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The Father Factor


7 Brands Who Got Dad Commercials Right

In the hectic schedule of Father's Day, we're catching up to these great videos. Thanks to The Agency Post, we were reminded of some of the brands who got their portrayal of dad right. 


I've worked at NFI for over two years now, one thing that still surprises me is the lame portrayal of dads in media and advertising. But, I'm not going to complain in this post, I promise. Keeping positive, these seven brands got fatherhood right this time.

Take note brands, you can be funny, witty, and/or serious, and still show involved, responsible, and committed dads. Thanks Jami Oetting at The Agency Post for reminding us of the positive dad-portrayal in advertising with her post Dads in Advertising: 10 Commercials that Challenge the 'Doofus Dad' Stereotype.

Fatherhood Leaders: use these videos to start a conversation about the portrayal of dads in media. Ask dads: which depiction do you more often see of dads in media: doofus dad or responsible dad?  

Brand 1 > Dove Men+Care "Calling Dads" 
Perhaps you've notice by now, we kind of like this new Dove Men+Care commercial.

Along with the commercial, Dove released new research of 1,000 fathers between the ages of 25 and 54 that found, “Three quarters of dads say they are responsible for their child’s emotional well-being, while only 20% of dads see this role reflected in media.”

Dove Men+Care went the extra mile and asked dads to post using #RealDadMoments on social media. Awesome, and tear-worthy. Go dads, and Dove!  


Brand 2 > Extra “Origami”
The smallest gesture can make the biggest impact on a daughter.

Brand 3 > Subaru “Flat Tire”
Dads can’t teach you everything, but they can teach you that you can do anything. 

Brand 4 > Cardstore “Dad Casting – World’s Toughest Job”  
Casting for “dad” can be tough. But being a dad isn’t an act.  

Brand 5 > Ad Council “Cheerleader”
Pride goes to a new level when you become a father.  

Brand 6 > Cheerios “Gracie” 
Explaining changes in your family in simple ways can sometimes lead to an even bigger family.  

Brand 7 > Google Chrome “Dear Sophie” 
Remember: Your dad is there from the beginning, witnessing every moment.  

Which commercial is your favorite?

Don’t Leap Before You Look: Properly Preparing to Work with Fathers

I love to see the excitement in participants’ eyes when they complete our Father-Friendly Check-Up™ workshop and realize how many low or no-cost action steps they can take to increase their father-readiness.

I also enjoy helping direct-service providers become aware of things they can do to engage fathers (e.g. letting their negative experiences with their own father or father of their child affect their interaction with dads connected to their services). I have seen these revelations many times over the course of my 12 years at NFI and it never gets old.

father-readiness training kitThis is why I am excited about the release of our new Father-Readiness Training Kit™ because it allows you to do everything I’ve done in the Father-Friendly Check-Up™ workshop for your organization and/or for leaders in your community as many times as you would like. You are receiving the benefit of 15 years of experience in a do-it-yourself kit that includes a step-by-step user’s guide.

So what exactly do I mean by “father-readiness?”

“Father-readiness” refers to a process implemented by:

  • an organization,
  • group of organizations,
  • group of community leaders, create an environment (e.g. an organizational or community culture) that increases father engagement. 

Oftentimes, direct-service providers jump right into providing programs and services for fathers before they address barriers within the organization or community that prevent fathers from accessing and effectively using programs and services in the first place.

In some cases, organizations and communities don’t address these barriers because they might not realize they exist. In other cases, they’re simply more comfortable launching a direct-service effort than undertaking the foundational work that creates a supportive environment.

Unfortunately, this “leap before you look” approach can lead to...

  • low father engagement,
  • poor program and service outcomes, and
  • an unsustainable effort to effectively engage fathers.

The Father-Readiness Training Kit™ provides everything you need to create father-ready organizations via a Father Friendly Check-Up™ training within your organization, with or for other organizations in your community, or for a group of community leaders.

The kit includes the Father Friendly Check-Up™ assessment, which is the tool around which the father-readiness process is built. 

NFI developed the Father-Friendly Check-Up™ in 2000 to respond to the need of organizations for an assessment of their capacity to engage their staff in the delivery of services and programs for fathers, of their organization to increase father-involvement in the families they serve, and for low and no-cost strategies to help them do so.

NFI has refined this tool many times since then. Consequently, this version is the culmination of over a decade of use and responds to feedback from the thousands of staff who have used it in organizations across the country that are as diverse as...

  • Head Starts and Early Head Starts;
  • home-visitation programs (e.g. Circle of Parents and Nurse-Family Partnership);
  • child welfare agencies;
  • schools;
  • public health departments; and
  • family support programs on military installations.

These organizations have used it to effectively engage their fellow staff in delivering fatherhood services and programs and to increase father involvement in the lives of children. 

Of particular significance to the refinement of the check-up is what NFI learned from using it during the five-year (2006 – 2011) National Responsible Fatherhood Capacity-Building Initiative (NRFCBI) funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)/Administration for Children and Families/Office of Family Assistance. During the NRFCBI, NFI worked intensively with each of nearly 125 organizations from across the country for one year (20-25 organizations per year) to build their capacity to serve fathers.

The check-up was the primary tool with which NFI assessed progress toward improving the organizations’ capacity by comparing their capacity before and after their participation in the initiative. NFI has received feedback on the value and usefulness of the check-up and on how to improve it from staff in these organizations and stakeholders (e.g. U.S. DHHS staff and organizations’ board members).

In addition to this assessment, the Father-Readiness Training Kit™ includes a collection of files, included on the CD-ROM, which will help elevate fatherhood work in your organization, other organizations, or in your community no matter the setting in which an organization operates or the kinds of fathers that are the target of a father-engagement effort.

The Father-Readiness Training Kit™ has already been successfully used to increase the father friendliness of agencies and community stakeholders.

A great example of this is highlighted in the following email that was sent to NFI staff from a Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) organization in Odessa, TX that used the training kit to provide their own Father Friendly Check-Up™ training:

The workshop went quite well. Of course, I followed the same agenda as Erik [facilitator from NFI] with only a few modifications. There were four (4) home visitors from HIPPY and three (3) Home Instructors from PAT. Also attending was the recently hired Father Engagement Specialist from Head Start. The PAT coordinator and I led the workshop. A total of eight (8) participants with two (2) coordinators.  

Home visitors loved the icebreaker and shared some interesting information about their fathers. Home visitors were shocked at some of the statistical information. This information about children growing up in fatherless homes and what women think about fathers was an eye-opener to home visitors. I believe that it was the beginning of changing their attitudes about fathers and the importance of including them in HIPPY and PAT.  

Home visitors from PAT and HIPPY were able to share ideas about making both programs more father-friendly. I think that everyone left with a good understanding of the four (4) assessment categories and the future task of our program.  

Ultimately, the Father-Readiness Training Kit™ will establish the “Velcro” that the fatherhood services in your organization and/or community stick to and will also ensure those services are fully integrated into the very fabric of your organization and/or community.

For more information on the Father-Readiness Training Kit™, click here or contact Erik Vercere by at or by phone at 240-912-1278.

New Release: Father-Readiness Training Kit™

DIY Kit helps organizations and communities prepare to serve dads: National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), the nation’s leading provider of fatherhood skill-building materials and training, has released the Father-Readiness Training Kit™, a new do-it-yourself kit to help organizations and communities prepare to serve fathers.

father-readiness training kit The kit captures over 15 years of NFI experience in training organizations on how to implement low- and no-cost strategies and tactics to engage fathers and to create an environment that supports successful fatherhood services and programs. To develop a field-tested and field-ready set of tools, NFI’s fathering experts drew from NFI’s experience running the federally-funded National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse and several national and state-level fatherhood initiatives.

In many communities across the country, there is a dearth of services available to fathers, often in communities where services for mothers and children are abundant. “Father-Readiness” is a process implemented by an organization, group of organizations, or group of community leaders to create an environment that increases father engagement.

Accordingly, the Father-Readiness Training Kit™ helps organizations address the barriers to creating and implementing effective services for dads; undertake the foundational work necessary to create a supportive environment for programs; and address the five Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. 

The kit includes:

  • CD with a User’s Guide 
  • NFI’s Father Friendly Check-Up™ assessment
  • PowerPoint presentation for training staff
  • comprehensive set of planning and implementation documents to conduct and evaluate the father-readiness training and process.

“We are excited about the impact the Father-Readiness Training Kit™ will have on communities across the country working to implement effective fatherhood programs,” said Christopher Brown, president of NFI. “Nothing like this has ever been offered in the field before. It opens new opportunities for organizations to engage fathers in ways they never thought possible. And for organizations that want to have a broad impact in addressing father absence, this tool allows them to train other organizations across their communities.”

Through August 15, 2014, the Father-Readiness Training Kit™ will be available at an introductory price of $759 through NFI’s FatherSOURCE resource center. After August 15, the price will increase to $999.

A Tribute to Gregg Nicklas

In my ten years at NFI, I have never known a more humble, action-oriented, and courageous champion of fatherhood. Aside from Gregg being a man of faith, a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and care-giver, many things could be said to honor his memory. I want to highlight only one here—his diligent stewardship of opportunities.   

GreggNicklasThursday night, May 29th, at 11:00 p.m., Gregg Nicklas, Executive Director of Christian Heritage—a highly respected foster home with a thirty-plus year history in Lincoln, NEwas struck by a car while walking his dog. The driver fled and Gregg was pronounced dead on the scene. We are left heartbroken by this tragedy along with Gregg’s entire family, community, and friends.

In 2007 Gregg, identifying incarceration and father absence as root causes, sensed the need for a fatherhood program. His first activity, with staff, was to launch a Father of the Year award. It was at this time that he learned of the National Fatherhood Initiative, submitted a proposal for a capacity-building grant, and became one of the awardees. This capacity-building grant helped Christian Heritage define their vision and be encouraged by meeting others from around the country who shared a similar passion.

Returning to Nebraska, they began to implement their vision and in October of 2008 sponsored a Leadership Summit on Fatherhood, bringing 56 community leaders together. At this Summit, Larry Wayne, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services’ (NDCS) Deputy Director of Programs and Community Services, requested the implementation of a parenting program at Nebraska’s correctional facilities for men. Gregg moved on this request and, in February 2009, leveraged another opportunity—bringing NFI staff (where I first met Gregg) to Nebraska to train facilitator’s on the evidence-based InsideOut Dad®. This program became the entry point for a new initiative launched by Christian Heritage called Destination…Dad™. 

This is one of the most holistic interventions I have seen nationally and includes the following:

  • Daddy Day Visits—once a month, children spend two hours with their incarcerated dads, who report that “this is the most like being at home.” One mom said, "two hours once a month may not sound like much, but it has changed my son’s life.”
  • DVD’s from Dad—Fathers read books to their children while being video-taped. The books and DVD’s are sent to the children’s caregivers. Children are reported not to want to go to bed or leave for school until their dads have read to them.
  • Peer mentoring/Alumni Program—These are monthly meetings to review curricula and participate in conversations related to being a responsible father.
  • Reentry Family Action Plans—Reentry planning with family members prior to release.
  • Extended Phone Time—Additional 15-minute phone call each day for qualified dads to talk with their children and caregivers. 
  • Parent/Teacher Conferences via Skype—Studies reveal that children do better in school when their dads are involved.

Gregg’s leadership and diligence led to solid outcomes in just five short years: 

  • 930 dads, who have 2,102 children, have participated as of April 2014
  • 486 of these men have been released. Only 68 inmates have been out long enough to be calculated into a three-year recidivism rate. Nevertheless, the recidivism rate for the program participants is 13.2% to date!
  • NDCS projects Destination…Dad™’s long term recidivism rate at 15 percent. Inmate population has been reduced by 40 dads, saving the state $1 million (annual cost per inmate: $28,773).
  • In December 2013 they secured funding through passage of Legislative Bill 483 for the next two years.

I once asked Gregg in an interview what final thoughts he would share with the national fatherhood field and he said, “Encourage your participants to be ‘bold and courageous.’”  

Gregg, we are saddened by your loss but will do our best. Thank you for the great legacy you left us. Be assured, your example will help us make the most of every opportunity and diligently steward all we have been entrusted with.

Visit Christian Heritage for more details.

More on Money and TA for Evaluating Fatherhood Programs

I blogged last week about funds that will soon be available from the federal government via the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN) to conduct rigorous evaluations of fatherhood program and about free technical assistance (TA) on evaluating fatherhood programs that will be available from the FRPN.

fatherhood research and practice network money for evaluating fatherhood programsAs a member of the FRPN's steering committee of researchers and practitioners, I have a bit of an inside track (legal insider's information) which allows me to give subscribers to this blog a sneak peak into what the FRPN has in store. 

I noted in last week's blog post that an RFP for the first of several rounds of funding would likely be released in later this summer. I learned yesterday during a steering committee meeting that the RFP will be released next week sometime between June 10th and June 12th. So it's time, as they say, to "get on your horse!" All of the tips I offered last week on how to prepare still apply.

Here is the skinny on this round of funding:

  • $300,000 will be available for 2-4 awards of between $50,000 and $150,000. Each award can last up to 30 months.
  • The first step is to submit a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) by June 30th. (That means you need a really fast horse.)
  • The FRPN will notify applicants by August 15th whether they will be invited to submit a full proposal.
  • Invited applicants must submit a full proposal by September 30th.
  • The FRPN will announce awards by October 31st.

Unfortunately, I can't provide any more details (e.g. specific requirements for the LOI or full proposal) because they're still being tweaked and, frankly, that'd be bad form. The good news is that you have to focus only on completing the LOI by June 30th. LOIs are, typically, just a few pages long. Nevertheless, you will need to have all your ducks in a row so that you can clearly describe your proposed evaluation in the LOI. (Hint: Apply the tips I mentioned and include everything the RFP will require of the LOI.)

The FRPN will release the RFP along with the official launch of the FRPN website (the permanent website link isn't active yet) sometime between June 10th and June 12th. After the website is launched, you'll have the opportunity to sign up for an e-newsletter that will keep you informed about funding and TA available from the FRPN.

Good luck!

