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The Father Factor


Christopher A. Brown

Chris is President of National Fatherhood Initiative. He is married to Kayla, has two teenage daughters and lives in Texas.
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Recent Posts

How to Raise a Resilient Child

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

The discussion today around parenting often centers on "helicopter parents," those parents who hover over every aspect of their children's lives to such an extent that they organize and monitor every minute of their children's lives. As a result, their children have little or no space to explore the world on their own and learn how to effectively navigate life's challenges from one of life's great teachers -- learning from failure.


The fact is that no matter how closely parents try to manage their children's lives they can't possibly protect them from life's trials and tribulations. Indeed, parents shouldn't protect their children from those things. Parents should guide their children instead in how to effectively manage the challenges they'll face on their own. Even then children need the resilience to bounce back from those challenges because, inevitably, they will fail. They will make mistakes. They will get knocked down and, in some cases, knocked out. Although counterintuitive, the sooner parents live with and embrace that their children will fail, the more effective parents become.

One of the greatest gifts parents can bestow on their children is to build their children's resilience. The authors of Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed, one of them a former Navy SEAL, identify five factors that help people become more resilient. Although written as a self-help book for adults, parents can use this knowledge to focus the coaching of their children on building those factors. (After all, a good parent is a good coach.)

Here are five factors that resilient people possess and parents should build in their children:

  • Active Optimism: Resilient people are optimistic even in the face of challenges and setbacks. They're not overly optimistic, but realistic in their optimism that when they continue to move forward and avoid paralysis in making decisions, they will eventually succeed.
  • Decisive Action: Resilient people act on their optimism. They consider their options, decide how to face challenges and act decisively. They don't allow challenges to paralyze them or wait for others to tell them what to do. They don't wait for things to happen, they make things happen.

  • Moral Compass: Resilient people have a moral compass anchored in honor, integrity, fidelity and ethics. They use this anchor to decide which actions to take.
  • Relentless Tenacity and Determination: Resilient people stay true to the paths on which their decisions take them. They don't quit. Not quitting doesn't mean they are so naive or stubborn that they're unwilling to change a path when it becomes clear that a decision was not the best one. It means they won't quit until they find out whether their decisions are the right ones and, if not, to pursue other solutions. It also means that when it's clear they've failed, they won't allow failures to keep them down or negatively affect their self-worth.
  • Interpersonal Support: Resilient people realize and embrace the need for help. As they make decisions, they consider whether they can go it alone or need help. When they ask for help, they don't feel in the least that help is a sign they are somehow inadequate.

I would also add a sixth factor: resilient people lack a victim mentality. There are legitimate situations in which people are victims, a perfect example of which is the recent murders of more than 125 people in France from multiple, coordinated acts of terrorism. But a victim mentality is a state of mind, a trait that someone acquires and leads to blaming external factors (e.g. people) for failures even when no clear evidence exists that external factors played a role. The lack of a victim mentality doesn't mean that someone is never a victim. It means resilient people don't seek to blame someone or something else or for their failures -- even when someone or something else might have contributed to a failure. They accept responsibility for their part and the lack of control they have over external contributing factors. They get up and move on.

A great perspective to take in raising your child to become resilient is the second of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Begin with the End in Mind. (These habits apply to being an effective parent as well.) Who do you want your child to become when she or he is an adult? If you want your child to be a resilient adult -- and to raise your grandchildren to be resilient -- focus on building these six factors.

The Father Factor Blog This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

4 New, Free, Easy-to-Use Assessment and Evaluation Tools

The Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN) recently released four free, easy-to-use assessment and evaluation tools for use in assessing fathers' involvement in the lives of their children or with any intervention designed to increase father involvement. (I sit on the FRPN's advisory committee.) They include tools that measure:

  • Father-child contact
  • Fathers' decision-making responsibility
  • Fathers' engagement with children at different ages (four versions based on the age of a child)
  • Fathers' challenges to involvement

Members of the FRPN research team developed the tools based on interviews they conducted in several states with a large sample of 650 nonresidential fathers. 

frpn-logo.pngWhat makes these tools so useful is their potential application in any setting in which you want to assess the level of fathers' involvement (e.g. at program intake) and to any intervention (e.g. program or workshop) that might affect the outcomes measured by the instruments. But perhaps their primary benefit is their short length. Given the challenge practitioners can sometimes face in the amount of time available for completing assessments and evaluations, the short length of these tools means you can quickly administer them, or have fathers complete them on their own, in almost any setting without taking too much of your own or fathers' time. You can also combine them with other assessment or evaluation tools (e.g. those designed to measure improvements in specific attitudes, knowledge, or skills addressed in a program, such as NFI's 24/7 Dad® Fathering Survey) without substantially increasing the amount of time it takes to conduct an assessment or evaluation.

With the exception of the fathers' engagement tool for children of different ages, the FRPN team created short videos (3 1/2 to 6 minutes in length) that describe these tools and how to use them (e.g. as part of a pre-post evaluation and short-term and long-term follow up after an intervention ends). To view these videos and download the tools, click here

When do you assess fathers' involvement, and what tools do you use to assess that involvement? 

