children in various stages of their lives.

"We are not here to teach one method of parenting," said Diane Overgard, project coordinator of ParentsMatter, which is offering Conversation Circles beginning this month. "We are here to build relationships and support, so parents learn they don't have to parent alone."

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The Conversation Circles are part of ParentsMatterToo's three-pronged approach to helping parents raise kids who avoid drugs, an effort that began last fall when the city of Naperville expanded its social services grant to focus on attacking the area's heroin problem.

One of 12 free Conversation Circles launching this month is designed for parents of teens in recovery from substance abuse; another is for parents of children who have been sexually assaulted; others are for parents of athletes, teenagers, preschoolers or single dads.

"When we say 'here is a general parenting group and it's for everybody,' then nobody thinks it's for them," Overgard said. "We tried to be very specific about ages, even down to saying parents of 10- to 12-year-olds."

The circles are designed as groups of eight to 12 parents who will meet once a week for three weeks. A trained volunteer facilitator will guide the discussions.

Cindy Rowsey of Aurora is leading a parents of teenagers group starting next week at the NaperBridge teen center in downtown Naperville. Rowsey has five kids, the youngest of whom is 17, and she said "community parenting" is the best way to turn teenagers into well-adjusted young adults.

"The adage is 'it takes a village to raise a child,' and it certainly does to raise a teenager. I certainly believe that," Rowsey said.

She anticipates her Conversation Circle will discuss situations such as teen drinking and coed sleepovers after dances, how to set curfew and how to encourage teens to get jobs or stop playing so many video games. But the actual topics will vary based on the experiences of parents who sign up. Everything will be discussed in a judgment-free environment in which no gossip leaves the confidentiality of the circle.

"By soundboarding off parents, you know what has worked for them and what didn't work for them," Rowesy said. "You take bits and pieces to be able to improve your parenting skills."

Each Conversation Circle will be scheduled to meet three weeks in a row at locations including churches, schools, restaurants, businesses, the DuPage Children's Museum and the Fry Family YMCA.

Overgard said each circle will follow the same curriculum, developed from scratch using the expertise of Naperville-area experts in topics such as therapy, education, child development and family systems.

The first session will cover family values and awareness of what is really important.

"We take time to discover our own values, and we carry that home to talk with our kids and figure out if our kids actually know what their parents value," Overgard said.

The second session will encourage parents to accept and adjust to each child's uniqueness.

"There's a focus on seeing how every child is wired differently and learning how to dance with those individual temperaments and personalities," Overgard said.

In the third meeting, Conversation Circle participants will discuss ways to build stronger parent-child relationships. Overgard and Rowsey said the goal is for parents to become comfortable with each other and continue meeting after the three-week curriculum is finished.

While the circles are scheduled to begin meeting this month, more can be formed later if demand for the free support groups increases. ParentsMatterToo encourages sign-ups on a rolling basis at parentsmattertoo.org.

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