Money and Technical Assistance for Evaluating Fatherhood Programs on Its Way

Funding and technical assistance (TA) will soon be available from the federal government to help your organization rigorously evaluate your fatherhood program.

fatherhood research and practice networkWhile competition to secure funding from this source is likely to be fierce, technical assistance should be readily available to help your organization evaluate your program with existing funds and better position your program for funding from public and private sources.  

For the past several months, I have represented National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) on the steering committee of the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN), a collaboration of some 50 leading researchers and practitioners dedicated to increasing father involvement in the lives of children. My primary role is to provide a voice for the thousands of practitioners who interact with fathers and families on a daily and weekly basis. I will use my research and social science knowledge, my own and NFI's years of experience building the capacity of organizations to effectively serve fathers, and knowledge of the challenges faced by practitioners to ensure that the FRPN is a valuable resource.

I'm excited about the potential of the FRPN to advance research and practice, especially practice because it is, as the saying goes, "where the rubber meets the road" in connecting fathers with their children. The objectives of the FRPN are to:

  • Promote rigorous evaluation of fatherhood programs.
  • Expand the number of researchers and practitioners collaborating to evaluate these programs.
  • Disseminate information that leads to effective fatherhood practice and evaluation research.

To accomplish these objectives, the FRPN focuses on three areas: responsible fatherhood, economic security, and co-parenting/healthy relationships. The FRPN plans to fund projects that support rigorous evaluations being conducted on fatherhood programs and services within these areas. The collaborative has already produced reviews of the state of evaluations in each of these areas. (Click here to download the free reports.) 

The FRPN will provide approximately $1.2 million in funding that it will release in a series of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) over a three-year period. It will fund evaluations of programs that aim to increase paternal engagement and parenting skills; improve fathers’ ability to provide economic support; and increase parenting time, father-child contact, positive co-parenting and healthy relationships. The first RFP should be released toward the end of the summer with funded projects to begin in the fall.

If you are interested in acquiring funds to evaluate your program, I encourage you to start planning now. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • If you are not the decision maker when it comes to pursuing funding of this kind, the first step is to get the commitment of the decision maker to pursue this funding, or at least to explore it.
  • If you secure a commitment, find a researcher with experience evaluating fatherhood or family-strengthening programs. An academic-based researcher with this kind of experience will strengthen your organization's position to receive funding.
  • Choose a program that has had, at the very least, some preliminary evaluations done of it. Funders are more likely to fund evaluations of programs that have had at least some preliminary evaluations that show positive/promising results. Familiarize yourself with the findings of the evaluations so that your proposed evaluation will build on previous results (i.e. not duplicate them). 
  • Dedicate as much of the funding as possible to the evaluation. Consider "donating" staff time to manage the program-management and fiscal aspects of the grant. Consider donating program materials and other resources necessary to run the program (e.g. curriculum materials and office space). It's possible that one or more of the RFPs will require that funds be dedicated to evaluation-only activities and resources, thus prohibiting the use of funds for staff time and other non-evaluation activities (e.g. space in which to conduct your program). Ensure that the decision maker is willing to donate staff time and resources, if necessary. Even if not required, donating staff time and resources should strengthen your position to receive funding. 
  • Identify and approach another funder(s) willing to supplement the funds provided by the FRPN. It's also possible that one or more of the RFPs will require another funder(s) participate and support the costs of the evaluation. Even if not required, bringing another funder(s) to the table should strengthen your proposal. If you can secure a commitment before the RFP is released, you'll be in great shape.

The collaborative will also build research capacity by providing a variety of TA including one-on-one consulting services, mentoring and peer support as well as web-based communication platforms and resources. An announcement of FRPN consulting services and mentoring/peer support opportunities will be issued in late 2014/early 2015.

To keep abreast of the latest developments and schedules for the RFPs and TA, visit the website of the FRPN. If you decide to include NFI's programs in your proposal, visit our website for descriptions of our programs and evaluations of them. Don't hesitate to contact us if you need information on our programs that you can't find otherwise.

Do you have data to prove your fatherhood program is effective? Have you evaluated your fatherhood program?

Deployed Dads: The Risks Facing Military Children and How You Can Help

When dad is deployed, families are affected. A study by Child Trends, found young children are especially vulnerable to a father's deployment. We must know the research and be intentional about helping military families and their children have the greatest opportunity to growing into well-adjusted adults. how to help military child when dad is deployed

Nearly half-a-million children younger than six have an active-duty parent. Many children have two active-duty parents. Much like when we talk about about fatherhood from community-based and corrections settings, we also understand military families face unique challenges; especially when dad is deployed.

After reviewing a research brief by Child Trends, I was reminded of the importance of being educated on the stats if we are to help military fathers connect to their children. In Home Front Alert: The Risks Facing Young Children in Military Families, David Murphey reveals findings that can help us understand where the challenges and opportunities are with military fathers:

  • 500,000 young children in military families have one and in some cases two-parents in service. 
  • 1 in 5 service members returning home from deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan report acute stress, depression, anxiety or PTSD.
  • The reunion of a deployed parent with his or her family can be accompanied by new risks and challenges—particularly if the returning parent has serious physical or mental problems.
  • Young children’s well-being typically mirrors the well-being of their caregivers. When their parent or other caregiver is depressed, anxious, or angry, they are likely to be unwell, or to have behavior problems. In some cases, these young children may be at risk for harm (maltreatment).
  • A key strategy for supporting the well-being of children in military families is to see that the non-deployed parent has good emotional, social, and practical support.
  • Families with a deployed National Guard or Reserves member are comparatively underserved, lacking the formal, and informal, supports typically available to their on-base peers.
  • Many of these children will continue to have exceptional needs as they grow older.

David Murphey writes for Child Trends 5 Risks Facing Young Children in our Military Families:

More than two million children in the U.S. have had a parent deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq. When a parent goes to war ­and often for years afterward­ families are deeply affected. Young children are especially vulnerable, because they're physically and emotionally dependent on adults, and because their brain development can be disrupted by high levels of stress. When young children experience high levels of stress and trauma, the effects can continue well after their parents' military service ends, when their families may have less access to needed supports.

Child Trends examined the special circumstances of the lives of children under age six in military families. From the research, they offer five reasons why young children in military families might be at risk:

1) Deployment is stressful, even for the non-­deployed: The parent who stays behind may experience depression, anxiety, and loss of financial/social support when their spouse deploys. Getting and keeping child care and health care may be a challenge. How well young children thrive under the circumstances of deployment can depend on how well the non-­deployed parent copes with these challenges.

2) Young children may blame themselves: Young children may not understand the facts surrounding their deployed parent's leave. They may feel responsible for causing the losses, and develop emotional or behavioral problems because of this.

The research from Child Trends found that children's reactions are influenced by their age:

  • babies may become listless, irritable, or stop eating
  • toddlers may become more withdrawn or sad, or have more tantrums or sleep problems
  • preschoolers may become more "clingy" or otherwise regress in their behavior, and may openly express their fears
  • older children may experience emotional or behavioral problems, anxiety symptoms, and academic difficulties

3) Cumulative stress can put children at risk: Excessive stress changes brain processes that regulate emotion and behavior, and can have other damaging health effects. The quality of relationships, especially a young child's attachment to his or her parents, can increase negative effects.