What tools do you use to evaluate your interventions to increase fathers' involvement?

The Father Factor Blog

How to Raise a Charitable Child

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

What's the secret to raising a charitable child? It's simple. Talk to them about charitable giving.

In a recent study of more than 3,100 U.S. families, researchers found that children whose parents talk to them about charitable giving are more likely than others to donate to causes, particularly if the parents themselves engage in charitable giving. These conversations about giving really matter in shaping and nurturing children's altruistic behavior. In other words, parents, preach what you practice when it comes to charitable giving.

There's no better time than the next few weeks to start these conversations with your children. That's because #GivingTuesday is right around the corner. If you're unfamiliar with #GivingTuesday, it's the Tuesday after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the two days of the year when most of the nation's families become mega-consumers clamoring for the best deals on gifts for family and friends during the holidays. #GivingTuesday, which falls on December 1st this year, focuses instead on giving to the thousands of charities that rely on donations to pursue their vital missions, many of which center on helping the less fortunate among us.

#GivingTuesday is now in its fourth year. Started in 2012 by a cultural center in New York City, it has rapidly spread to involve more than 30,000 partners in nearly 70 countries. It provides a fantastic opportunity to start the conversation with your children about the importance of giving to a cause that moves them. #GivingTuesday is not only about financial giving, it's also about giving time and talent, two assets that children can have in abundance. And it harnesses the power of social media, a tool that is oh so familiar to today's children. Connecting your children with #GivingTuesday helps them see charity from that broad perspective during a time of year when they might be focused more on the material aspect of the holidays and what they'll get rather than what they'll give.

Visit the #GivingTuesday website with your children to learn more about how they can get involved. Encourage your children to identify organizations that operate locally or globally that will participate in #GivingTuesday and whose missions align with your children's interests. Then challenge your children to discover how much joy they can experience when they give to others less fortunate than them.

The Father Factor Blog This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

Please Help NFI Provide Free Education and Resources

As you consider the charities to support by the end of the year, please consider donating to National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). 

One of the primary ways NFI helps improve child well-being is to provide the free education and resources that fathers and the organizations that serve fathers need to increase father involvement. We need your financial support to provide free education and resources and, in particular, to continue to grow the number of free resources we provide that now number more than 100. Fathers and organizations that can’t afford to pay for resources turn to NFI for help. We want—indeed, we must—continue to help the fathers and organizations most in need.

The demand for free resources is great. Many fathers and organizations have accessed those resources through our website. More than 25,000 free resources have been downloaded, used, and shared since the start of 2013!

Your donation will help us continue to provide new free resources and improve current ones. We plan, for example, to make our free FatherSOURCE  Locator even better. This free resource helps fathers locate organizations in their communities that serve fathers. We regularly receive calls and emails from fathers and their loved ones desperate to find help in their communities. We need donations to upgrade the locator to include more organizations—and provide even more information about the kinds of resources organizations provide (e.g. fatherhood programs)—so that fathers can make more informed decisions about which organizations can best help them. No other organization provides this father-serving resource. Help us make it even better!

We also need your donation to continue as the nation’s leading voice on responsible fatherhood. Your donation will help us continue to educate fathers and the general public. It will help us disseminate research on the causes and consequences of father absence, conduct interviews with national media outlets, publish commentaries on NFI-owned and third party media properties (e.g. The Huffington Post), and partner with major entertainment media and consumer brands to portray a positive image of fathers. No other fatherhood organization has this broad educational, cultural focus.

Please consider making a year-end donation to NFI of at least $100. We will make the best use of your donation. Indeed, I’ve committed to increasing the amount of every donation that goes toward education, programs, and services. We’ve steadily increased that amount during the past several years so that we use 80 cents of every $1 to educate and equip fathers and organizations. Moreover, NFI has received GuideStar’s Gold Participant designation—GuideStar’s highest designation—that highlights our commitment to transparency.

If you need more information as you consider making a donation, click here for an infographic that describes exactly how we will stretch your donation to improve child well-being. You can mail your donation or make it through our website at

Did you know that NFI provides more free education and resources on fatherhood than any organization in the country?

Did you know that NFI accepts no government funding and relies on donations to provide free education and resources?

The Father Factor Blog

This Dad Energizes Halloween for Kids in Wheelchairs

Some dads are, in a word, awesome! And then there are some dads who take awesome to another level. 

Ryan Weimer, an Oregon father of five, takes awesome to another level through his non-profit Magic Wheelchair. Magic Wheelchair makes Halloween costumes for children bound to wheelchairs. The mission of Magic Wheelchair is "to give kids in wheelchairs an unforgettable Halloween by creating custom costumes for them at no expense to their families." The non-profit's vision is "to put a smile on the face of every child in a wheelchair by transforming their wheelchairs into awesomeness created by our hands and their imaginations." Every year, Magic Wheelchair selects five children for whom it builds costumes. 

I saw a story on the news the other day about Magic Wheelchair and was blown away. The costumes--which are amazing to behold--incorporate the wheelchairs. A costume surrounds a wheelchair and the child as if the costume had been an integral part of the wheelchair all along. But what really blew me away is how Ryan, with help from his wife Lana, used his considerable design and engineering talent to turn a life-altering event into an opportunity to help children. The life-altering event was the birth of Ryan and Lana's son Keaton who was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy called spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA. (Their younger son, Bryce, also has SMA, and they lost a daughter with the condition shortly before she turned 3. Another son died at birth.)

You can read more about the genesis of Magic Wheelchair in this story, but the long and short of it is Ryan started to experiment with ways to make Halloween special for Keaton. Through trial and error, he learned how to create the costumes. Keaton loved them, and Ryan realized that other children like his son would love them, too. So he launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to start Magic Wheelchair. And the rest, as they say, is history--a wonderful history, in this case.

To learn more about Magic Wheelchair, including how to submit a request for a costume or to support the organization, visit their website.

The Father Factor Blog

Two Supports Lacking for U.S.Children in Poverty

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

The effects of father absence and the poverty that results from it are exacerbated by two supports lacking in the U.S. -- the lack of extended family and the dismal spending by the federal government on family-benefit programs.

I wrote in this blog last week about the link between father absence and child poverty. The U.S. Census Bureau's recent report on income poverty for 2014 reveals that:

  • Children in father-absent homes experienced poverty at more than four times the rate of children in married-parent homes.
  • Nearly 1 in 2 children in father-absent homes (46.5 percent) were in poverty compared to only 1 in 10 children (10.6 percent) in married-parent homes.
  • The picture is worse for the youngest children. More than 1 in 2 children under age six in father-absent homes (55.1 percent) were in poverty.

I pointed out that increasing the number of children growing up with their two married parents is key to reducing child poverty in this country.

Data provided in the just-released 2015 World Family Map helps explain why U.S. children in particular need to grow up with their married parents. The World Family Map -- an annual report now in its third year -- monitors the global health of families by tracking 16 indicators in 49 countries, representing all regions of the world. Its global focus provides an important perspective on how well, or poorly, the U.S. fares on a range of indicators of family well-being.

When it comes to poverty, families can typically turn to any of three sources for financial and material support -- their social network including extended family, non-governmental organizations (e.g. non-profits) and government programs. The level of support available from each source varies dramatically from country to country and even within some countries. It's vital to consider these supports to gain a clearer understanding of the extent of poverty's negative effects on children.

The 2015 World Family Map includes data on two of those supports -- the proportion of children who live with extended family members (kin) and government funding of family-benefit programs (i.e. cash, services and tax measures) as a percentage of a country's gross domestic product (GDP). How does the U.S. fare on these two indicators?

  • The proportion of U.S. children living with kin (29 percent) ranks 5th lowest among the 32 countries for which data are available. Only Canada, France, Italy and Ireland rank lower.
  • The U.S. government spends a paltry 0.7 percent of GDP on family-benefit programs. That percentage is dead last among the 21 countries for which data are available, and is 36% and 42 percent lower than Mexico and Canada (the other two countries in the North American region), respectively.

Extended family is perhaps the oldest form of support for humans struggling to survive. In addition to financial and material support, extended family can provide emotional and spiritual support in times of crisis and chronic hardship. It's easiest to access that support when kin live together -- the basis of this indicator -- or close by. The increasing mobility of U.S. families and the resulting distance between family members makes it harder to access this support.

When it comes to government support, the sad fact is the U.S. spends a lower percentage of GDP now than it did just a few years ago when it ranked above several other countries rather than at the bottom of the barrel. According to the 2013 edition of the World Family Map, the U.S. spent 1.2 percent of GDP on family-benefit programs. (The 2015 map relies on data from 2011 while the 2013 map relies on data from 2007.)

To be fair, there might be several of the other countries in the World Family Map for which data are not available on either indicator that fare worse than the U.S. So in reality, the picture might not look as bleak for the U.S. in comparison. The access to extended family indicator does not include access to family close by. But even when considering kin who live together, the U.S. has seen a dramatic rise since 1980 in the number of individuals living in multi-generational households, thus giving the poor more of this support. The U.S. is also a fairly charitable nation as it ranks 9th on the World Giving Index, a measure of the percentage of people in 135 countries who donate to charities. There are certainly non-profits to which poor families in the U.S. can turn for help.

Nevertheless, the World Family Map reveals the lack of financial and economic assets poor families in the U.S. can access to alleviate at least some of the negative effects of child poverty. A vast majority of individuals in the U.S., more than 8 in 10, are not in multi-generational households. And the government spending data on family-benefit programs, with its downward trend, sheds light on the lack of importance our country places on government help for those most in need.

The Father Factor Blog This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

Father Facts 7 > State Rates of Father Absence

Do you know the rate of father absence in your state? If you live in one of the two or three most populous cities in your state, do you know the rate in your city?

Father Facts 7State data on father absence is one of the new sections in National Fatherhood Initiative’s Father Facts 7. Before you read on, see whether you can answer the following questions. The answers appear at the end of the post. Write down your answers and see whether any of the answers surprise you.

1) Which state has the highest rate of father absence?

2) Which state has the lowest rate of father absence?

3) Of the most populous cities in each state, which has the highest rate of father absence?

4) Does New York City or Los Angeles have a higher rate of father absence?

5) Does New York City or Rapid City, SD have a lower rate of father absence?

Father absence rates for each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico highlight trends in the regions most impacted by father absence. Rates of father absence vary dramatically across the country and within specific regions and states. Data on father absence for major and most populated cities in each state reflect this variance. Nevertheless, it’s clear that more children in the south and in Puerto Rico live in father-absent homes compared to other areas of the country.

To learn more about overall state rates of father absence, rates in major cities within each state, and to access the research and data, purchase and download Father Facts 7 today.

Answers: 1) Mississippi (Puerto Rico, although not a state, has a higher rate); 2) Utah; 3) Wilmington, Delaware; 4) New York City (less than ½ the father absence rate of Wilmington, DE); 5) New York City

Father Facts 7

Father Facts 7: Grandfathers Raising Grandchildren

Grandfathers raising grandchildren is one of the most recent trends related to father absence and involvement. I’m not talking about the traditional role many grandfathers play as another male role model in children’s lives. This trend speaks to grandfathers as the primary male role model when they step into the void left by absent fathers. 

Father Facts 7As described in one of the new sections in National Fatherhood Initiative’s Father Facts 7, the number of custodial grandparents in the United States has doubled since 1970 to almost three million.

Today approximately 10% of children live with a caretaker grandparent. Although most of the research on grandparents raising grandchildren has focused on grandmother-maintained households, we know more than ever about grandfather-maintained households.

The factors that lead to grandfathers raising their grandchildren include

  • their children’s (parents of their grandchildren) divorce,
  • substance abuse,
  • incarceration,
  • child abuse,
  • unemployment,
  • and death

Twenty-three (23) percent of grandchildren raised by grandparents (with no parent present) live with their grandfathers. A large majority of these grandparents are between the age of 50 and 69 and have had custody of their grandchildren for more than five years. The highest rate of custodial grandparenting is in the South and among African American and Asian populations.

To learn more about grandfathers raising grandchildren, and to access the research and data, purchase and download Father Facts 7 today.

Father Facts 7

Father Facts 7: How Involved Fathers Benefit Mothers

Involved fathers benefit the entire family including mothers. 

Father Facts 7A recent study, for example, found that paternal involvement during pregnancy was shown to positively influence health outcomes for the mother, child, and father.

New parents described how attending ultra-sound appointments together strengthened their relationship. Mothers found the father’s presence soothing and reassuring during the pregnancy. Mothers also cited the father as the best source of support during the nine months.

As described in one of the new sections in National Fatherhood Initiative’s Father Facts 7, mothers receive a number of benefits when fathers are involved with their children. These benefits include

  • more leisure time,
  • a healthier birth,
  • lower rates of postpartum depression, depression and stress generally,
  • and a higher quality mother-father relationship.

Interestingly, the likelihood of a mother remarrying (potentially good for her well-being) is higher when the non-resident father is involved in the lives of her children. 

To learn more about how involved fathers benefit mothers, and to access the research and data, purchase and download Father Facts 7 today.

Father Facts 7

Father Facts 7: The Impact of Incarceration on Father Absence

Incarceration makes a significant contribution to father absence. Indeed, it is a cause of father absence. Nearly 2 million children have a parent in jail or prison. More than 9 in 10 parents in prison are fathers (93%).

Father Facts 7As described in one of the new sections in National Fatherhood Initiative’s Father Facts 7, 1 in 28 children in the United States have an incarcerated parent.

The number of incarcerated fathers has dramatically increased over the past 30 years, leaving children to be raised without their biological father, which creates additional challenges for parents and children.

The number of children with an incarcerated father has risen 79% since 1991. Children with incarcerated fathers are at higher risks of antisocial behavior.

When compared to children of absentee, but not incarcerated fathers, children with incarcerated fathers showed more aggressive and inattentive behaviors.

To learn more about the impact of incarceration on father absence, and to access the research and data, purchase and download Father Facts 7 today.

Father Facts 7

Father Facts 7 is Here, Ready to Help You

The next edition of Father Facts is here! Father Facts 7 continues the tradition of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) providing the most comprehensive resource on research on father absence and involvement.

Father Facts 7I'm very excited about Father Facts 7 because it includes nearly 200 new studies (197, to be exact). That’s a lot of new studies since we published Father Facts 6 in 2011. It also contains 14 new chapters and sections! They include state level data on father absence (which compliments the national data Father Facts has always included), the impact of father involvement on women's/mother's well-being, the societal costs of father absence, the biological connection between fathers and children, grandfathers raising grandchildren, and so much more.

In addition to all the latest research and data and the new chapters and sections, here is what you’ll find in the Father Facts 7 that takes this resource to an even more helpful level: 

  • An introduction to each section that describes its relevance—why it’s important.
  • A summary of the research and data in each section and subsection that describes what we know and don’t know about the subject/topic of the section or subsection. You don’t have to read every entry and decide what the research and data indicate.
  • Research and data are organized in descending chronological order so it’s easy to find the most recent research and data.
  • The electronic format is easy to search for the topics, research, and data you need. It also makes it easy to cut and paste research and data—and even the summaries—into research papers, proposals, presentations, emails, etc.

