The saying used to be that babies didn’t come with a manual. That’s still technically true, but it’s basically a semantic distinction. Someone is going to give you a manual. Someone else will give you a different manual. You will frantically google answers to questions you thought were simple. After a while, you will want a guide, a teacher, a class. That’s when online classes will start to look appealing and also when online classes will start to all look the same. Telling quality from bullshit is a tough thing on the internet.
The issue is not that internet-based parenting classes lack efficacy. Research has shown that online parenting classes increase feelings of parental efficacy and, in some cases, simultaneously reduce reports of problem behaviors in kids. That’s the long way of saying that they can work if you choose wisely. That’s no easy trick in a clicks-driven marketplace full of “experts” trying to make a quick buck. Make no mistake, there’s a lot of crap out there.
There are also some genuinely great courses that really help. The five below are exceptional not only because they provide coherent actionable lessons, but because the people behind them have actually done some fact-checking. You can trust these people and, yes, that makes a significant difference.
Who It’s For: Parents who are concerned about dealing with problem behaviors and parents who are looking for expert-level tactics and are willing to put in the work.
Why It Works: Dr. Alan Kazdin works with kids that lesser men might describe as “hard cases.” These are often children with incredibly violent or destructive behavior who need immediate intervention before they become admitted to mental institutions. He is on the front lines of helping kids get better. He does his work as the director of the Yale Parenting Center giving parents the tools they need to make their households more calm, more loving and more stable. His Everyday Parenting course on Coursera, offered by Yale, offers free, pro-level information complete with concrete tactics for parents that are based on his years of experience and research.
Who It’s For: Parents who want to raise kids based on good sound scientific research and those who have trouble making sense of scientific parenting studies.
Why It Works: In the preview to his course, Dr. David Barner acknowledges that parenting research can be both hard to understand and at times contradictory. His online class helps parents navigate current research on topics that are near and dear to every parent’s heart, including screen time, sleep, self-control, and homeschooling. Those topics and much more are explored over a free, 5-week course laid out to give parents the tools they need to make the most informed decisions based on sound research.
Who It’s For: Parents who prefer to be highly self-directed in their research and learning and those who feel they’d benefit from personal coaching.
Why It Works: Less a course than a bare-bones website that operates essentially as a parenting school, the Center for Parenting Education is a non-profit dedicated to helping parents raise the best human beings they can. It’s not a pretty site, but it is chock full of free resources that include full recordings of parenting classes that address everything from discipline to parenting as a team. And if there’s something a parent requires specific help on, the center offers online coaching, though there is a fee involved.
Who It’s For: Parents who want to raise their kid without anger, aggression, or punishment and parents of faith.
Why It Works: The man who originally taught the Power of Positive Parenting at Utah State University, Dr. Glenn Latham, passed away in 2001, but his course lives on the school’s website. Latham was a man of faith and largely ahead of his time with parenting tactics that were largely based on positive reinforcement rather than punishment. The style of parenting didn’t become popular until just recently and his ideas still very much stand the test of time. The free course includes reading materials and recorded lectures which can admittedly get intense. In the introduction, he states, “The environment is now your enemy. And if you don’t have the skills to defend your role as a parent, your defenses will be quickly dashed and your home family and marriage will be in grave danger.”
Who It’s For: Parents facing divorce who want the best outcome for their kid and a continued parental relationship.
Why It Works: The University of Minnesota developed this course in response to the effect of family transitions on children. The 8-hour course educates parents on how best to navigate the new family dynamic after divorce. It includes information on co-parenting, managing stress and money and putting children first as a family breaks apart. The full course with videos, reading, and quizzes costs $89.