When stress on the non­-deployed parent reaches overload, good parenting may suffer. Children are at greater risk for abuse or neglect when a parent is deployed. The longer the deployment and number of tours may be especially difficult on families.

4) The end of deployment can bring new challenges: Just because the deployed dad returns home, doesn't mean everything is fine. It can take time for a returning parent to reintegrate into family life. Young children may need time to get reacquainted with a parent who, in some cases, they don't remember. When returning military members have suffered injuries (physical or psychological) ­young children can react with fear and anxiety.

The research points out that parental roles and styles of coping during deployment need to be renegotiated. There is an increased risk for domestic violence under these circumstances. About one in six service members returning from deployment in Afghanistan or Iraq returns home with post­ traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and other serious mental disorders. This adds to the risks faced by their children and families.

5) The armed forces has changed, and the system is straining to meet its needs: America's armed forces continues to change. Today, mothers with minor children make up about one in six members of the active­-duty military. Children in dual­-military families (about six percent of the total) can have their home lives completely overturned when the second parent is deployed.

While the military has a child care system that has been the envy of the civilian world, the system currently strains to meet the need. With increased numbers of parents in the Guard or Reserves (now nearly half of the total force), many families don't have the supports, formal and informal, that come with living on base.

As Child Trends does well to point out, promising approaches for addressing the needs of today's military-­connected families include home visiting models and better access to mental health services, including cognitive­-behavioral therapy for preschoolers affected by trauma and fatherhood programming can offer much-needed assistance.


What can you do to help military families? It's critical we help families who serve in our military especially while deployed and just returning from deployment.

Here are a few ways to help: 

1) Regular "well-child" pediatric visits. Be involved in a military families life such that you help them take advantage of access to "well-child" visits. 

2) Information on coping with separation. Depending on the age and stage of the child, talk with the children of deployed parents and be sure they are voicing their concerns.

3) Expanded mental health services. Don't wait for signs of depression or anxiety. Work to be pre-cautionary when it comes to mental and emotional issues that may come up with children.

4) Increased access to high quality child care. Learn what programs are available on your base and/or installation and get the help you need. For more on helping military fathers, visit our Military Fatherhood Programs page.

Are you a military family that has been affected by deployment? Do you know military families who have been affected by deployment? What have you seen be the most helpful in connecting fathers to their children during deployment?


How to Dispel the Illusion of Parental Control

"We apologize for the bumpy ride," said the flight attendant as we touched down in Austin last month on a blustery afternoon. "Let us make it up to you on a future flight." 

how to dispel the illusion of parental controlThat wasn't the first time I'd heard that promise after a bumpy flight. Normally, that promise would have went in one ear and out the other, but this time it struck me as a really strange thing to say. Why? Because it's a promise that no one at Southwest could possibly keep. Whose to say that my next flight wouldn't be just as bumpy, or worse?

I'm sure the flight attendant meant well. Unfortunately, neither she nor any of her thousands of smiling and, sometimes, all-too-giddy co-workers could possibly control the weather. She didn't need to apologize for the bumpy flight or promise that they'd make it up to me and my fellow passengers on our next flight. In doing so, she effectively said that Southwest, not the weather, was somehow in control. 

What an illusion.

You might wonder what in the heck any of this has to do with fathers. Many fathers (and mothers) suffer from an illusion, one that can do irreparable harm to them and their children. It's the illusion of control over their children's behavior. The illusion plays out most often in fathers' approach to discipline. Specifically, fathers who believe they can control their children's behavior punish more than they discipline. When they see their children behaving inappropriately (or appropriately and the fathers aren't knowledgeable enough about child development to know their children are behaving appropriately), they rush to punish. Indeed, these fathers' default to punishment instead of discipline. These fathers sometimes use abuse and violence to punish.

The good news is that the vast majority of fathers don't use abuse or violence. Most fathers who default to punishment use techniques of punishment, such as time out or taking away a cherished privilege, that are, in certain instances, appropriate and effective. Unfortunately, they use them too often, so much so that, like the overuse of antibiotics, they become ineffective. Their children adapt and become resistant.  

There are three reasons why these fathers struggle to effectively discipline their children.

  • They don't recognize that they can't control their children's behavior. 
  • They see their children's behavior as a referendum on their parenting. 
  • They don't understand the difference between punishment and discipline. They see them as one in the same.

Moreover, they were raised think of the father's role as synonymous with the primary disciplinarian (in actuality, primary "punisher"), a role strongly reinforced in most cultures. 

As a result, many fathers don't understand that they'll have more success as parents when they guide their children's behavior rather than trying to control it. 

One of the critical lessons in NFI's fathering programs, such as 24/7 Dad® and InsideOut Dad®, is the difference between punishment and discipline. Discipline means to teach or guide. Punishment involves penalizing a child for doing something wrong. Discipline should be the default. Punishment a last resort. 

A cornerstone of being an involved, responsible, committed father is being a child's guide and mentor. Our programs and other resources provide fathers with the awareness and knowledge they need to understand the difference between punishment and discipline, how and when to discipline and punish, and the skills they need to develop the capacity (self-efficacy) to become their children's guides and mentors. They also provide knowledge of child-development milestones so that fathers learn what is appropriate for children physically, socially, and emotionally at specific ages.

How do you dispel the illusion of parental control? Teach fathers (and mothers) that they can't and shouldn't try to control their children's behavior. Teach them the difference between discipline and punishment. Teach them how to effectively discipline and punish, and to punish only as a last resort. Teach them developmental milestones.

How much of a problem is the illusion of parenting control with the fathers (and mothers) you serve?

What To Do (and What Not To Do) With Your Kids on #MomsNightOut

There are three types of dads in the new parenting movie Moms' Night Out. Inspired by the idea of "giving the at-home mom a break," I have advice for what dad can do with his child no matter the age or stage so that dad can connect and mom can relax.

dads big book of tips for moms night out

Let's pretend for a moment you read my earlier post Prepping for Mom's Night Out and now the mom in your life is going out to watch the Moms' Night Out movie with her friends (in theaters tomorrow May 9th...hint...hint). You work outside the home, which means that most days, you aren't alone with your kids super often, it happens, we get it. Which makes what you do with your child once mom is out vital so you can feel comfortable, bond well, and she can relax knowing dad has everything under control.

If mom's going out with friends to a movie, you're gonna have at least four hours to connect with your kids. Do the math: movie running time is at least an hour and a half, there's the time it takes your wife to get ready, the drive to and from the theater, and what about dinner? Boom, four-plus hours gone.

You need help. You can waste this time on your iPhone while your kid plays MineCraft or you can use it to connect with your child.

Whether you're a dad reading this post or someone who serves dads, here are few ideas for what a dad can do based on the stage of the child—and the dad. I have two phases in my head of how evenings with my girls can pan out:

1) staying inside the house and

2) venturing outside of the house. 

You'll find ideas for each phase based on the age and stage of your child. Thank me in the comments.

In the Moms' Night Out movie, the three types of dads shown are all good, caring dads. But, they each have their own experiences, some more than others. Let's get at this...

