University of South Florida

DOCS parenting programs help deal with behavior issues in children

Alba Osorio was afraid to take her 4-year-old daughter Alice out in public because Alice might have a temper tantrum.

“The tantrums, she starts screaming and crying,” Osorio said, adding that her efforts to calm the child down were often unsuccessful. “We had to do something because this situation is hard for her and for us as the parents.”

Through word-of-mouth from a neighbor, she heard of a pair of programs offered through the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine that aims to help parents and guardians deal with outbursts, poor life skills and other challenging child behavior.

The Helping our Toddlers, Developing our Children’s Skills (HOT DOCS) and DOCS K-5 each are six-week courses sponsored by the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County that tap into the expertise of USF Health child and adolescent psychologists.

HOT DOCS is for children up to age 5 and covers basics, like eating, bathing, dressing and following directions, as well as managing tantrums. DOCS K–5 works with children up to fifth grade. It focuses on doing homework, staying safe, socializing and changing challenging behaviors.

Heather Agazzi, PhD, is a board-certified child and adolescent psychologist, a professor of pediatrics in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, and director of the DOCS Parenting Programs. She said she recognized in her practice that dealing with child behavior was a problem for many parents in Hillsborough County.

“Early life-challenging behavior often leads to school failure and other problems,” Dr. Agazzi said. “We want to try and meet those children’s needs as early in life as possible.”

Heather Agazzi, PhD

Weekly sessions, offered in English and Spanish, include skills review, parenting tips, special play activities, plan development, coaching and feedback.

“We typically have three HOT DOCS classes running and one DOCS K-5 (class),” Dr. Agazzi said.

Cristina Ortiz took the class in 2006 and said she was amazed at the impact it had on her son. She was initially hired as a translator and, over the years, was promoted until she became program coordinator.

Cristina Ortiz

“Knowing all the struggle, I do understand what families go through, and I love that this program is available for them to bring them a lot of help—and not only what we provide through HOT DOCS but I also give them a lot of resources,” Ortiz said.

She also teaches the Spanish version of the class, which is necessary. According to a March 2020 Tampa Bay Times article, almost 40 percent of people identified as Spanish speakers in Hillsborough County have trouble speaking English.

For Osorio, the program has been a welcome help in curbing her daughter’s tantrums.

“It means a lot to us to have access to this program,” Osorio said. “To us, the program really works. . . . We saw a change in our daughter’s behavior at home, outside, at school, and every day is different now, and it’s better for her and for us.”

Registration fee for each course is $20 per participant for parents and caregivers.

To get information and sign-up, Call or email
(813) 974-1048

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