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Research to Application: Framing and the "No Choice Option"

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

research_to_application_post_3The 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 second one in the series. (To access the first post, click here. To access the second post, click here.) It provides ideas on how you might integrate research on no choice options (a form of framing) into your work with fathers. Integrating this research could help you help fathers to be more persistent in sticking with the behaviors of an involved, responsible, committed father.

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

The Research
Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow [1] captures the research on the biases humans suffer from in making decisions, regardless of the decisions they make. He describes how we rely on two cognitive systems when making decisions. System 1 “operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.” We often call it our “gut instinct.” System 2 “allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations” and involves deliberate choice. We often call it our “rational side.”

We primarily rely on System 1 to make most of our decisions. The good news is that our gut reactions are right most of the time. But it is inadequate for making decisions that require a lot of thought and energy, which is where System 2 comes in. In addition to being inadequate for making complex decisions, the problem with System 1 is that it often leads us astray—and wildly so—which can get us into all sorts of trouble. 

The reason it leads us astray is that it relies on heuristics, what we often call “rules of thumb.” These rules of thumb give us a starting point from which to base our decisions. The problem is that these rules of thumb are often wholly inadequate for helping us make sound decisions because, while they help us arrive at good decisions much of the time, they can bias our thinking in ways that lead to poor decisions in many instances.

One of the heuristics System 1 employs that biases our decision-making is called the framing effect. Our decisions are influenced by the way in which decisions are presented. Here’s a great example from Kahneman’s book: 

  • Researchers presented doctors with statistics about outcomes for cancer treatment in two different ways—survival rates and mortality rates—and asked them whether they would recommend surgery or radiation as the course of treatment. Specifically: the 1-month survival rate of surgery is 90 percent vs. there is a 10 percent mortality rate in the first month after surgery. Despite the fact that the data are exactly the same, just presented or framed differently, a much higher percentage of doctors selected surgery when framed from a survival than mortality perspective. Why? Because even among people trained to treat cancer, mortality is viewed as bad and survival as good. Survival sounds encouraging while mortality is defeating.

Think about your own life for a moment. If you were given a diagnosis of cancer and presented with treatment options, would you rather the doctor talk about your chances of survival or death?

The point is we’re all subject to biases. The fact that I picked this research to write about is in part influenced by another heuristic called the availability bias. In the past year, I’ve read no less than 3 books on biases!

For the purposes of this paper, framing involves how practitioners present fathers with choices related to being an involved, responsible, committed father, regardless of context (e.g. one-on-one case management or in a group-based program) or topic (e.g. discipline, co-parenting, and child support). Before you read another sentence after this one, take a few minutes to reflect on how you present fathers with choices and write them down.

Chances are you present them with several or many choices to choose from. And each of the choices you present are ones that you’d be fine with them choosing. You might, for example, provide them with several choices for how they can do fun things with their children that they might not have thought about before and ask them to commit to doing one or more of them within a specific time frame. Fair enough. But did you also provide them with the choice to do none of them and maintain the status quo? I doubt it. After all, why in the heck would you want to give fathers an option to do nothing? Wouldn’t that make you a bad practitioner?

To answer those questions, let’s turn to research conducted by Dr. Rom Schrift and Dr. Jeffrey Parker on whether presenting people with a no choice option along with other choices makes any difference in how committed or persistent people are in sticking with their choices (not the no choice option). The results are especially important in working with fathers because one of your primary objectives for fathers should be that they are persistent (committed) in sticking with being an involved, committed, responsible father, generally, and implementing certain behaviors, specifically. Persistence is vital to fathers, particularly those who face challenging barriers to involvement in the lives of their children.

Although these researchers don’t mention framing specifically, their research is all about framing. [2] Using a variety of experiments that addressed different behaviors, they found that offering a no choice option alongside other healthy or pro-social options increased the persistence of participants in sticking to the choices they made compared to participants who were given the same choices but without a no choice option. They found it critical that the no choice option was presented up front with all of the other choices, not before and not after the other choices.

Rules for Application
Use this simple and powerful framing effect to encourage persistence in fathers, particularly in those who face adversity. Here are two simple rules to follow when presenting dads with options on how to be an involved, responsible, committed father in any setting (e.g. one-on-one case management) and on any topic (e.g. discipline, co-parenting, and child support).

  • Rule #1: Ensure that the no choice option is viable, even though it’s not desirable. If a father happens to choose that option, it must not violate a legal agreement, for example, and not result in harm to the father or anyone else.
  • Rule #2: Always present the no choice option alongside other options, not before or after.

Regardless of how you apply the framing effect, 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 info@fatherhood.org so that we can improve future versions of this guide. 

Resources 
As you apply the framing effect to increase fathers’ persistence in following through on their choices, consider reading the article on Shrift’s and Parker’s research and the books Thinking, Fast and Slow and Nudge

Get the full PDF version of this study today!