It’s also more convenient to acquire! Just purchase it here, receive the link to download it, and you’ll have it in no time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank everyone who helped NFI create this new edition. I had the privilege of working with Dr. Jay Fagan of Temple University, one of the country's leading researchers on father involvement, and three of his graduate students—Jessica DeMarchis, Adina Freedman, and Mollie Cherson—to identify studies and data, published since our last edition in 2010, that increase our understanding of just how important fathers are to families, children, and our country. Their contribution was enormous, and I can't thank them enough.

Have you downloaded the sample? Get the sample here or visit here for purchasing. Please tell us what you think about this helpful resource and how it will help you in the comments of this post.

Father Facts 7

Dads Hold Key to Reducing Child Poverty

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

The presence of married fathers in children's lives remains the most vital factor in reducing child poverty. Here's why.

Dads Hold Key to Reducing Child Poverty

The U.S. Census Bureau just released its report on income and poverty for 2014. The good news or bad news, depending on your perspective, is the overall rate for adults and children living in poverty did not change, from a statistically significant perspective, compared to 2013. In 2014, 13.5 percent of people aged 18 to 64 (26.5 million) were in poverty compared with 10.0 percent of people aged 65 and older (4.6 million) and 21.1 percent of children under age 18 (15.5 million). Children represented 23.3 percent of the total population and 33.3 percent of the people in poverty. It's disturbing that children represent more than a third of the people in poverty, especially because they have no control over their economic situation.

Because this proportion of the population in poverty includes all children regardless of family status, it's necessary to dig deeper into the data to reveal why fathers remain key to reducing child poverty. Fortunately, the Census Bureau digs that deeply. The bureau's analyses of the data reveal that: 

  • Children in father-absent homes experienced poverty at more than four times the rate of children in married-parent homes.
  • Nearly 1 in 2 children in father-absent homes (46.5 percent) were in poverty compared to only 1 in 10 children (10.6 percent) in married-parent homes.
  • The picture is worse for the youngest children. More than 1 in 2 children under age six in father-absent homes (55.1 percent) were in poverty.

These disturbing, depressing numbers show that the mere presence of more married fathers in children's lives will, from a population-based perspective, reduce child poverty. 

The only effective, long-term solution to increasing the proportion of children growing up with their married parents is to change cultural norms on the importance of living in a married-parent home for child well-being. The federal government has, with bipartisan support, tried to help by funding healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood programs. But no matter how successful these programs might be or eventually become in helping the children, parents and families they serve, they can't possibly serve enough people to affect the kind of culture change necessary to move the needle. Besides, the level of funding for this effort is minimal as it must compete for dollars with the many other and, frankly, important functions of government, such as funding the social safety net, infrastructure, education and research that are vital to create the vibrant economy in which all families can thrive. As a result, these programs, though important, have only scaled to a level that help some children and families at the highest risk for poverty.

Unfortunately, cultural norms on the importance of children growing up in a married-parent home have been headed in the wrong direction for years. Marriage among the young (age 18 to 32 years) has dropped like a stone during the last four generations, from 65 percent of people in the Silent Generation to 26 percent of Millennials. Moreover, a quarter of all adults age 25 or older have never been married, an all-time high. When they do marry, the average age at first marriage is also at an all-time high of 29.3 for men and 27.0 for women.

As a consequence of these and other trends, a higher proportion of children than ever are born to parents who aren't married. The unfortunate fact is we don't have the cultural will to reverse course. Too many people now see the purpose of marriage as one in which personal fulfillment is paramount and the primary if not sole role of marriage. Marriage has become about "me" and not "we" or "us," as in "family." While it is important that people feel fulfilled in marriage, the problem is far too many of us have separated marriage from its function of providing the ideal environment in which to raise healthy children and, thus, deny its impact on child well-being to the extent that we focus only on personal well-being. 

Can we do anything to reverse course? There is a vigorous debate about whether we should give up and say bye-bye to marriage, if not altogether at least to the importance of it as a vital institution. As I've written elsewhere, we can't give up on marriage. We must start by looking at it in a different way -- not as a zero-sum game between whether its role is personal fulfillment or to raise healthy children, but as an institution that can and should fulfill both roles.

The Father Factor Blog This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

How Training on NFI Programs Helps Organizations be Creative and Effective

I’m constantly amazed at how much our training can help organizations implement our programs in creative, effective ways. Here is one example...

Community Action of Central Texas (San Marcos, TX) recently purchased the 24/7 Dad® A.M. and P.M. programs for use with Head Start and Early Head Start families and as part of the statewide Texas Home Visiting Program. In addition to taking part in the Texas Home Visiting Program, Community Action serves more than 500 children through its Head Start and Early Head Start efforts in two central Texas counties immediately south of Austin.

