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The Father Factor

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Eliminate the Dark and Illuminate Fire Safety

How many times have you been called into your child's room in the middle of the night to soothe their fear of the dark? Whether it's monsters under the bed or odd sounds coming from the closed closet, kids look to their parents to rescue them and protect them from the perceived harms.

1._Dark

Although their night haunts are rarely valid, one fear that we need to consider is keeping them safe in the event of a fire. There are products out there designed to help dads in both of these areas.

One such product is the Life+Gear Safety Night Light. Operating as a regular night-light to help ward off childlike concerns induced by the dark the majority of the time, this innovative product also has a fire safety mode that is triggered by the sound of a fire alarm in the event of a fiery emergency.

When this happens, the night-light goes from lighting paths to the bathroom in the middle of the night and keeping kids calm in their beds to full-on brightness at 10x its normal power. Because fires start out with a golden flame and quickly convert into black smoky darkness, this little wall fixture could be the difference between your family finding the exits in a catastrophe and being unable to see the way to safety.

Since it works with all modern smoke alarms, there is no additional equipment to buy -- simply plug it into a standard wall outlet. The unit does require you to cover both sockets, so make sure you have a centrally-located spare that you do not need to use for other electrical equipment.

2._Light

Because it automatically comes on at dusk and goes off at dawn, you can ensure you are not wasting energy unnecessarily. Of course, the LEDs consume a low amount of power anyway so they are an inherently efficient choice for night light illumination!

This particular product functions as an effective night light even without the fire safety feature, but it works according to its true potential only with a smoke alarm. Thus, you also need to make sure you have fully functioning smoke detectors. The National Safety Council recommends that you place a smoke alarm on each floor of your home and in every bedroom. Additionally, test them once per month and change the batteries at least once a year.

In terms of advancements in the smoke alarms themselves, did you know that there are smart smoke alarms that are wireless and come equipped with voice alarms that are purported to wake children better than standard siren alarms?

3._FirstAlertThe First Alert Onelink Wireless Interconnect Smoke Detector with Voice Alarm comes with a higher price tag than some other voice alarm-capable smoke detectors, but you do enjoy the benefit of wireless connectivity.

If you don't mind or even prefer a hard-wired option, there are great voice alarm smoke detectors available from manufacturers such as KiddeFireX, and BRK. Maximize the investment by purchasing a dual smoke and carbon monoxide detector!

One additional piece of fire safety equipment dads should consider is a fire escape ladder.

4._Tools

These height-diminishing tools attach quickly and easily to most windows and are tidily stored out of the way under a bed or in a closet when not in use. They come in varying lengths to provide for second and third story windows so be sure to select the appropriate size when stocking your bedrooms.

For you and the dads you serve -- here are more tips for teaching kids about staying safe in the event of a fire:

  • Create a family safety plan: Draw a diagram of your home with your child and clearly mark the exits -- at least two for each room. Not only will this activity allow you to spend some quality time with your kids, but you can also take the opportunity to share with them the value of being prepared in the event of a fire. And the more light you can shed on something, the less likely they are to fear it: If it's no longer "unknown," there's nothing to be scared of!
  • If a fire does occur, assure your kids that they don't need to attempt to "rescue" their books, stuffed animals or toys. Things are replaceable but people are not. If they are concerned about your family pets, assuage those worries by establishing a buddy system whereby older kids and adults are responsible for safely vacating your littlest family members.
  • Make sure you go over important numbers with your kids (the fire department, the police department, your local hospital, and 911) and clearly designate external meeting points if you are separated or the parents are not home during the fire.

Open communication and preparation are both essential if you want to help your kids feel comfortable with things they can control and those they cannot. And hopefully by starting a conversation, they'll see that some things (like being scared of the dark) don't even deserve their energy!

What are some other ways you've found to keep your kids calm and collected in the midst of nighttime and emergency-based fears?

A creatively savvy do-it-yourselfer, Rheney Williams writes for The Home Depot and likes to share electrical tips on many topics including Fire Safety. To find out more about the products Rheney talks about in the article, visit Home Depot's Fire Safety page.

Why Parents Shouldn't Be Concerned About Their Children's Texting

This article was originally posted at The Huffington Post.

My 16-year-old is an outstanding writer. When she asks me to review something she's written, I'm always impressed at the excellence of her spelling, grammar, syntax, and creative word combinations. I rarely have corrections, and when I do they're typically minor.

teen_texting_dad_in_backgroundThe other day as we discussed an essay she'd written for a college-level communications course she's taking this summer, out of the blue she mentioned that her friends get mad at her for using proper grammar when she texts. She laughed as she shared an example in which a friend had a problem with her using a semicolon in a text. (Say what?) I could tell she actually gets a kick out of her friends' reactions and that those reactions don't bother her in the least.

That conversation reminded me of conversations I've had with my wife and friends about the potentially damaging effects of texting on children's literacy. My assumption had been that when children use incorrectly spelled words, poor grammar, change the way words look in print, and substitute symbols and images (e.g. emoticons) to communicate, it will have a negative effect on their spelling, grammar, and reading and writing skills. Logical, don't you think? But given everything I know about cognitive biases and the importance of using evidence to form opinions (see my recent post as an example), I wondered whether my assumption about the effects of texting might be wrong. After all, I couldn't think of any evidence to back up my assumption.

Sure enough, I was wrong. And oh, how wrong I was. A year-long British study published last month in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology examined, the effects of children's and young adults' grammatical "violations" in texting on spelling, grammar, and orthographic processing (the way words should look in print), the latter having a critical role in reading and writing fluency. The researchers used standardized test of spelling and grammar over the course of one year to measure the effects of texting.

The researchers recruited 243 participants and divided them among three groups: primary school (average age approximately 10), secondary school (average age approximately 13), and young adult (average age approximately 21). They found no negative effect of grammatical violations in texting on children's use of spelling, grammar, or orthographic processing. The only negative effect observed by the researchers was on young adults' use of poor word forms (e.g. "does you" instead of "do you"), but even for this age group, the effects of texting were not a cause for concern. This study adds to the body of evidence that has been building for the past five to seven years that texting does not harm children's literacy. Indeed, the British researchers cite no less than six such studies.