Don’t forget to look for more posts and reference guides with post 1 and post 2 in this series!
 

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

[2] Interestingly and ironically, they use the term “choice architecture” when referring to how they presented choices. That term was coined by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008). I used the research in their book as part of the basis for the first paper in this series.

What Every Child Needs

Our mission at NFI is to improve the well-being of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, committed fathers in their lives. It isn't by accident that our mission statement leads with the well-being of children. It's why NFI exists.

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Yes, we focus on helping organizations build capacity to serve fathers and many fathers come to us for assistance in helping them to be better dads. Our end game, however, is to improve children's current and future lives by connecting them with their fathers, heart to heart.

In pursuing our mission, we recognize that every child, regardless of circumstance, needs certain things in his or her life to survive and thrive. An involved, responsible, committed dad is one of those things. Unfortunately, the message abounds in our culture that a dad is a "nice to have" rather than a "must have" for a child. Any father figure will do, thank you very much. 

While we recognize that not every child will grow up with their dad (and, consequently, that a nurturing father figure can play an important role in a child's well-being), refuting the message that a dad isn't necessary to a child's well-being is a vital part of NFI's work and the work of the thousands of organizations and individuals we partner with that provide direct services to fathers. Together, we recognize that regardless of how "advanced" our society becomes one thing will never change: every child needs a dad.  Watch this inspiring video to see what I mean.


We humans come into the world hard-wired for developing a connection to a dad and a mom, not to one or the other. That's why it's no accident that we see the range of poor outcomes for children caused by father absence. As you work with fathers, recognize that you are nurturing this connection and, in some cases, restoring it. And don't forget to take a few moments, every once in a while, to give yourself a pat on the back for this life-affirming work.

 

Off to College: An Open Letter to My Son

Son,

Today is the DAY.  The day you have looked forward to ever since you first heard the word and the day that your mom and I have eyed with apprehension. The DAY that you go off to COLLEGE!

Did you know that according to Wikipedia in ancient Rome a collegium was a club or society, a group of people living together under a common set of rules? I point that out for two reasons. 

First, because it implies that college is more than a place of higher education…it is a place of shared experience with its own set of rules and behaviors. Secondly, that you should never, ever use Wikipedia as a source for anything over the next four years.

chalkboard

With the wistfulness of a man who thinks this day has arrived way too soon, I would like to give you words of wisdom that will see you through the experience. But this day not only marks another significant step in your life, it is significant for me as well. While you become a bona fide college student, I become officially middle-aged.

So, I don’t have words of wisdom as much as I have things that stick in my craw...pet-peeves if you will. You have heard these from time to time your whole life, but I think each could apply to you and the college experience:

  1. Give it 110% - this cliché that is usually spouted by athletes when talking about their level of effort is impossible to reach. While many things can exceed 100% (the national debt is a good example), effort is not one of them. A person can only give all..not all plus 10%.I don’t have to really explain that to you, since you are a Math Major, but I do want to remind you not to put too much pressure on yourself. You are about to be challenged academically in a way beyond anything you have experienced. That is a good thing. Don’t get discouraged if you struggle at first. You will eventually get it. I have complete faith in your ability. Also, don’t over-extend yourself. There will be many things competing for your time and attention. Remember that you can only give 100% of your effort. So learn to say “no” and choose wisely how you spend your time.
  2. You can’t miss it – people often end a dissertation on directions with this phrase which is senseless, because you obviously CAN miss it, which is part of why you need directions in the first place. A college campus is a great place to experience brand new things beyond the classroom. So don’t miss out on those opportunities. Go to an opera. Sign up for intramural water polo. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Eat some sushi. Look for ways (legal, sane ways that is) to expand your world and experience new things. Otherwise you might miss it.
  3. No-Brainer – this is a phrase folks add when talking about something they think is so obvious it requires no thought. I say, “who are they to tell us what we should consider?” You are about to be bombarded with many who might tempt you to disengage your brain and go with the flow. The values and morals you were raised with will be challenged in many subtle ways. You will have to make decisions on your own about a whole range of things. We trust that you will make wise ones. Ones that reflect who you are as a person. Don’t let anyone tell you not to think or what to think. Use your brain and decide for yourself. 

So, there you have it. Three pet-peeves from your middle-aged dad that you may or may not claim as your own. You are welcome to borrow them if you can use them…kinda like that electric razor we share. (which by the way I couldn’t find this morning…is that by chance packed with the rest of your stuff?)

Love,

Dad

image: iStockPhoto 

Teens, Sex, Fathers, Marriage: All That ‘N a Baby Carriage

Some would say the title of this post is just a bad plan. But what can’t be argued are the facts:

  • Teens are having babies.
  • