Everyone knows that wry saying about becoming a parent: You have to pass a test to get a driver’s license, but not to become a biological mother or father.
While that is still true, some Saint Leo students have had the option of getting some excellent grounding in the topic (with tests) through an undergraduate course called the Psychology of Parenting. It is a junior-level course, developed by Dr. Tammy L. Zacchilli, associate professor of psychology, after discussion among several peers in the discipline from various Saint Leo teaching locations. She has taught it four times so far, every other fall, at University Campus. The class typically fills up, or nearly does.Psychology faculty knew the course would help students who want to become parents at some point in life. Another group that stands to benefit are those who intend to go into teaching, social work, or another kind of helping profession, she points out. “Their jobs may require them to work with parents.”
For some reason, Zacchilli found there were only a few sound textbooks available on the topic—though she notes with caution for other readers that anyone can write a book on parenting without broad knowledge of the theories on how children develop psychologically. Still, she hunted until she found one and supplements the reading with videos, interactive assignments, speakers from child-related occupations, class discussions, and a required service project.
The class lends itself to being divided into three segments, she said. In the first part, the class reads and discusses what psychologists have written about parenting and discipline styles. Students are generally eager to talk about this and compare experiences. Even though most at University Campus have not yet had children, they think back to their own families and have positive exchanges about how different cultures and backgrounds play a role, she said.
“We have students from a lot of different places,” she reflects. Students from the Caribbean, for instance, may have experiences that contrast with those of students from the mainland United States.
The second portion of the course is devoted to understanding child development, and the third to special situations that include adoption, high-risk families, and same-sex parenting.
Emma Hutterli ’16 particularly recalls an assignment with a delicate prop. Students were given actual chicken eggs (with the inside liquid blown out) to carry for a week as stand-ins for infants, meaning they were not to leave the eggs unattended. It was “light-hearted, but the class took it seriously,” recalled Hutterli, who is now studying for the Master of Social Work degree from Saint Leo.
“We then talked about that experience: for example, how was it to ask for a babysitter, what was it like taking the eggs to class/home/the store, did any of the eggs break over the time period?” She still has her phone photo of her decorated egg.