Aug. 17, 2001 – Henry Braddock, a psychologist who will begin work as the Health Department's deputy commissioner on Sept. 1, had this advice for parents attending a retreat Friday on St. John: Give your children positive reinforcement.
Braddock and two dozen criminal justice and social service workers have gathered at the V.I. Environmental Resources Station overlooking St. John's Lameshur Bay this weekend for a retreat aimed at helping a dozen families keep their youngsters on the straight and narrow.
The families, from St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John, all have at least one child who already has gotten in trouble with the law or is at risk for doing so. The annual retreat, now in its fourth year, is sponsored by the Drug Demand Reduction Subcommittee of the U.S. Attorney's Office in the territory.
"Instead of treating just the child, we treat the family," Azekah Jennings, executive assistant U.S. attorney, said.
The "Parents and Children Together" retreat, also known as PACT, began Friday morning and runs through Sunday afternoon. Participants have morning, afternoon and evening sessions and spend Friday and Saturday nights at the VIERS campground.
The families braved rainy skies, mosquitoes and a trip down a treacherous dirt road to the research station for the start of the retreat Friday morning. While most of the weekend will be spent in workshops, there also will be time for swimming and other recreational activities, live music and, on Saturday night, a campfire marshmallow roast.
There are separate programs for adults, adolescents and younger children.
As part of the experience, parents and their children are required to eat together. Jennings said that too often nowadays families don't take or make the time to "break bread" together, and thus parents and children miss an opportunity to interact with one another.
Braddock began his workshop for adults Friday afternoon by having the group members play a game wherein one person would throw a ball to another. Those receiving the ball then had to state what they liked about themselves and what they liked about the other person.
"I'm learning to love my children more and to be a better parent," one woman stated as what she liked about herself.
When the game was over, Braddock told the group that it was an exercise in giving positive strokes, a practice they should continue with their children. The best time to do this, he said, is when the children aren't causing problems. "Your children figured out that the way to get attention is to mess up," the psychologist said.
However, Braddock noted, parents must set an example. "It's called moral authority," he said, adding that if a man continues to beat his wife while telling his son not to beat the boy's sister, the man is sending the wrong message.
Territorial Court Judge Ishmael Meyers opened the adult section of the retreat Friday morning with a seminar on how parents are permitted to discipline their children physically within the confines of the law. "There's a difference between discipline and abuse," he pointed out. He said if parents feel they must hit their children in order to get a message across, they must by law do it with an open palm, not a closed fist. And they must not choke or shake children or in any way "interfere with their breathing," he said, or threaten them with a deadly weapon.
Meyers urged parents not to discipline their children while angry. Waiting until they have calmed down will increase the likelihood of the disciplne being "more constructive and positive," he said.


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