The picture that's emerging is one of texting as:

  • An insignificant factor in children's literacy. The most significant factors that influence children's literacy remain the quality of the literacy education children receive in school and at home. Parents should focus on how their children perform on tests of spelling, writing, reading, and comprehension as a true measure of their children's literacy.
  • A language with distinct rules for spelling, grammar, and syntax. Children learn this language just as they learn any other. As they gain fluency in this language, it doesn't harm their use of their native tongue. Texting is not unlike shorthand used by journalists. Like shorthand, texting allows for communication within strict constraints -- shorthand being useful within time constraints with texting being used within time and technological constraints. Ironically, some people refer to texting as "Internet shorthand."
  • Above all a social activity. As such, when children text they do so within a socially constructed world with its own norms for spelling, grammar, symbols, and images, a world that encourages individuality (e.g. children spell the same words differently than other children and even within their own sentences). Developmentally speaking, children use texting as a tool to express their emotions, feelings, and emerging sense of who they are as individuals. They test that expression with immediate feedback from one or many people (via group messaging, for example) and can make quick adjustments if necessary.

Now that I'm better informed about texting and its effect on literacy, I better understand why it hasn't had a negative effect on either of my girls' literacy. (My 19-year-old is majoring in journalism and is also an outstanding writer.) I'm even more amazed that my younger daughter insists on using proper spelling and grammar when she texts. I'm also a bit proud because I see that insistence as a form of "sticking it to the man."

At any rate, this evidence doesn't change my opinion that there is a lot not to like about texting. Children, including my own, can spend a ridiculous amount of time texting. They can also text at inappropriate times. I will always get miffed, for example, when my daughters text while we're eating dinner at a restaurant. I'll never understand why the first thing they do after waking up in the morning is, you guessed it, check their texts (and social media). I'm also bothered by the fact that texting leaves a permanent record, so I've often told my girls to be extra careful with the content and meaning of their texts. After all, I tell them, your texts can come back to haunt you. Nevertheless, I now have a better view of texting and stand, to some degree, corrected. Lol.

How often does your child text?

This article was originally posted at The Huffington Post.

Have You Looked Under the Hood Lately?

Like cars, your family’s finances need regular maintenance. Get a free 5-point financial inspection today!

Mechanic or not, you probably know the basics of a car safety inspection: Lights and signals, tires and treads, brake system, fluid levels, electrical and safety components. Similarly, you probably know the basics of a financial inspection: 

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  1. Are you spending less than you earn?
  2. Are you saving for emergencies, retirement, and things you need or want?
  3. Are you buying only what you can afford today (and even trying to buy less than you think you can afford)?
  4. Are you paying down credit card debt if you have it and limiting or eliminating your use of debt to finance your lifestyle?
  5. Are you putting a plan in place to protect your loved ones if something happened to you or your spouse?

Unfortunately, we don’t often look under the hood for a good inspection. Like we talked about in a previous post, us dads are often careful about our family's safety; but, when it comes to our family's financial safety, we may fall short. It’s understandable…life is busy and it can feel overwhelming—especially if you’re not sure what exactly to look for!

For the same reason you take your car to a mechanic, brightpeak financial is offering a free financial check-up to all National Fatherhood Initiative readers.

It involves an online questionnaire you can complete on your own terms, plus a follow-up call from a trained financial guide to help you identify opportunities for improvement and an action plan to help you move forward.

Click here to get started! It feels good to get a plan in place and your family might just think you’re a financial genius, too! 

brightpeak financial is a division of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a not-for-profit membership organization of Christians founded more than a century ago, which is based in Appleton, WI 54919-0001.

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Balance Work & Family: Be a Better Husband & Father with Less Effort

Creating Good Habits Makes It Easier to Be an Effective Parent and Partner

One of the most important aspects of being a good parent and partner is being consistent and reliable. Doing well once can be a great thing. Doing well constantly so that your wife can rely on you is a much greater success. As a parent, “saving the day” is a small accomplishment compared to avoiding the need to do so. To use an analogy–it is better to never run out of gas than to constantly run out of gas within a few blocks of a station.

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As a working father, I am often mentally immersed in my work. Doing well at work pays the bills and sets the stage for future earnings that can make my family’s life better. Like many fathers, however, my commitment to a better tomorrow can get in the way of a better today. NFI recently wrote about protecting your family's financial safety, while I'm interested in all things related to fatherhood, sometimes, it helps me to not only think of the big-picture, but it's helpful to think of the daily picture as well. 

For example, my concern about a presentation that may have lasting impact can explain why I failed to make a phone call that I had agreed to make or why I left crib sheets in the washer rather than remember to dry them. Those mistakes are temporary, but their cumulative impact changes the way that my wife runs her life out of fear that she cannot count on me.

Rather than committing significant time to worrying about all of the little things that I may have forgotten at home, I need to use a simpler tactic to do those things that must be done over and over again. I need to create the mental “ping” that my car gives me when I have 40 miles left before I am stranded. That tactic - that “ping” - is habit. Turning certain responsibilities into habit means that you are more reliable and spend less time “saving the day” (or “saving your bacon”).

As I illustrate in my book Covering Your Bases: Forty Simple Plays to Improve Life for Your Stay-At-Home Spouse habits that take just a few seconds and minimal effort can have enormous impact. During my first few years of work, I found myself forgetting something useful (money clip, phone, checkbook, ID badge) about once per week.Eventually, I created a mental checklist that I went through every morning. My list was only seven items long, but if something was missing I knew it before I left.

Committing a number of low-effort/high-impact tasks to habit or making them part of a checklist will make most fathers more effective and save them considerable stress. Fielding a phone call about the fact that there are no clean baby bottles takes more time and energy than programming yourself to be sure that the dishwasher is clean or running when you leave in the morning.

According to author Stephen R. Covey, “Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).” When competing priorities of work and parenthood squeeze your time, I believe that there is a fourth consideration – bandwidth (how much one can do). The ability to be both a star employee and fantastic parent can demand all of our focus for long periods of time. Occasional failures or omissions are more common than most of us realize. However, some people’s result in more harm than others.In many cases it is not about whether you fail but about what particular mistakes you make.

