Helping whānau with the tricky bits

It’s often said parenting should come with a manual - especially when it comes to the tricky bits of raising under–fives. Tantrums, toileting, fighting with siblings, teething and not sleeping – these are just some of the things which regularly cause stress for parents of preschoolers.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the ‘Tips for the tricky bits’ booklet has been one of the most popular booklets out of more than half a million SKIP parenting resources ordered every year.

In 2013 SKIP began exploring how to reach new generations of parents with our positive parenting tips. Our print resources were still being ordered in bulk by organisations for use in parenting groups and courses. But we knew that booklets weren’t the most accessible format for stressed parents with limited attention and literacy, particularly those with other challenges in their lives.

In 2014 We brought together some young parents to brainstorm with us about how to improve our use of online and social media channels. During the session the parents confirmed that they liked the look of the SKIP booklets but wouldn’t read them, unless a whānau worker was going through it with them.

We then asked when and how they seek parenting advice – and it quickly became apparent that they would only seek advice when there was a problem, and then they would ask a friend or family member or search online.

This told us that the tricky bits actually provided an opportunity to engage parents with positive parenting approaches. But rather than leaping to solutions, we needed to understand what life was really like for parents struggling with preschoolers - what stressed parents out and what might be helpful.

“I’d had no sleep with the baby crying and I’d seen Super Nanny and knew I should keep taking him (2 year old) back to his bed but in the end I just gave up and left him crying in the hallway all night”. Thrive Mum

What we did

We began with two groups of young parents – one from Thrive Teen parent hub, one from Glenn Innes-based Te Waipuna Puawai. The 16 parents were given training in empathy interviewing and then interviewed each other in pairs about the last time they remembered getting stressed out with their child. Each pair had a device such as a phone to record the interview, so they could concentrate on each other rather than having to take notes.

The peer-to-peer interviewing approach allowed the parents to be more relaxed and honest about their experiences, which led to more authentic stories and in some cases surprising insights.

What we found

The interviews identified tricky bits experienced by parents that hadn’t been covered by SKIP booklets before – such as not listening, whining, toothbrushing, misbehaving in public. It was also interesting that many of the parents had unrealistic expectations of what kids can do at each age – for example expecting a two year old to tidy her room on her own.

Another important insight was that the challenges the parent was facing at the time had a direct impact on their ability to perceive the problem and deal with their child appropriately. These parent ‘pain points’ told us that any advice given about a specific problem would need to reflect the parent’s situation too.

What happened next

These insights helped us define the design challenge- how might we provide ‘bite-sized’ ‘just in time’ age-appropriate tips for specific situations.

More brainstorming with parents confirmed that something they could access from their mobile phones without using their data would be the best format – such as a native phone app. The parents gave their ideas for what the ideal app might cover. This included features we hadn’t considered such as a 7 day challenge so they could work on a different aspect of their parenting each week.

A prototype was created and went through five separate stages of testing and refining with more parents, before it was released in late 2015.

“Love everything about this app – thank you! It’s a life-saver!”. Parent

What’s happening now

Since the SKIP Tips app was launched, there have been x downloads on the Apple and GooglePlay store and users regularly give it a five-star rating.

More importantly the app is helping some of our most vulnerable families. Umma Trust works with refugee and migrant parents who are often isolated and struggling with a range of challenges including money worries, mental health problems and cultural differences. The Trust has quickly integrated the app into their work with families and promotes it to new parents with a very high uptake.

The Trust reports that the SKIP Tips app helps these parents to separate their own emotions from the child’s behaviour. It is useful at home to get both partners on the same page. Many of the dads have better English language than the mums or older relatives (from being more out in NZ society/workplaces), so they translate from the app, the family talks about it and everyone learns about positive ways to dealing with the tricky bits of parenting.

Download the app free on the Play Store or iTunes and try it for yourself!