The Dad of an Infant or Toddler: This is possibly the scariest stage. The dad of a teen may disagree, but he's not writing this post, so I stand on my opinion. Here's the clencher, know this dad, you're connecting now with your young one so it's easier later. This stage was scary for me, still is. Call me crazy, but I'm more comfortable with the child once it can talk to me. But, this night isn't about your fear, it's about connecting with your baby. 

Inside the house: Get on the floor and crawl around. That's it. Simple right? Now do that for four hours. Seriously, your life at this phase should be on the floor. The younger the child, the more time you should spend on the floor. What else should you do beside play? Well, you can feed'em; that's helpful. Check their diaper often. Make sure they are drinking enough fluids. Am I getting in the weeds here? Can you tell it's been over four years since I had a baby in my house? I have a story about tossing my firstborn in the air with a belly full of milk and popcorn. Sorry, Bella, I was new. Which makes this rule super applicable...


Looking back on when my daughters were at this young stage, I cherish the simple times of holding them and them falling asleep in my arms. Older dads like me know somehting you don't yet, as hard as it seems now to get that baby to sleep, there will come a time when they get too big carry around for hours before they fall asleep. You will want this stage back as crazy as it sounds now.

Just hold them. Snuggle them. Read to them. But try not to be scared and worried like the new dad in the trailer below who says semi-jokingly to his wife going out, "...I could get maimed, I could lose both children..." If you're too afraid of messing something up, call for back-up. I'm only a little ashamed I called my father-in-law to help me watch my second-born infant when all she did was sleep the entire time mom was out. Don't judge me. 

Outside the house: I can't lie, I wasn't the quickest dad to venture outside when mom was away. Especially once there's more than one child. But, for toddlers, dare I say it, those places with the mouse-head logo work well. End of discussion. You don't need more tips, because if you visit the mouse, you won't be home before mom is back!

The Dad of a School-Aged Child: This is the stage I'm in now. I'm with you, dad, you can do this.

Inside the house: Here's my go-to idea: slumber parties. They're the going-thing at my house with two daughters, ages 7 and 4. Slumber parties have been all-the-buzz at my house for years and I plan to ride this slumber party train until it stops and the conductor tosses me off.

Make said slumber party a big deal. Annouce the slumber party like it's an event. Talk it up the morning of said slumber party. When it's time, grab every cover and pillow from every room and then visit the neighors and get their covers and pillows. Go crazy on the floor. There's something magical about a dad on the floor with his kids. Watching a movie on the floor immersed in covers and bunnies and bears and various old dolls is magical. There's no magic on the sofa. Same with dinner. While mom's gone, live on the floor at your child's eye level. Add dessert and popcorn and you have the makings of a great evening.

Pro Tip: Make pizzas with your kids. Get them involved. They'll be prone to eat what they help prepare. No need to call delivery either, here's the latest craze at my house, which I was reminded of online:

1. Buy english muffins (or hamburger buns is what we used as kids), tomato sauce (I use garden combo spaghetti sauce, but you do you), shredded mozzerella, parmesan. That's it for the kids, you can add pepperoni and veggies to yours until your heart's content.

2. Toast the bread.

3. Let child spoon sauce on bread

4. Add mozzerella.

5. Dash some parmesan on top.

6. Place in oven at 400 until the cheese melts to your liking (about 5 minutes).

7. Enjoy this delicious simple, healthy pizza with easy clean up and no waste that has built-in bonding. You're welcome. 

But your not an "inside the house" guy like me...

Outside the house: Take the time to attend a local event, go on a walk around your town or try a new restaurant. Let your child pick the place... 


The Dad of a Teen: I'm less-versed here since I'm not at this stage yet. You'll have to help me in the comments. But, I'm pretty certain teens watch movies, play video games, and eat food. So, here's your chance to connect with your teen eye-to-eye. Do something that will bond you together. I don't think technology is bad, just be mindful of how you use it.

Inside the house: Enjoy a hobby. With your son, what if you spent the evening talking and playing a video game, learning from his mouth why he thinks it's cool? For either your son or daugher, you could cook or sing karoake. Every family has a karaoke machine right? Remember, the point here is to step outside of your normal routine and do something that connects you and your child. 

Outside the house: Go to the mall. Yes, that's right, I said it. Probably not your favorite, but if it's a good way to spend time with your son or daughter, that's what's important, right? Go try all the samples at the food court. Visit a coffee shop and people watch. Dads of teens, help a brother out here. What do y'all do with teens? I'm taking notes for later.

But remember this last tip is for all dads: Whatever you do, don't call your wife unless something emergency-room-worthy happens. Repeat this mantra: Be the dad. 


The point is, you can make it. No matter the age of your child or the experience you have, you can help your wife get a much-deserved break and feel appreciated all in one night. Get details on the Moms' Night Out movie here.

What's your go-to activity that you and your child enjoy while mom's away?

New Orleans Group Teaches Fathers How to Be Dads

Writing for New Orleans Public Radio, Eve Abrams reports on a group called NOLA Dads who is reaching the community by training fathers to be better dads.

Abrams points out that since 1986, a group called Family Service of Greater New Orleans has offered many services to the community including mental health counseling and training. Why are we telling you about this great work? Because they recently added a class called NOLA Dads.

nola dads nprAbrams interviewed Lawrence, a father trained by NOLA Dads using NFI's 24/7 Dad® Program. Lawrence is a new dad. Listen to the audio of Eve's interview with Lawrence here. I found it touching to hear the genuine response from Lawrence when Eve asks what he's learned from the program that can connect him to his daughter.

His response, "I tell her things," he continues by explaining that he tells his daughter:

“You're important. You're sweet. You're kind. I love you...and then I repeat it about five times. That’s what I do. I do it all the time. Even when she's asleep.”

Wow, I've worked at NFI for two years. I'm still surprised by this statement. The complex made simple, right? While it's Lawrence who's attending the 24/7 Dad® training, it sounds like he could teach us dads a thing or two about what's really important.

Once a week, Lawrence takes a class on how to be a dad. It’s called NOLA Dads; and much like the training that's happening in San Diego, New Orleans is changing the community by addressing the problem of father absence.

Lawrence says of the program:

“I’m glad I’m in here, because you know I’ve never been a daddy so I need to learn what I need to, learn to do what I got to do, to be able to be there...might not have money, might not be able to fat up with gifts, but as long as love and caring count, I’m all about it. So there’s a whole lot more that I can learn.”

As part of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, Lawrence attends the NOLA Dads class at a local center. The program is part of a bigger campaign to reduce recidivism for ex-offender's on probation and parole. The fatherhood training deals with all things related to parenting including communication, anger management, employment and education.

Eve also talked with Patrick Carter, the facilitator for NOLA Dads. He says, “Family Service finds a need to come back and help in the community...they noticed that all programs are geared toward women, so Family Service put something together to come out and help the males in the community.”  

Patrick continues:

"Because society places us in a certain kind of role, so it's kinda hard for us to say, 'Look I need help,' because we don't want to be looked upon as weak or afraid or less of a man...I find that us as males, we want help but we don’t want to be looked upon in a certain kind of way for asking for it...I mean, I’ve never been asked about how do I feel as a man about anything. Basically just suck it up, tough it up, and make it happen. As opposed to the other side of it: changing my thinking so I can be better and do better things for myself, family and community.”