As noted above and throughout Covering Your Bases, the biggest cost of mistakes can be the time spent dealing with them. The aftermath of a small error can be larger than the mistake itself and result in both wasted time and a negative attitude that further suppresses your productivity. By making the small, repeatable tasks in your life part of a routine, you will find that you avoid not only the consequences of your mistakes but a prolonged drag on your productivity and attitude.

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How Safe is Your Family?

Life is full of unknowns - focus on what’s controllable.

As a dad, you worry about your family’s safety. That includes physical, spiritual, and emotional safety. But way too many dads unknowingly risk their family’s financial safety. The good news is, you can change that—and it’s simpler than you might think!

NFI-Safeguards_500x500_bpfOCHD073014.2(2)To get you started, brightpeak financial put together a free eBook, “How to Protect Your Family Financially.” Download it now.

The book contains important content, questions, and checklists to help make it easy.  

Consider four major categories of uncontrollable events. Realizing that these events happen and knowing how to plan for them can greatly reduce the hardship you and your family may experience if they were to happen. 

1) Unexpected Expenses include events like your car breaking down or a water heater needing to be replaced.  

2) Accident, illness, or injury that requires medical care or attention. One out of every 4 Americans in the workforce will experience an accident, illness or injury that leaves them unable to work for three months or more (Council for Disability Awareness, Disability Statistics, March 2013).

3) Job Loss. One out of every 2 people will experience job loss at some point during their working years, often through no fault of their own (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Projections, 2010-2020).

4) You or your spouse dying while children still depend on you, financially. The probability of death for men between the age of 35 and 65 is 18%. That’s 1 in 6. For women in the same age range its 11%, or 1 in 10. (Milliman, The Changing Face of Mortality Risk in the United States, 2007). 

Want to learn more? Download the free eBook now!  

brightpeak financial is a division of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a membership organization of Christians, created to help young families build financial strength so they may live life with confidence and generosity. Learn more about brightpeak financial hereThrivent Financial for Lutherans is located in Appleton, WI 54919-0001.

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NFI Board Elects New Board Chairman, Looks to Future of Fatherhood

In July, the Board of Directors of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) tapped Andy Schoka, a 5-year veteran NFI Board Member, as NFI’s next Board Chairman. NFI is grateful to outgoing Board Chairman Carlos Alcazar for his steady leadership. 

Thank you, Carlos!

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We don't get to today without great leaders and great leadership. I can't thank Carlos enough for serving as chairman, especially during the transition between Roland Warren and me as president of NFI. During that time, Carlos served as our interim president and spent a considerable amount of time ensuring that we conducted a thorough search to replace Roland. He went above and beyond the call of duty, and I learned a lot from him during that time that has served me well as president.

The Future Looks Bright, Andy!

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As I look back on NFI's two decades and my 14 years of service to this organization and the thousands of organizations and individuals working with fathers and families, I'm thankful for the great leaders who have been involved on our board. I can't think of a more qualified replacement for Carlos. Andy has been an incredibly dedicated board member who was also intimately involved in the transition from Roland to me. He has a great sense for business that will serve him and NFI well as our business model continues to evolve. I look forward to closely working with him. 

I'm thankful and excited to continue working on this national movement with Andy and all of our board members to educate, equip, and engage the culture. Along with our board members and our dedicated staff, we will continue to work diligently to end father absence and truly connect even more fathers to their children in the years to come.

Learn more about NFI and our mission here. Meet all of our board members here.

How Much Do You Know About the Rights of Unmarried Dads?

If you've kept up with this blog, you know that more children than ever are being born to unmarried parents. We know this fact well at National Fatherhood Initiative as we field a number of calls every month from unmarried parents (dads and moms) looking for information on the rights of unmarried dads who often don't have custody (joint or sole) of their children.

how much do you know about the rights of unmarried dadsIf you work with fathers, I'll bet that many if not most of them fall into this category. Unfortunately, most unmarried, non-custodial dads don't know their rights when it comes to their children. That's why I was so pleased to learn about The Rights of Unmarried Fathers, a comprehensive listing of these fathers' rights in all 50 states available for free download from the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

This resource describes, for each state, the:

  • Legal definition of a father
  • Paternity registry
  • Alternate means to establish paternity
  • Required information to establish paternity

It also describes:

  • How to revoke a claim to paternity
  • How to access information on the paternity registry

Because some of the unmarried, non-custodial dads you serve might be involved in the child welfare system, I encourage you to pair this resource with Finding Your Way: Guides for Dads in Child Protection Cases, a series of free, downloadable guides for fathers (and that you can give to fathers) that help dads understand their rights and responsibilities, their role in and out of court, how to work with their lawyer, and more. Together, these resources will help you educate unmarried, non-custodial dads so they can be as involved, responsible, and committed as possible in the lives of their children.

How much do you know about the rights of unmarried dads? How much do the unmarried dads you serve know about their rights?

image: iStockPhoto

 

How Messi and Ronaldo Can Make You a Better Parent

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Did the FIFA World Cup capture your imagination? Even if you're not a soccer fan, the fact that the U.S. Men's Team made it out of the "Group of Death" surprised and excited Americans everywhere. Moreover, for the first time in history, the U.S. Men's Team advanced to the knockout round in two consecutive FIFA World Cups.

As a dad who has watched two daughters play club and school soccer for more than a decade, I've developed a passion for the game. (I now play indoor soccer on a team with my oldest daughter--not very well, I might add, but it's a ton of fun.) I watch soccer now more than any other sport.

Screen_Shot_2014-07-16_at_9.56.56_AMAs a result, I've become familiar with two of the game's stars both of who were on display at the Word Cup -- Lionel Messi of Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. Messi and Ronaldo are considered by almost every fan and soccer pundit to be the two best players in the game and two of the best of all time. Together, they've won the past six Ballon d'Or awards as the best player in the game. Messi has won it four times to Ronaldo's two with the non-winner in each year being the runner-up in five of the six years.

So it's clear that among the soccer intelligentsia who bestow the Ballon d'Or that Messi and Ronaldo are the "it" men of the game. Even the casual soccer or sports fan -- even someone who has rarely, if ever, watched a soccer match -- when asked to name the best player in the game will undoubtedly mention one, if not both.