I recently conducted a two-day training institute for Community Action on NFI’s 24/7 Dad® programs. It was one of the most challenging institutes I’ve conducted because of how much I had to customize it to help Community Action to, in turn, integrate them into their home visiting, Head Start, and Early Head Start efforts. Community Action will implement the program for use in a group-based setting—the specific setting for which NFI designed it—but will also use some of the activities in the program in a home-based setting in which staff will work with dads one-on-one.

Because no two organizations are alike, our staff doesn’t assume that every organization needs exactly the same training institute. Sure, we have a standard training institute for each program that serves as the foundation for every training institute on that program. Nevertheless, we talk with an organization’s staff about their plans for implementing the program before we finalize the content for each training institute. This approach ensures each organization can implement the program as effectively as possible. 

If an organization plans to implement one of our programs exactly as we designed it to be implemented, we don’t have to customize the training institute much, if at all. In the case of Community Action, however, I worked with Father Engagement Specialist David Bryant and Family/Staff Involvement and Development Director Edith Rivera—both of whom have responsibility for overseeing Community Action’s fatherhood efforts—to customize a significant portion of the training institute that involves practice facilitating the program. (Our two-day training institutes emphasize practice facilitation.)

The reason for this level of customization is David and Edith plan to not only run the programs with groups of fathers, staff that are home visitors will use activities from the A.M. and P.M. programs in their one-on-one work with dads during home visits. (David, Edith, the home visitors, and the home visitors’ supervisors attended the training institute.) The beauty of the programs is their flexibility, including the ability to use them in one-on-one settings. The challenge in those cases, however, is picking which parts of the programs to use and exactly how to modify those parts for the specific one-on-one setting associated with an organization’s fatherhood efforts (e.g. case management within an office setting or working with a dad or couple during a home visit).

Because Community Action had not yet determined exactly which parts of the programs to use and how to use them, I recommended to David and Edith that they practice facilitating a couple of sessions (as co-facilitators given that they’ll co-facilitate the group sessions) and pairs of home visitors select parts of the program they thought would be ideal for use during a home visit and role play delivering those parts during a home visit (i.e. one of the home visitors played the part of the home visitor and the other the part of the dad). David and Edith agreed with this approach, but, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. I had no idea whether the approach would work, let alone whether it would help Community Action get started on how to use the programs during home visits. 

Fortunately, the approach worked extremely well. The staff did a fantastic job selecting parts of the programs to use and how to modify them. Some parts required no modification while others required some creative modifications. Because David and Edith were scheduled to meet with the home visitors in the weeks after the training institute to select additional parts of the programs to use, they were off to a great start. The role plays had the effect of helping staff start the process of selecting which parts of the programs to use and how to modify them given the goals of the home visiting program (e.g. covering specific content, such as child discipline) and their knowledge of their one-on-one setting (e.g. how much time they could expect to spend with a dad). They also generated excitement among the home visitors about the potential of the program to help them help families in a new, creative way, thus creating buy-in from staff critical to the effectiveness of the programs.

I’m pleased to report that Community Action has kicked off their fatherhood program with an event attended by some of the families they serve. Check out some of the photos from the event...

I can’t wait to see how their fatherhood program increases the involvement of dads in the lives of their children. This experience was gratifying for me because of the way in which David and Edith helped me understand their needs so I could deliver a valuable training. Moreover, we now have this experience under our belt to use with other organizations that want to use the 24/7 Dad® programs in a one-on-one setting.

If you use or plan to use one of NFI’s programs, I encourage you to consider bringing in one of our staff to deliver a training institute, especially if you use or plan to use them in a unique setting and in novel ways. I also recommend a training institute even if you plan to use one of our programs in the conventional manner. You’ll be glad you did.

Do you use or plan to use an NFI program? Have you received training on the program you use or plan to use?

We have several upcoming trainings, please visit our Training Institutes Page for more information.
  The Father Factor Blog

Netflix's New Parental Leave Policy Lacks Teeth

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

While we should applaud Netflix's recent announcement of paid parental leave of up to one year for moms and dads after the birth or adoption of a child, it lacks the teeth and innovation necessary to encourage dads to take full advantage of this progressive policy and for Netflix to reap its full potential.

Netflix's policy is good for dads, families and our country. It sends a strong message in a country that's far behind others in providing paid parental leave, especially to dads. It recognizes that dads:

  • Spend more time than ever in the daily care of their children.
  • Provide more care to their children after they return to work when they the take more time off from work after the birth or adoption of a child.
  • Are more conflicted than moms in their attempt to balance work and family.
  • Are more likely than moms to scale back at home when they experience family demands and work overload.

Perhaps most important, it recognizes that more involved dads increase the well-being of children, mothers, families and communities.

Netflix's policy is also good for Netflix. Many dads fear taking advantage of parental leave and other work-family benefits. Despite these fears, when dads balance work and family, they are more productive employees who advance farther and faster in their careers. Involved dads--especially Millennial dads--are less fearful of the impact of balancing work and family. They demand jobs that provide paid parental leave. This demand from the newest dads is why it's no surprise that tech companies like Netflix lead the way in providing paid parental leave.