Listen to the audio and you will hear, Carter, the facilitator, start class by asking the dads about parenting. After Carter asks the class, "What's three things you can do today to help your child do well in school?" Another dad in the program, Joseph, answers:

“My first one is help him every day with his homework when he comes home...reward him for the good things he is doing in school, and the third one to like stay up on him, make sure I stay up on him so he can do the right thing. Because once I let off he may take off and go the other way. So keep that in there."

Listen closely and you will hear Carter reply, “I tell you some other ways too. Let your kids see you actually doing the things that they do in school. So when your kids come home and never see you read or anything, and you tell them to read, why would they want to read?

Carter makes the same point with writing, "Writing too. If they never see you write — kids want to imitate you. They pick up everything you do. They put on your shoes, they want to put on your clothes. Even if it’s you reading the paper, or you writing down a grocery list or anything, they need to see you reading. They need to see you writing. Simple as that.”

“They want to do what their parents are doing," says Joseph.

Eve reveals upon leaving the NOLA Dads class, she asked Joseph, a dad with a young son, if there was anything else he wanted her to know. His reply?

“NOLA Dad is a great’s helping me to succeed with my child and teach him better, give him that structure that I wasn’t given.”

We couldn't ask for anything more when it comes to serving fathers with our 24/7 Dad® program.

Click here to learn more about the 24/7 Dad Program® and download our free guide to getting started.


Prepping for Mom's Night Out

I recently screened the new parenting movie, Moms' Night Out. While laughing my way through the movie, I found myself connecting with one dad trying to get his wife to take a break.

As this post's title implies, there should be a mom's night out on the horizon for your family, too. But, from the intelligence I've gathered, moms feel guilty about leaving and taking a break. So, dad, it's on you to help make the mom in your life happy.

MNO_OfficialPoster-2Whichever parent stays home every day with the kids needs breaks, and often. Emphasis on often. In this movie's case and in my life, mom is home everyday to take care of our kids. This post is meant to prep you, dad, for taking the lead in getting mom away for her much-needed rest. My next post in this series will be all about what to do with your kids once mom actually leaves the house.

I have experienced bliss in my married and parenting life. I've seen it, felt it, I know what it looks like. I've been married to my college sweetheart for ten years (11 years this October). If I was an NFL player, I'd be a veteran. You'd have to listen to me in the locker room. I want you to experience marital and parenting bliss, too. Bliss only shows up for the relaxed. It's funny how bliss works.

I'm suggesting two things for Operation: Keep Your Wife Sane. You must take the lead on giving the mom in your life these two things:

1) The Daily Break

2) The Weekly Break

I implied earlier that I "gathered intelligence"; i.e., I talked to my wife, Tonia. She says, and I'm pretty sure she speaks for all moms ever, one of biggest challenges a mom can face, especially a new mom, is the feeling of guilt about leaving your children. There's always "something else" to be done which often becomes an excuse for not taking a much-needed break.

In the Moms' Night Out movie, we gather from Sean Astin's character that he's "all in" on his wife taking a break, and he rejoices that she actually has a night out planned at the start of the film.

He has things "under control", so to speak, in that he's encouraging her to go out with friends and relax. Imagine the stressed-out mom with the husband who acts weird if his wife mentions needing a break. We don't want to be that dad, right?

Here's some things that, when I'm operating this life correctly, I know work. When I do these things, life is better for everyone in my home and around my home. I promise. Trust me and do these things.

1) The Daily Break: The point of the daily break is that you can't realistically give your wife five hours or more of rest per day. She, like you, has a job to do, and it must be done daily. However, without little nuggets of bliss on a daily basis, your other half may forget what freedom feels like. 

What's my point here? Maybe you're thinking one hour per day is tough depending on the age of your child. But the point here is to give your wife solace daily for at least 30 minutes or more. When she wakes in the morning, she should know that she has this certain time of the day that's hers. She owns it. She can nap. She can fish. She can write a novel. Play Uno. Shower a long time. I don't know what your woman likes to do, but the point is to take small breaks. It's the small breaks that will keep everyone sane in this life.

Try this pro tip: Text your wife this message right now (the earlier in the day the better):

"My Dearest Sexy Pants (or insert your wife's pet name here), I know it's hard out there for a mom. But, I'll be home this evening to make your life easier. Be ready with car keys in hand waiting at the door for me. Once I arrive, kiss me on the face and go directly to Starbucks for at least one hour. Do not try and return to this house before at least one hour is up. My Gold Card is loaded for all that your heart so desires. Go crazy, get a cake pop. I mean, we can handle it, the Gold Card has like $11.13 on it. You're good. I love you. You're welcome. PS: Please, do come back home later."

Yes, it's a long text message. But, trust me and reap the rewards. Tips can be left as donations to NFI.

2) The Weekly Break: This break may or may not be realistic depending on the ages of your children. But, with a 7 and 4 year at my house, I find my wife needs more of a rest/disengagement than just the daily, short break given that she's running one child all over the world and at home with one all day. If weekly doesn't work, you should definitely shoot for monthly.

Girls night out is a real thing, dad. It matters. They usually happen weekly and you should make sure they happen. This can be anywhere from two to three hours. Be prepared. It doesn't have to be any longer if it's happening as often as it should. But this break is less introverted in nature compared to the daily break. I'm assuming that the small, daily breaks are "alone time" for your wife. The weekly break is her time to have fun and look forward to being out with other adult friends every so often.

What was the last thing you did to give your wife a break? Seriously, I want to know, I'm taking notes. 

Follow Moms' Night Out Movie on Facebook and Visit Moms' Night Out Movie online for more. Check out the official trailer and be sure you have May 9th on your calendar to keep the kids.

NFI Releases Discussion Guide to Use with Dads in Any Setting

How should I start working with dads? What in the world should I help them with? What is a basic resource I can use that provides a way to talk with dads about the issues that matter most to helping them become more involved in the lives of their children?
17-Critical-Issues-CoverIn the span of our 20-year history, the National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI) staff has received the above questions - and more - from practitioners, staff, and fatherhood mentors who work with and for organizations in every setting imaginable. They've called and e-mailed us, attended our presentations at conferences, and participated in our capacity-building workshops and training institutes on our curricula. 
So now it's our turn to ask some questions:
  • Have you struggled to find a resource that can guide you in having discussions with dads at any time and in any setting?
  • Do you work one-on-one with dads and need a resource that's more robust than a brochure?
  • Do you make presentations to dads in the community, such as at schools or businesses/workplaces?
  • Do you conduct home visits with parents and need a resource to help you engage dads?
  • Do you just not have the time or resources to conduct an intensive, group-based program for dads but still need a resource that can help you facilitate a short group discussion?
  • Do you use a NFI group-based program or workshop and need an additional resource to delve further into some topics with some of the dads one-on-one?
Enter our newest resource, 17 Critical Issues: A Guide for Practitioners and Staff to Use in Presentations, Home Visits or Meetings with Dads which provides an answer to these questions and more. At just $39.99, this guide can be implemented immediately in your organizational setting or discussions with dads. 