But who is better, really? Before I answer that question, answer the following one quickly -- as soon as you hear it -- and write down your answer.

Who do you think is the better player? We'll come back to your answer later.

The answer to who is better depends on whom you ask. It can be influenced by a host of factors that include allegiance to country or club (Messi plays for Barcelona and Rolando for Real Madrid, two of the world's elite teams), how often you've watched each play matches, knowledge of and experience playing the game and exposure to the opinions of fans and experts.

The fact is it's not easy to separate these two superstars unless you're willing to examine the evidence and not allow extraneous factors to influence your opinion. And therein lies the lesson for how you can become a better parent.

Nate Silver, creator of the website fivethirtyeight.com and author of the best-selling book The Signal and the Noise, is famous for using statistical analyses to separate the chaff from the wheat. To answer the question of which player is better, he compared Messi and other soccer stars by conducting rigorous analyses of the most important statistics focused on player performance.

His analyses included the following:

  • shooting and scoring production;
  • from where on the field they take shots (and how often they score from various distances);
  • how often they set up their own shots and what kind of kicks they use to make those shots (soft or hard);
  • ability to take on defenders;
  • the kind and accuracy of their passes;
  • how often they create scoring chances and how often those chances lead to goals;
  • and how their defensive playmaking compares to other high-volume shooters.

He also separated the players' from the effects of playing on their teams (i.e. the influence of how good their teams and teammates are on the players' performance). And this is only a sampling of the data Silver crunched.

After examining the evidence, Silver came to the crystal-clear conclusion that "Lionel Messi is Impossible." (Read about his analyses in this article on his website). The results of his analyses are so overwhelming in favor of Messi as the best player in the world that even Ronaldo can't compare. (In effect, these analyses offer an examination of the two because Ronaldo came in second -- a distant second -- in many categories.) So if someone tries to argue with you that Rolando or anyone else is better than Messi, you can use this ream of facts to show how misguided they are.

Just as these analyses provide evidence that Messi is far and away the best soccer player in the world, so too is there evidence on how to be an effective parent. Unfortunately, some parents don't care enough to examine the evidence or don't know it exists, to their own detriment and that of their children. I am convinced, however, that parents must and can do better at examining evidence about what leads to effective parenting -- if they would only make the effort. They must also teach their children to examine evidence generally so that their children grow into adults who make informed decisions and are skeptical about acting on information (e.g. opinions) in the absence of evidence or that is based on flawed or "cherry-picked" evidence.

I've read several books lately on how people tend to not rely on sound evidence to inform their beliefs and, ultimately, decisions. (In addition to Silver's book, I highly recommend Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.) Humans have a tendency to use heuristics, or "mental shortcuts," to make decisions. Why? Because it's easier to rely on a shortcut than to do the hard work necessary to examine the evidence before making a decision. (Yes, thinking is hard work.) The problem is these shortcuts create biases in thinking that cause us to make decisions -- including those about how to parent -- that have little or no basis in fact.

When I asked you which player you thought was better, what was your initial answer? Unless you said you didn't know (perhaps because you don't follow soccer), you probably had a very confident opinion. What I didn't ask was why you had that opinion. You might be surprised to learn that you quickly -- automatically -- drew on whatever you had ever heard about these two players. You probably relied on the most recent exposure to information about them. If you watched the FIFA World Cup, you might have been influenced by a discussion among the experts about Messi's greatness, that he won the Golden Ball (the award for the outstanding player in the tournament) and that Ronaldo and his Portuguese team performed poorly. (The incredible cross Ronaldo made that led to the tying goal in the final minute of stoppage play against the U.S. not withstanding.) Regardless, the fact is you answered quickly (perhaps after a little thought) based on what was most readily available in your memory.

One of the mental shortcuts parents rely on is called the availability bias. (There are many others that affect parents' decision-making, so this one is illustrative.) Simply put, parents rely on what immediately comes to mind (what's available in their memory) when making decisions about how to parent (e.g. discipline their children). What readily come to mind are how they were parented, how the other parent in the family parents and how other family members (e.g. siblings) and friends parent. Other factors that might influence availability include stories of parenting (good and bad ones) that a parent might have seen on television or in a movie. Or perhaps they just read a parenting book chocked full of opinions about how to be a good parent but that's void of evidence.

Parents succumb to this bias because it requires little effort. It's just easier to make a decision quickly and easily without examining the evidence. Unfortunately, this and other biases can lead to poor parenting. That's why I encourage you to seek out parenting advice that is evidence-based and evidence-informed. I also encourage you to question where the advice you hear comes from and to tell your children to do likewise regardless of topic. If you do both of these things, you will increase the chance that you'll be as effective a parent as you can be and that your children will reach their goals in life as often as Messi finds the back of the net.

What informs your decision-making when it comes to parenting?

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

The Best Dad Advice Around: Download Free eBook & Enter the iPad Air Giveaway

“It was not his words, it was the silence of his voice, the way he was and is always there, ready to help and be a super hero without saying a word.” – Kris

What was the best advice your dad ever gave you?

We learn a lot about life from our dads. Whether it’s how to communicate successfully in our marriages, how to be fathers ourselves, or just some good practical advice on career or finances, dads share with us a special kind of wisdom.

NFI-Giveaway-eBlast_bpfOCHD071714.1_500x500Last month, to celebrate Father’s Day, brightpeak financial launched a campaign to collect the Best Dad Advice from around the U.S.

They challenged moms, dads, sisters and brothers to share with us the best advice they’ve ever received from their dads. The results were inspiring. Hundreds of entries poured in with advice on love, faith, money, parenting and facing adversity.

The submissions were insightful, smart and even humorous, but above all, they were inspirational.

brightpeak then compiled the best entries into the Best Dad Advice eBook. 

CLICK HERE to download your free Best Dad Advice eBook and enter the iPad Air Giveaway!