The challenge for Netflix is how to encourage dads to take full advantage of this policy. Dads are not moms. They require efforts that speak specifically to them--that meet their needs and wants as dads broadly and within the context of work-family balance. Dads are much less likely than moms to take parental leave. While 90 percent of dads in the U.S. take some time off from work, most of them take a week or less off.

To help their dads and the company, Netflix must give the policy the teeth it needs. Netflix must proactively encourage dads to take time off. Nothing in Netflix's announcement--or other commentary on the potential challenges of successfully implementing this policy--suggests that it is anything but a passive one. It lacks innovative tactics--any tactics, for that matter--that will give it a better chance to hold value and succeed with dads. This failure to recognize the need for an innovative, proactive effort to encourage dads to take full advantage of the policy is somewhat surprising given that Netflix is synonymous with innovation and the testing of tactics and approaches that disrupted and transformed how Americans consume movies and television shows.

Netflix must develop a campaign for dads that it constantly tests and refines (e.g. using a Lean Startup approach). The campaign must include, at a minimum:

  • Messages for dads, delivered through multiple internal channels and with enough frequency to be effective, that address the fears some dads may have about taking full advantage of the policy, such as it might hurt their career prospects or their job duties will suffer in their absence. These messages must include a value proposition that resonates specifically with dads.
  • Resources that educate dads (before and after the birth or adoption) about how to be involved dads, such as referrals to websites, brochures and other print materials, and on-site workshops/seminars that provide fathering education.
  • Ways to measure the impact of the policy on dads. Netflix must track the impact of the policy, such as the rate at which dads use the policy at all and, if so, how much leave they take. Netflix must analyze the data in a way that identifies the kinds of dads who do and don't take advantage of it using demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics. Netflix must also gather qualitative feedback from dads on the impact of the policy and on the effectiveness of the campaign.

Netflix must also involve dads in shaping the campaign and delivering elements of it. The company should, for example, consider forming an interdepartmental team of dads at different levels of the company to help develop and evaluate potential tactics. It should use dads who work at Netflix as spokespersons to deliver messages that contain the value proposition.

Netflix must approach this effort from the consumer-based mindset that has led to so much of its success. The dads who work at Netflix are, after all, the consumers of its policies. Dads have different needs than moms when it comes to being parents and balancing work and family. They deserve the same dedication to the effective use by dads of this policy that their company makes to create the algorithms that meet the entertainment tastes of its diverse external customers.

The Father Factor Blog This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

Research to Application: Cognitive Biases

In the third installment in this series (Framing and the “No Choice Option”), we introduced you to the work of Daniel Kahneman in which he captures the research on the cognitive biases humans suffer from in making decisions, regardless of the decisions they make.1 He describes how we rely on two cognitive systems when making decisions. System 1 “operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.” We often call it our “gut instinct.” System 2 “allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations” and involves deliberate choice. We often call it our “rational side.”

We primarily rely on System 1 to make most of our decisions. Unfortunately, it often leads us astray and gets us into trouble. The reason it leads us astray is that it relies on rules of thumb that give us a starting point from which to base our decisions. The problem is these rules of thumb can bias our thinking in ways that lead to poor decisions in many instances because we don’t spend adequate time and energy thinking through those decisions. 

This installment focuses on how you can use the knowledge of cognitive biases to improve your work with fathers. While the number of biases is large, this installment focuses on several of the most common ones you might encounter in your work with fathers.

research-to-application-cognitive-biasesConfirmation Bias

The confirmation bias refers to people’s tendency to seek evidence that supports their current views. People naturally want reassurance that their views are correct. They don’t typically challenge their own views by seeking evidence to disprove them. It’s threatening to people’s sense of whom they are to admit when they’re wrong. That threat makes the confirmation bias one of the most potent cognitive biases in work with fathers because most fathers don’t actively look for evidence that their views might be wrong. If they rely primarily on punishing their children rather than disciplining them, for example, they won’t look for evidence that they should use punishment as a last resort, not a first option.

When fathers suffer from the confirmation bias, it can be difficult to introduce new concepts about how to be a good father. Using the punishment versus discipline example once again, fathers can find it difficult to swallow the notion that guiding and teaching their children with effective discipline techniques is more effective, and better for their children’s overall well-being, than taking away cherished privileges or using corporal punishment. 

Availability Bias

The availability bias refers to people’s tendency to recall information that is most readily available. It causes people to overestimate the probability that events will occur. Child abductions and plane crashes, for example, tend to generate lots of coverage in the mass media. As a result, people commonly overestimate the frequency of child abductions and plane crashes.

When fathers suffer from the availability bias, it can be difficult to know the accuracy of the information they provide. That difficulty is not caused by a conscious decision on the part of fathers (e.g. they lie) but because they don’t know they might be misled by their most recent experiences. If you ask a father how happy he is in his relationship with the mother of his children, for example, his answer will most likely hinge on the nature of the most recent experiences with her—perhaps even the most recent one—not on the breadth of the experiences with her over the course of the relationship. If the most recent experience was a poor one, he will be more likely to say he is unhappy, and vice versa, than he is.