Led by NFI President Christopher Brown, an applied anthropologist with more than 20 years experience designing fatherhood programs and resources and studying fatherhood and masculinity cross culturally, our team has identified 17 critical issues (hereafter referred to as topics) over the years that are critical to address when assisting fathers of any race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background in becoming involved, responsible, and committed dads.
The structure of the guide makes it easy to use:
  • Each topic is covered in two to three pages. You will find background information on the topic, which includes several important factors to keep in mind when working with fathers on the topic.
  • The background information is followed by key learning objectives for fathers that you should build into the type of learning format that you decide to use.
  • The topic ends with key questions that fathers should ask themselves on the topic. These key questions are tied to the learning objectives.
The simple structure of the guide helps you customize a discussion with dads in any way you want. Use the guide to design lectures, workshops, seminars, events, and other activities for fathers. Cover one or more topics at any depth you like, in any format you like, and within your time constraints. Use the guide to experiment with the topics, format, and discussion length that works best for you/your organization. 

Learn more or purchase your 17 Critical Issues Guide on our resource website today.

How "Cultural Parasites" Affect Work with Dads

As I've noted in previous posts, I'm a voracious reader of non-fiction. I read from a variety of fields because it expands my view and exposes me to ideas that I can bring to our work at NFI and, as a consequence, to your work in the trenches.

ed yong ted talk cultural parasitesI recently read a blog post on parasites and watched this video of a TED talk by Ed Yong, who writes for such renowned science publications as Nature and Scientific American. Ed is fascinated by parasites, particularly those he calls "mind-controlling" parasites. He's fascinated by how these tiny creatures can lord over much larger creatures controlling the larger creatures' behavior.

But what he's really fascinated with is how these parasites help humans expand our world view and better understand our own behavior. Before you read any further, watch the 13-minute video. (Actually, you only need to watch the first 5-7 minutes to get what I'm talking about. But by then, you might be so taken by the utter fascination of the symbiotic relationship between the parasites and their hosts that you'll watch, as I did, until the end. Plus, Ed is kind of a funny guy.) 

Can't view the video? Click here.

That's exactly what this video did for me. It helped me see in a very different way the parasites that infect NFI's efforts and yours to involve fathers in the lives of their children. These parasites, however, aren't biological. They're cultural. And yet they have the ability to infect fathers, families, and communities and are, unfortunately, all too familiar and widespread. We have names for them--divorce, out-of-wedlock childbearing, and cohabitation.

Collectively, these parasites lead to father absence, an illness that infects individuals and our society and causes the problems we spend so much time and money trying to address with little or no success. (See my 
previous post on how father absence causes the problems it's associated with.) Just like the mind-controlling parasites control their animal hosts, so too do these parasites control the behavior of some fathers, families, and entire communities in providing the key ingredient for children's success--two present, involved, loving parents.

What Ed doesn't discuss are parasites that don't control their hosts' behavior. These parasites--let's call them "beneficial" parasites--actually help their hosts. A great example are the probiotic bacteria that infect our guts and are all the rage in health and nutrition these days. (Can you, like Bobby Flay, correctly pronounce Fage®?) We give them a place to live, feed, and reproduce, and they help us digest our food and bring balance to our immune system. 

Similarly, there are beneficial cultural parasites. They also have familiar names--morals, values, traditions, etc. They "infect" us because we internalize them. They become a part of who we are. You can use cultural knowledge about these beneficial parasites to positively affect your efforts to help fathers become more involved in the lives of their children.

But first, you have to identify them and understand how to use them. To help in this regard, use our FatherTopics Workshop Let's Celebrate Culture™. It will help you identify the cultural barriers to and motivators for father involvement that affect the specific kinds of fathers you work with. It helps fathers explore how their culture and cultural behaviors and beliefs influence their fathering and introduces several universal fathering skills, such as nurturing. It's particularly useful for working with fathers who are members of American subcultures (e.g. African American and Hispanic American) and who are members of subcultures that are not well acculturated or who are not acculturated at all (e.g. recent immigrants). 

Purchase your copy of the workshop today by clicking here

As for me, I'm going to get my daily dose of Fage®.

Need for More Sleep and Happier Babies? NFI Has the Answer!

If you've ever been a parent for more than 30 seconds, you know that crying happens. And at times, a lot of it. When my daughters were babies, I remember each one being different when it came to crying. Oh, they both cried, but each one cried differently.

My firstborn would cry and need to be held while sitting down. This wasn't super-difficult. As long I held her in my arms or lap, she would be fine. But, try and put her down and walk away. Nope, not happening!

the happiest baby education association

With my youngest, things got more interesting. I couldn't sit down with her. She would cry, not only without me holding her, but even if I sat down. She would cry and complain until I stood up and walked around. I spent many night's walking around our house with her in my arms and holding an iPhone playing music to calm her.  

What was I missing? I figured I was only missing hours of sleep! But, I was missing "the 5 S's" of calming a baby. After seeing these five steps, I'm ready to try these steps out on a third child!

Developed by Dr. Harvey Karp, America’s most-read pediatrician, The Happiest Baby™ techniques are based on a newly discovered newborn behavior—the calming reflex—that can quickly calm baby’s crying and increase sleep by at least one hour. As I recall, one hour for my wife and I would have been treasured time! 

While this approach may seem simple, the techniques are recommended by many of America’s top prenatal and pediatric experts, including:

  • The past U.S. Surgeon General
  • Prevent Child Abuse America
  • Postpartum Support International
  • Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine
  • Doulas of North America
  • Lamaze
  • American Academy of Pediatrics books and website

Here's why I'm writing about this to you: as readers of this blog and leaders of trainers and fatherhood/parenting leaders across the nation, this approach to calming a crying baby will be extremely helpful to the fathers and parents you serve. That's why NFI is offering The Happiest Baby™ DVD+CD at a below regular retail price of just $19.99 for you to distirbute to parents you work with. Learn about it here.

Imagine the frustration that could be alleviated for new parents by using these 5 calming techniques - more sleep for parents and baby, increased breastfeeding, reduced crying, and more. Here are just a few places where providing the skills and techniques to new parents will prove helpful:

  • Health Departments and Home Visiting Programs: Use the DVD as an easy “plug and play” tool to enhance existing parenting curricula, programs and services (such as WIC).

  • Hospitals and Pregnancy Centers: These techniques are ideal for use by nurses and childbirth educators with expectant parents or parents with young babies.

  • Military Bases: If you are a New Parent Support Program staff you can distribute DVD+CD Combos to military families on base and in military hospitals.

In case you haven't heard about this technique, watch this video featuring Dr. Karp and his 5 S's approach: 


You Can Also Become a Happiest Baby™ Certified Educator!

Certified educators are trained to correctly teach Dr. Karp’s calming techniques in order to reduce parent frustration and error; they are also able to give away or sell deeply discounted Parent Kits, receive informative newsletters and research reports, and earn a valuable credential directly from The Happiest Baby™ creators.