Check out a few excerpts from the book, below:


CHARACTER & VIRTUE

“It is better to be kind than correct. I use this to relate and connect with my kids on a daily basis.” – Mark

“Don’t take anything for granted, not even a glass of water.” – Deana

"Always be present to those around you.” – Seth

CONFLICT & ADVERSITY

“Wisdom is the ability to put your knowledge into proper action.” – David

“There is no such thing as luck. Luck is what you make for yourself by never quitting.” – Ron

“If one person calls you a donkey, ignore them. If two people call you a donkey, think about it. If three people call you a donkey, you probably are!”
– Amanda

FAITH

“My dad has always told us kids to seek wise and Godly council before we
do anything. Even if it means having to wait a while for an answer. I’m very
grateful to God for giving my dad such a godly character!” – Caitlin

“My father’s best advice was to put God first in your life, then your family,
then others.” – Thomas

PRACTICAL LIFE

“Don’t let your gas go below ¼ tank in the winter.” – Gretchen

“When I was young and got hurt, my Dad would always tell me, ‘It’ll feel
better when it quits hurting.’” – Ron

“Don’t put shiny wheels on your car - someone will steal it.” - Jackie

LOVE

“It all starts with a kiss – so be careful.” – Louise

“If there’s any doubt whatsoever about the man you’re gonna marry, then
he is not the right one for you. You will know without any doubts when you
meet the right man.” – Paul

“Don’t date a woman you wouldn’t marry.” – Mike

PARENTING

“The best thing a Dad can do for his kids is to love his wife. It reminds me that the kids are always listening and they learn from my actions.” – Mike

“Cars, houses and things can be replaced but years gone by can’t. Make time to play with your kids before they are too old to play.” – Anne

“The best and only advice my Dad gave me on raising my children was, ‘Be consistent.’” – Debra

If you would like to read the whole book, including sections on Money & Career, Decision Making, Attitude, Practical Life, Faith, Love, and Family, download the Best Dad Advice eBook below. You’ll also be entered to win a free iPad Air when you sign up!

CLICK HERE to download your free Best Dad Advice eBook and enter the iPad Air Giveaway!

Brightpeak financial is a division of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a membership organization of Christians, created to help young Christian families build financial strength so they may live life with confidence and generosity. Learn more about brightpeak financial here.

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10 Ways to Sneak Spinach into Your Child's Food

Spinach is one of the most potent greens when it comes to overall health and vitamin support. While its raw form can be healthy in its own right, the boiled and cooked versions of the leafy green provide an incredible amount of nutritional value. Unfortunately, it could be incredibly difficult to feed the much-needed veggies to the children. After all, boiled spinach doesn't look all that appetizing. What are ways you can incorporate spinach into daily meals without forcing your child to eat it?

10 ways to sneak spinach into your child's foodAs a reader of this blog, you know NFI takes health and diet seriously. Christopher Brown recently wrote a post called Your Children are What YOU Eat. Us dads need to be intentional about being an example to our children when it comes to diet. For fatherhood leaders, you can not only use these tips in your own life, but be sure to share these tips with the dads you serve. 

1. Salads - Spinach can be added to salads quite easily without making the experience distasteful for the children. Even replacing half of the lettuce with spinach can help your children obtain more vitamins and minerals than by eating it without. Adding grilled chicken, onions and mushrooms to the mix can make an incredibly healthy, and tasty meal.

2. Smoothies - Armed with a good blender, you can make fruity smoothies with a bit of spinach added in order to make a good summer drink. Mixing fruits such as blueberries can help hide the spinach for children who don't like the "look" of certain foods. Make them in the privacy of your kitchen and the children will never know that they are drinking some of the healthiest beverages you can develop.

3. Lasagna - Depending on the recipe, you may already be incorporating spinach in your lasagna. If not, a few cups of chopped spinach gently added to a layer or two can provide a bit of additional nutrition to the dish.

4. Spinach Cake - While the children may not eat a glop of boiled spinach, a great deal of fun can be had by eating a green cake. Blending the leafy green and adding it to your recipe could provide a great way to encourage your children to eat healthier. Of course the sugars in the frosting may not be as healthy as you'd like, but at least the children are eating the spinach.

5. Soups - By finely grinding the spinach, you can add a bit of it to soups to give it more health appeal while making it look like ordinary chives and such. This can be a great addition to homemade turkey noodle soup after Thanksgiving.

6. Egg Rolls - While spring egg rolls can be delicious themselves, using spinach in your chicken or pork recipes can add more health appeal. Chopped spinach lining the egg roll prior to add the rest of the components can provide a way for the children to eat it without realizing what is actually within.

7. Quiche - The overall development of a good quiche can hide all kinds of nutritional foods without the child suspecting spinach is involved. While some use bacon, others will add extra cheese in the development of the dish in order to help hide the fact that spinach is within the meal.

8. Macaroni and Cheese - Using rotini noodles and a homemade cheese sauce, you can add a bit of spinach into this dish with the children being overly concerned. A few chopped pieces of bacon and almost any child will be hooked on this healthy side or meal. Some parents will use garden rotini as one-third of the noodles are green anyway.

9. Chicken Pasta - Using garden rotini again, you can add chopped spinach in with diced tomatoes while mixing in chicken and a garlic marinade to provide a meal that is good hot or cold. The garlic marinade can easily hide a lot of the taste of spinach from the children.

10. Mashed Potatoes - Some parents have had good luck using chopped spinach in a cheesy garlic mashed potatoes recipe. This combines two foods that children seem to love: cheese and mashed potatoes. The added spinach will barely be noticeable as the children are more focused on the cheesy side of the dish.

Providing a nutritional option for children can help them develop physically and mentally. The more intentional you are about child's health, the more healthy they will be. Start by encouraging your children to eat more vegetables and fruits daily. Sneak the veggies in if you have too!

Ken Myers is a father of three and passionate about great childcare. He’s always looking for ways to help families find the support they need to live fuller, richer lives. Find out more about expert childcare by checking out @go_nannies on Twitter.

image: iStockPhoto

Your Children are What YOU Eat

You know what a fast-food diet can do to your waistline, not to mention your thighs, buttocks, arms, etc. But did you know that Baconator® from Wendy's could have consequences for your unborn children and grandchildren? It's time to wake up and smell the coffee (er, bacon) when it comes to your diet. What you eat can have either a positive or negative effect on your unborn child or grandchild. 

diet and fatherhood donut cheese burger

Recent ground-breaking research by Dr. Ian Myles, an allergist-immunologist based in Bethesda, MD, and reported in the Nutrition Journal concluded that it's not just moms whose diets affect their unborn children. Dads' diets matter, too. Specifically, parents' diets affect their children's "mircobiome," the plethora of bacteria that live on our skin and in our gut. A diverse and balanced microbiome is critical to a strong immune system. Unfortunately, our Western diet--marked by an imbalance that favors refined grains, sugar, and too much saturated fat--creates a limited and imbalanced microbiome one that makes it more difficult for us to properly digest food (thus taking advantage of the nutrients that might be present but limited) and ward off disease, not to mention how lethargic such a diet can make us.