Hindsight Bias

You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase “hindsight is 20/20,” which refers to our ability to more clearly evaluate a choice after it happens, and know the outcome of that choice, than before we made the choice. The problem with that phrase is it’s misleading. It assumes that we should have known, or did know all along, what would happen even though we could not possibly or accurately predict the outcome.

This hindsight bias refers to people’s tendency to create narratives (stories) about past events so they can make sense of unpredictable outcomes. Regardless of how sound decisions made or processes put in place were at the time of the choice, this tendency causes people to more readily blame good decisions and processes related to poor outcomes than give credit to good decisions and processes related to good outcomes, a bias all its own called the outcome bias. In other words, people have difficulty understanding that good decisions and processes can result in unpredictable, poor outcomes just as easily as they can lead to unpredictable, good outcomes.

When fathers suffer from the hindsight bias, it can be difficult to help them understand that they are not necessarily to blame (or to blame as much) for specific outcomes. When a father assesses a failed relationship with the mother of his children, for example, he might disproportionately attribute the failure to himself or to her. Perhaps he made mostly good decisions as they tried to work through their issues, but factors beyond his control had a major contribution to the failed relationship. The father may think he knew all along that the relationship was headed to a poor conclusion when he didn’t know and couldn’t have known the outcome. 

On the other hand, when fathers suffer from this bias they take more credit than they deserve for good outcomes. A father might take more credit for raising a healthy, well-adjusted child, for example, than he gives to the mother.  He may say that his firm discipline was the key factor in how his child turned out when many other factors contributed just as much or more.

Ideas on Application

When it comes to working with fathers individually or in groups, you can use knowledge of cognitive biases to more effectively work with them. Here are a few general examples from which you can develop specific approaches or tactics that best fit the context in and fathers with whom you work:

  • Confirmation Bias: Knowing that many fathers will seek evidence to confirm their existing beliefs, attitudes, and behavior—and that they will resist changing the way they think and behave—better prepares you to work with fathers, especially on challenging topics such as masculinity, child discipline, and healthy relationships (e.g. communication with their spouse or partner). When you help fathers tackle these challenging topics, take extra care to prepare yourself for what can be a long process of change around certain issues.
  • Availability Bias: Knowing that many fathers will rely on recent events and experiences to shape the information they provide can help you broaden your thinking and approach to dig more deeply into what contributes to fathers’ thoughts and feelings. Ask probing questions to determine what fathers use as the foundation (evidence) for the information they provide. If a father says he is unhappy in his relationship with the mother of his children, for example, you can ask questions to determine whether he is narrowly framing his feeling based on a recent experience(s) with her or the breadth of the relationship. If the former, you can challenge him to re-evaluate his feeling based on the breadth of the relationship.
  • Hindsight Bias: Knowing that many fathers will create stories about past events to explain unpredictable outcomes, you could ask them, for example, to create timelines that include the decisions they made and processes they put in place and examine with them how much those decisions and processes contributed to good and bad outcomes. Help them evaluate the quality of the decisions and processes separate from the outcomes. In some cases, they might learn they should not abandon a good tactic to become a better father or partner, for example, just because it didn’t lead to the desired outcome. Help them understand that the good tactic becomes the means and the end—even though the father hopes it will lead to a good outcome—and that it might contribute to a good outcome the next time.

Regardless of how you apply the knowledge of cognitive biases, approach your effort as an experiment. Keep track of what works with fathers in general and with specific kinds of fathers (e.g. custodial and non-custodial) so that you can apply what works in future work with fathers one-on-one or in groups, and avoid what doesn’t work. 


As you consider using the knowledge of cognitive biases to improve your work with fathers, consider the following resources: 

  • The book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
  • The book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • The book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
  • The book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions by Dan Ariely

Don’t forget to look for more posts and reference guides in this series!

1) Research to Application > Cues, Triggers, and Nudges

2) Research to Application > Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

3) Research to Application > Framing and the "No Choice Option"

4) Research to Application > The Power of The "Deviant Dad"

5) Research to Application > Keystone Habits

Click here for the full PDF of the this post. 

(1) Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

About the "Research to Application" Series

As the nation’s #1 provider of fatherhood skill-building programs and resources, NFI provides guidance for practitioners and organizations on how they might be able to use to use the latest research on human behavior to enhance the effectiveness of their work with fathers. NFI provides this guidance in a series of blog posts called Research to Application: Guidance for Practitioners and Programs. The series is also available in the form of quick reference guides that you can download by clicking on the button at the end of the posts.

The series offers a platform for generating dialogue among NFI, organizations, and practitioners on ways that research can be applied to addressing pain points in serving fathers. This post is the sixth one in the series. It provides ideas on how you might integrate research on cognitive biases. Integrating this research could make you more effective in your work with fathers (e.g. facilitating a fatherhood program or working with fathers one-on-one).

If you implement any of the ideas in this post, or develop and implement your own ideas, please share them with us at We’ll use your experiences to update this guide so it is even more useful.

The Father Factor Blog > Where Fatherhood Leaders Go To Learn.

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