In a small library crowded with books, Stephanie Brill talks to young moms about how to take care of their babies.
Brill answers questions and clears up rumors and misinformation. Are boys harder to potty train? Is it true that girls mature more quickly? Does teething in older children cause aggression? Do babies really know what their parents are saying?
“Words can shape the way a child feels,” Brill said.
Brill is an instructor with Family Builders, a nonprofit group that teaches a free class called “Parenting the Young Child” to pregnant girls and young mothers attending Emerson Alternative High School in northwest Oklahoma City.
The program began in October and wrapped up Wednesday. It's funded by a grant from the Potts Family Foundation designed to educate parents of young children.
“This first session is really kind of a pilot,” said Laura Gamble, executive director of Family Builders. “It seems to be successful. The girls are enjoying it. They're getting some good training, good skills.”
The students give up their lunch time to come once a week. The group is fluid. Some come and go because of maternity leave. Others have to stay home with sick children.
Posters listing questions about potty training were taped to the front wall of the library.
Other posters list the girls' ideas for how to nurture their children: Hugging and holding your child. Not calling your baby names. Spending time together. Reading. Singing. Modeling respect.
“We throw around these vague terms, like everybody in the world knows what they mean,” Brill said. “‘I want to be a better parent.' Well, what does that mean? What does that look like?”
During a recent class, Brill talked to the girls about potty training. They asked her how they would know it was time.
“Kids are different,” Brill said. “Be attuned to who your child is and accommodate that.”
A girl with long, wavy black hair and baby footprints tattooed on her calf talked about how her son has been telling her he needs to use the bathroom, even though he's not 2 years old. Another girl said her son has been giving similar signals.
“I think he's ready,” said the girl with turtle shell glasses. “I think I'm going to try it.”
After class, Dejawn Roberts talked about what she's learned in the Family Builders class. She is a freshman and has a 9-month-old son named Jarron.
She's learned about things like discipline and nurturing. She's learned to redirect him instead of punishing him. She's learned that it's important for him to know he's loved; she spends a lot of time holding him.
“It's us having our private time with nobody else,” she said. “He falls asleep in my arms. He's so warm. It made me feel like I have somebody with me. I want to make sure he knows he has somebody else there with him.”
Talking with other girls — and instructors like Brill — has been helpful, she said.
“It actually makes me feel like I'm not the only one in this situation,” Roberts said. “There are people I can talk to about it. I'm not the only 15-year-old going through this with my baby. It's good to hear from other moms.”
Building that sense of community among the girls is invaluable, said Gayla Westbrook, program director for Family Builders
“For some of these kids, they don't feel comfortable talking about it with other people,” Westbrook said. “It's knowing that other people identify with what she's going through and how can we learn from this.”