Worse yet, our poor diet is a bad gift that keeps on giving as the microbiome it creates in parents (or expectant parents) passes directly to their offspring. When it comes to moms, it's easier to see the connection. Dr. Myles says, for example, "When the mother’s diet causes a harmful imbalance of her bacteria, she passes this imbalance on to her child and thus fails to present the ideal commensals for a proper immune education during her child’s most critical developmental window. This developmental dysbiosis leaves the offspring’s immune system poorly trained to fight off infections and encourages autoimmune and allergic diseases." 

While the mechanism for moms' contributions to their offspring's microbiome is easier to get your arms around, you might understandably wonder what's the mechanism that links dads' diets to their offspring's microbiome. It's DNA that wonder of nature that allows two human beings to create another one. Poor diets can negatively affect men's DNA by altering the genes that men eventually pass to their offspring. Those alterations can affect the development of organs some of which (e.g. the pancreas) are vital to a properly functioning immune system. As Dr. Myles says, "Since the information encoded upon DNA is passed from parent-to-child and even potentially from parent-to-grandchild, cells that learn bad habits like ignoring signs of infection or over-reacting to antigens could combine with microbiome shifts to further worsen a child’s immunologic development." 

This research is quite new. The jury is still out on how strong a link there is between dads' diets and the affects on their unborn children. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence to strongly suggest that what you ingest can have far-reaching consequences for your children. It's not enough to understand and act upon the clear evidence on how your diet directly affects you and indirectly affects the children you might now have (e.g. they learn through modeling what to eat). You also must seriously consider acting on the emerging evidence that you can pass along the impact of a poor diet (or a good one) to the very core of your children's being just like your height, eye color, hair color, or any other heritable trait.

How poor or good is your diet? How much do you care about how your diet affects your children or unborn children?


image: iStockPhoto

The Problem with Parent-Directed Activities

As a parent, you want to see your child happy and healthy. Many parents are buying into the idea that happy, healthy kids are created when the parents arrange a plethora of directed activities. They spend their days shuttling kids from soccer games to gymnastics practice to piano lessons, all in the hopes of keeping their minds and bodies happy. Yet despite your best intentions, these activities may be doing more harm than good for your children's development.

The Loss of Free Play

sergey-nivens-shutterstock_boy_playing_outsideIf you read our blog much, you know we like to provide helpful parenting tips from time to time—both for dads and for those who serve dads. When you were a kid, chances are your parents sent you outside to play for hours. You may have roamed your neighborhood and enjoyed pickup games of baseball or kickball. Do your kids get the chance to do this? If you’re like the average modern family, the answer is no. Free playtime is being lost to adult-directed activities, and this is to the detriment of our children.

Parents cite many reasons that they don't simply let their kids play. Reasons include:

  • Increased academic demands

  • Concerns for safety

  • Lack of other children to play with

  • Lack of time in the schedule

Some of these reasons are legitimate. You do, after all, have a responsibility to keep your children safe. Yet, failing to let them play is bringing on a new set of dangers. Before you assume that hovering over your kids and choosing their activities is the best, consider the dangers of constant parent direction in play.

The Loss of Play Increases Anxiety and Depression

From 1981 to 2006, suicide rates for children under the age of 15 years doubled, according to the American Association of Suicidology. Children are facing serious problems with anxiety and depression. Interestingly, in this same time frame the opportunity for children to play on their own has dropped at an alarming rate.

Why is this? During play, children learn how to take risks. They can mitigate the risk and the fear it brings with the happiness the activity brings. If going down the tall, twisty slide is too frightening, no one pushes them to do it. They can choose the shorter slide for the first few trips until they gain the confidence to try the big one.

This type of self-directed play teaches children how to handle and overcome anxiety. It also brings great happiness, which lessens the chances of depression. Children are more emotionally stable when they get the chance to play free of parental direction.

Free Play Benefits Children in Crucial Areas of Development

Emotional and mental health is just one aspect of free play as it benefits children. Parents who let their children play on their own on a regular basis will also notice:

  • Children learn how to handle emotions

  • Children learn to make friends and get along with peers

  • Children develop better imaginations and problem-solving skills

  • Children learn what they do and do not enjoy

  • Children become more self-aware and self-confident

Children who are constantly directed in their activities don’t get the chance to explore peer interactions, or activities they enjoy that parents might not think of.

How to Incorporate More Free Play Time

If free play is so important to your child's development, what can you do to incorporate more of it in your family? Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Cut down on scheduled activities to make time to play

  • Create a safe outdoor play area where you are comfortable letting your children play

  • Let your children be bored, even if it requires practice for both you and them

  • Limit or eliminate television and video games during the week

  • Meet the neighborhood parents so you feel comfortable letting your kids play together

  • Take action with other local parents to make the neighborhood safe for free play

Sending your children out to play without you at their side, or stepping back when they’re at the playground is not lazy parenting — it’s good for your kids. Find ways to incorporate safe free play times into your life, and watch your children's emotional, mental and social health blossom.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Why or why not?

David Reeves is the Marketing Director of Grounds For Play, a division of Superior Recreational Products in Carrollton, GA. The company is focused on the design of play structures and environments that challenge children mentally and physically.

image: shutterstock

10 Ways To Be a Better Dad

Today, more and more dads like you are experiencing the satisfaction and reward of taking a more active role in the life of your child. Read and discover how these 10 simple ideas can help (or remind) you to start today on a new path—one that will impact your relationships...and your child's future. 

