GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It remains to be seen what developmental and social or emotional effects the pandemic had on our youngest children, but a millage-funded program in Kent County is working to provide answers for parents as their kids grow from toddlers to school age.

“It’s been quite a journey… It started right around the time Cortland was turning 4 in 2019,” Kate Tiffany said.

Cortland, a little boy with bright eyes and beautiful hair, was starting to act out. His behavior had become abusive.

“It used to be what I would describe chaotic, everything centered around Cortland and his bad days, his bad moments. What he needed would halt everything,” Tiffany said.

Tiffany knew she needed help with Cortland and his neurodivergent brain. She reached out but found a lot of closed doors. She finally connected with Easterseals.

“We work with parents helping them build parenting skills and help them develop nurturing healthy bonds with their children,” Vanessa Jurewicz, a home visitor for the Incredible Years program, explained.

Incredible Years is funded by the Ready By Five millage passed in Kent County in 2018. Then, no one could have foreseen the challenges of the pandemic.

“COVID has had a huge impact on children with their social-emotional development because we went through a shutdown and we went through a pandemic that changed how we interact with each other on a daily basis,” Jurewicz said.

The Incredible Years sends trained employees like Jurewicz into the homes of families to teach caretakers better ways to collaboratively parent with their kids. There are also parenting groups, which had Tiffany skeptical at first.

“I’m a mom of four and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve already parented two kids; I don’t need parenting classes.’ It sounds judgmental, it sounds like I’m doing something wrong, but I dove in because at that point I needed all the resources we could get,” Tiffany said.

Tiffany said the skills and help she received were life-changing and set her family back on a more stable path.

“You learn collaborative techniques and you’re with other parents that are also saying it’s OK, that I needed help too. It doesn’t mean you’re doing your parenting wrong, you’re just learning better tools, different tools and essentially adding to your toolbelt,” Tiffany said.

Jurewicz said a gift the pandemic did afford was the slowdown of our fast-paced lives, giving parents more time to connect with their kids.

“We really want to build off of those and keep encouraging parents, help them understand and know what approaches they can use in supporting their child’s development,” Jurewicz said.