Thousands of professionals teach this effective approach in hospitals, WIC clinics, military bases, home-visiting programs and departments of health across America...and in dozens of other nations. With this training, your efforts can bring even more benefit to the lives of parents and infants you care for!

NFI is offering the Certification Kit for one person at just $245 here, or you can certify five (5) staff for the price of four (4), just $980 here.

Learn more about the program components and requirements today!

Research to Application: Cues, Triggers, and Nudges

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.

fatherhood research from research to application

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 blog 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 first one in the series and provides ideas on how you might integrate research on cues, triggers, and nudges. Integrating this research could make it more likely that fathers will habitually participate in a service, workshop, or program. It could also help fathers develop the habits of good fathering above and beyond reliance on the resources (e.g. programs/curricula) you might currently use.

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 Research
Research on power of habits in our lives, how to create word-of-mouth marketing, and how to create small and large-scale initiatives that improve decision-making provides insight into how organizations and practitioners might be able to use cues, triggers, and nudges to improve the effectiveness of a service, workshop, or program for fathers.

  • Cues are stimuli in the environment that lead to developing a routine that is the basis for a habit. On the other side of the routine is a reward. (Cues, routines, and rewards go hand in hand in creating a habit.) Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit describes the research on the power of habits and the role that cues perform in creating them.
  • Triggers are “stimuli that prompt people to think about related things.”[1] They are, quite simply, reminders to engage in a specific behavior. They are the foundation for word-of-mouth, which is the most impactful form of advertising/promotion for a fatherhood workshop or program. They help generate more word-of-mouth. Jonah Berger in Contagious describes the research on the role that triggers play in keeping behaviors top of mind (e.g. attending a fatherhood program) and in generating word-of-mouth (e.g. advertising a fatherhood program).
  • Nudges are small changes in the world around us (environment) that influence us to make better decisions. More specifically: “Nudges are ways of influencing choice without limiting the choice set or making alternatives appreciably more costly in terms of time, trouble, social sanctions, and so forth. They are called for because of flaws in individual decision-making, and they work by making use of those flaws.”[1] A nudge is not an economic incentive in which choice is eliminated (e.g. a father who owes child support will go to jail if he doesn’t attend a fatherhood program—a hammer, not a nudge), a motivator that has been used widely by fatherhood programs. Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in Nudge describe the research on how nudges improve decision-making. 

Ideas on Application
As Duhigg points out in The Power of Habit, it is easier for someone to establish good habits, and change poor ones, when part of a group (community). One reason why groups are so powerful in helping people to change behavior is that they help people see that change is possible (e.g. they see that it happens in others like them), which then makes it easier to believe that change is possible. Belief in the ability to change is critical to change. If you have seen fathers change as a result of participating in a fatherhood program, you know firsthand the power of groups.

Cues, triggers, and nudges are very similar in that they involve the influence of stimuli in the environment—stimuli that in some cases already exist while in other cases they’re “introduced”—on individual behavior. They involve influencing the behavior of individuals that are part of a defined group (e.g. a customer segment or fathers). And, perhaps most importantly in working with fathers, they can involve influencing behaviors that individuals repeatedly perform. So for the purposes of working with fathers, the minor distinction between cues, triggers, and nudges is not important, even though it’s helpful to understand the distinction.

Here is a list of ideas for integrating cues, triggers, and nudges into a service, workshop, or program that could help you address two major pain points—retention of fathers and consistent involvement of fathers in their children’s lives. Think of ways in which you could apply these ideas to each pain point.

  • Have each father select an easy, frequent, strong (obvious) cue and a powerful reward for him to engage in the behavior (regular attendance or consistent involvement in his child’s life) that doesn’t exist in his environment. Choose a cue that is customized to each father’s circumstances (e.g. access to his children) and a reward that is, ideally, emotional so that it will stand a good chance of reinforcing the behavior every time he engages in it.
  • As an alternative or in addition to working with each father, help your fatherhood group select a cue and reward that doesn’t exist in the fathers’ environments and that all of them can implement. Each father can report at the start or end of each time they get together on how well the cue and reward worked in helping him engage in the behavior.
  • Have each father, or the group, identify bad habits that keep them from engaging in the behavior. This identification will involve naming the cues, routines (behaviors), and rewards for these bad habits. Research shows that you should focus on changing the behavior (routine) when trying to change a bad habit rather than trying to change the cue or reward. This idea involves identifying a competing habit (cue-routine/behavior-reward system) that keeps a father from regular attendance or consistent involvement in the life of his child. Help the father see how he can respond to the cue with the behavior you want him to engage in (rather than the competing behavior) and how the new behavior can be reinforced by the same reward.
  • Call or send e-mail or text reminders to specific fathers or the entire group in between phases of a service, workshop, or program sessions as a trigger (reminder) to attend the next one or engage in a specific action of involvement in their children’s lives. This idea will keep the behavior “top of mind.” Consider asking each father at the end of his time with you or the group, for example, to identify a specific action he will take to be involved in his child’s life before you or the group see him again. Send an e-mail or text reminder, one or more times, to take that action before you or the group see him again.
  • Create a “buzz” around a service, workshop, or program by getting graduates (alumni) to generate “ongoing” word-of-mouth by talking with potential participants about how much they loved/benefited from it.
  • Link the behavior to a frequent trigger that already exists in a father’s environment. Consider what a father does on an every day (or almost every day) basis. Could you, for example, create a simple reminder card or magnet a father could attach to his bathroom mirror so that every time he shaves he’s reminded to attend the next program session?
  • Link the behavior to a trigger that happens near where the behavior will or should take place. If a father receives a service or participates in another program at the same location as the workshop or program he also participates in, could you include a reminder as part of that other service or program to attend the next part or session of the fatherhood workshop or program?
  • A nudge can involve a financial incentive as long as it doesn’t limit the choices available to a father. Some organizations have found, for example, that fathers who owe child support are more likely to attend a fatherhood program when the organization works with courts to reduce child support orders (e.g. make them more affordable) or eliminate some arrears in exchange for participation in the program.
  • Consider non-financial nudges that have been used in other social-service programs or fields and see how they work with fathers. You could try journaling for instance. Encourage fathers in your program to journal daily or weekly about their attempts to become more involved dads. (Consider assigning journaling as “homework” between program sessions.) Some job-placement programs in the United Kingdom have found that when participants journal about their experiences trying to find jobs that they are more persistent in their efforts to land jobs. You could also implement a checklist of father-involvement behaviors tailored for your group (e.g. a group of non-custodial dads) or each father. Researchers in healthcare have found that using checklists in U.S. operating rooms that include procedures vital to reducing the risk of patient deaths actually reduce deaths. Similarly, fathers who use a father-involvement checklist might become more involved than they would otherwise.

Regardless of how you apply cues, triggers, and nudges, 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. And last but not least, share your results with NFI at so that we can improve future versions of this guide.

As you consider using cues, triggers, and nudges to improve retention and fathers’ involvement in the lives of their children, review the following resources:

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

[1] Berger, J. (2013). Contagious: Why Things Catch On. New York: Simon & Schuster

[2] Hausman, D., & Welch, B. (2010). Debate: To nudge or not to nudge. The Journal of Political Philosophy, 18, 123-136.

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