1) Respect Your Children's Mother

One of the best things you, as a dad, can do for your children is to respect their mother. If you are married, maybe this goes without saying, but I'll say it just in case; keep your marriage strong and healthy. Take time, as least weekly, to work on this relationship and keep it strong. If you're not married, it's still important to respect and support the mother of your children. A father and mother who respect each other, and let their children know it, provide a secure environment for the children. When children see their parents respecting each other, they are more likely to feel they are also accepted and respected. Find more on protecting your marriage.

10 ways to be a better dad fatherhood2) Spend Time With Your Children

This is more complicated that is sounds, I know. But, how a dad spends his time tells his children what's important to him. You've no doubt heard us say, Children spell "love": T-I-M-E. If you always seem too busy for your children, they will feel neglected no matter what you say. Treasuring children often means sacrificing other things, but it is essential to spend time with your children. Kids grow up so quickly. Missed opportunities are lost forever. Need ideas for how to spend your time? Here are 7 Ways to Connect with Your Kids

3) Listen First, Talk Second

All too often the only time a father speaks to his children is when they are getting in trouble. That's why many children may cringe when their mother says, "Your father wants to talk with you." Take time and listen to your children's ideas and problems. Listening helps them feel respected and understood. Begin listening and talking with your kids when they are young so that difficult subjects will be easier to handle as they get older. 

4) Discipline With Love

All children need guidance and discipline, not as punishment, but to set reasonable limits. Remind your children of the consequences of their actions and provide meaningful rewards for desirable behavior. Fathers who discipline in a calm and fair manner show love to their children. Get our 8 Things to Know About Disciplining Your Child.

5) Be A Role Model

Fathers are role models to their kids, whether they realize it or not. A girl who spends time with a loving father grows up knowing she deserves to be treated with respect by boys, and what to look for in a husband. Fathers can teach sons what is important in life by demonstrating honesty, humility, and responsibility. Here's a great example of a role model dad in case you need one.

6) Be A Teacher

Too often we think teaching is something others do at a school building. But a father who teaches his children about right and wrong, and encourages them to do their best, will see his children make good choices. Involved fathers use everyday examples to help their children learn the basic lessons of life. Consider the vital knowledge you, and you only, possess with regard to music and classic movies at this point!

7) Eat Together As A Family

Sharing a meal together (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) can be an important part of healthy family life. In addition to providing some structure on a busy day, it gives kids the chance to talk about what they are doing and want to do. It is also a good time for fathers to listen. Most importantly, it is a time for families to be together each day. 

8) Read To Your Children

In a world where television and technology dominates the lives of children, it is important that fathers make the effort to read to their children. Children learn best by doing and reading, as well as seeing and hearing. Read to your children when they are very young. When they are older, encourage them to read on their own. Instilling your children with a love for reading is one of the best ways to ensure they will have a lifetime of growth. We wrote a little something called 6 Tips on How to Show Your Child Reading is Awesome. Let's be honest, it's helpful.

9) Show Affection

Children need the security that comes from knowing they are wanted, accepted, and loved by their family. Dad, get comfortable hugging your children. Showing affection every day is the best way to let your children know that you love them.

10) Realize A Father's Job Is Never Done

Even after children are grown and ready to leave home, they will still look to their fathers for wisdom and advice. Whether it's continued schooling, a new job or a wedding, fathers continue to play an essential part in the lives of their children as they grow and, perhaps, marry and build their own families. 

Which one of these 10 ways do you find the most difficult? Why?

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Fatherhood Leader: We have these 10 Ways to Be a Better Dad created as brochures and tip cards for you to use with your group of dads in any setting.

image: iStockPhoto

What's Mom Got to Do With It?

I was at an acquaintance's house the other night, and the inevitable question, "What do you do for a living" led to an unending story of a father who was denied access to his child(ren) by the mother - for all sorts of reasons.

I heard about the endless heartache he suffered trying to be involved in the child's life, which lead to his frustration, and eventual hopelessness and realization that he would never have easy access to his child.

Now, we all know there are two sides to every story, but this scenario is all too common.

what's mom got to do with it fatherhoodWhen I tell people that NFI develops and distributes curricula to help organizations across the nation work with dads to increase their involvement, I often get the follow-on question, "Well, what about the moms who don't let them be involved?"

Enter the discussion of "maternal gatekeeping", which refers to a mother’s protective beliefs about the desirability of a father’s involvement in their child’s life, and the behaviors acted upon that either facilitate or hinder collaborative childrearing (often called “shared parenting” or “co-parenting”) between the parents. Maternal gatekeeping occurs regardless of whether parents are married, divorced or unmarried, and regardless of the parents’ satisfaction with the relationship between them. 

Let me clarify - this is not a discussion about the court system and its challenges. We're talking about the part of the father-child relationship over which a mother has some control - where she has the choice to be a gateway or a gatekeeper to dad's involvement. Specifically: 

  • The cognitive aspects of maternal gatekeeping include preferences or beliefs about the father’s involvement, satisfaction with his involvement, and the mother’s view of the father’s competence as a parenting figure. 
  • The behavioral aspects can include how the mother speaks about the father in the presence of their child; to what extent the father is included or updated on the child’s health, schooling or social life; and the extent to which the mother communicates to the father that she knows what is best for their child and the correct way to do things—while he does not 

How Does this Happen?

In most married or cohabiting American families, mothers and fathers divide their family roles and tasks to achieve maximum efficiency as they raise children. Even when parents expect during pregnancy that they will divide employment and family roles evenly, most new parents take on gender stereotypic roles after the birth of their first child and thereafter (Cowan & Cowan, 2000). Even when both parents work outside the home, fathers more often take on the dominant role as economic provider. Regardless of how much each parent works outside the home, mothers generally assume primary responsibility for childcare and associated responsibilities inside the home. In divorced and unmarried families, mothers most often assume legal guardianship of children. Consequently, children most often reside with them, resulting again in mothers’ assumption of primary responsibility for their care on a daily basis. 

Despite an increase in joint custody and the recognized importance of fathering among divorced, separated, or never-married couples, mothers continue to typically serve as the primary caretakers of children, particularly in their children’s early years. Even when mothers and fathers are equally or near-equally involved in raising children, mothers often feel a sense of ownership or that they have primary rights toward the children in comparison to fathers. This feeling can result from some combination of biology (mothers carry the children in pregnancy and give birth) and social roles selected by many parents—and reinforced by societal expectations—that currently sanction mothers over fathers as primary caretakers of children. 

Why Does it Happen?

The motivations for maternal gatekeeping vary widely. They depend on individual, couple, and familial circumstances and situations. Mothers might have a difficult time relinquishing familial responsibility, might want to validate their identity as “the mother” and garner recognition for their “maternal” or “feminine” contributions to the family, or might view the father as incompetent or even dangerous to the child. This latter view might be based either on actual evidence, the father’s past behaviors, or her personal perceptions of him and his failures in the male familial role.

Furthermore, she might be protective of her child purely as a function of the child’s age. If the child is not old enough to verbalize his or her own needs and desires, she might feel qualified to make decisions and judgments for that child, thus becoming the monitor, supervisor, permission grantor, and controller of all others’ involvement with the child—including the father’s. There are likely "good" intentions here.

However, when the father is less involved in raising his child or finds his access to his child constantly hindered and blocked by the gatekeeping actions of the mother, the ability of the child to adjust to parental divorce is weakened. The gatekeeping can damage the father-child relationship and the parents’ ability to cooperate and keep their conflict levels low and out of the child’s earshot or awareness. It is well established that conflict, low levels of cooperation, and less father involvement contribute to the child’s academic, behavioral, and social difficulties in the short and long term. Maternal gatekeeping therefore poses an important and powerful threat to the vitality of the father-child relationship and the overall well-being and adjustment of the child.

So we're back to helping fathers be involved in their children's lives. We need to discuss positive gatekeeping and its result.

Studies have demonstrated that when mothers perceived their partners as motivated and competent to engage in child care responsibilities, fathers were more involved in childcare (benefitting mom!). The father-child relationship is thus based on a triangle that includes father, child, and mother. In research on divorced parents, positive gatekeeping (that which supports and facilitates shared parenting) is linked to the mother’s beliefs about the importance of the father’s involvement and her duty to help nurture and facilitate it. The fathers’ positive gatekeeping response is linked to his acknowledgment that the mother’s role in his relationship to his child is a real and valid one.

As a Fatherhood Practitioner, What can You do About It?

Begin educating mothers on the importance of father involvement. Work directly on the maternal gatekeeping topic addressed in NFI's popular FatherTopics Workshop Mom as Gateway or in a deeper way with Understanding Dad: An Awareness and Communication Program for Moms. You may even find that your staff members could benefit from a better understanding of maternal gatekeeping, and how to help moms understand the importance of dad's involvement. Your personal and organizational goals to increase father involvement in the lives of children in your community will thank you.

Download your free sample of "Mom As Gateway" here

image: creatas

See How Connecticut is Changing Fatherhood and Why It Matters to You

In a recent issue of Connecticut Magazine, Ray Bendici writes, "The Changing Face of Fatherhood in Connecticut" and takes a look inside the fatherhood program that is literally changing lives. Learn what this group is doing to help dads connect with their children. 

Ray writes for Connecticut Magazine:

it's Monday afternoon at Madonna Place in downtown Norwich, men ranging in age from their early twenties up to mid-fifties trickle into the plain brick building...They greet each other with fist bumps and handshakes, load paper plates with pizza, sit down at the table and start talking about busting their asses at work, trying to negotiate child visitation with ex-wives and girlfriends, navigating legal issues, going fishing with their kids...and motorcycles—you know, guy stuff.

connecticut_magazine_changing_fatherhoodWill Marquez is the leader of the 24/7 Dad® program and leads a dozen men in 90-minute sessions all connected and ready to learn how to be better dads.

Bendici points out that around 90 percent of the men in this program are single dads and are referred either by a social services agency or others who have successfully completed the program.

Some things jumped out at me from Bendici's article that will prove useful and encouraging for you.

U.S. Census data for Connecticut shows that in 2000:

  • 676,467 married households—52% of the state population.

By 2010, that number had dipped to:

  • 672,013—49% despite the overall population of the state having grown from 3.41 million to 3.57 million.

In Bendici words, "there are more singleparents—and singledads—than ever before, which means fatherhood has become an evolving enterprise."

As we know from our years of experience working with community-based fatherhood programs, many point to employment as one of the biggest roadblocks to improved paternal relationsAnthony Judkins, program manager of Connecticut’s Fatherhood Initiative since it started in 1999 says, “When you have children, there are no instructions on being a father...when you have been incarcerated and you are a felon, when you have low education levels, when you have child-support debt that continues to mount—those things are sometimes insurmountable." This is where the fatherhood program comes in.

The fatherhood program in Norwich has been successful:

  • helped 152 fathers (and 302 children)
  • 56% of unemployed fathers obtained employment after program enrollment,
  • 60% of fathers initiated, resumed or caught up on child support payments because of the assistance they received

All of the above positive results have, as you might imagine, translated into better relationships with their children.

As one session at Madonna Place wraps up, Bendici recalls an exercise. Will Marquez poses a scenario of teenage son smoking marijuana, and asks the fathers in the group how they would handle the situation, especially given that many of the dads have used it themselves.

Bendici writes that, "Before the discussion goes too far, a man named Jeff raises his hand—he thinks his 15-year-old son may already be using marijuana. “I was that age when I started smoking, so trust me, I can tell,” he says."

The dads in the group have a wide variety of advice, some common sense and some not-so-common. But, Jeff is happy to have the support of other dads. After listening to the advice, he replies, “I think I have a good idea of how I’m going to address it now.”

As the group breaks for the evening, Travis (a father of three) is seated at a table, completing an exit survey (this was his twelfth and final session to get his certificate of completion).

Bendici recalls overhearing a conversation between Travis and another dad, “So are you done here now that you’ve got it?” someone asks him. “No,” Travis says with a smile. “I’ll definitely be back for more.”

I'm glad Bendici wrote about this fatherhood program. While reading this story, I was reminded of how much work there is to do in helping dads be better dads. Fatherhood work can seem daunting; but, it's encouraging to know groups like this one in Connecticut exist, not only because Connecticut families need it, but every family needs it.

The Father Factor Blog: News, tips, and tools for dads and those helping dads.

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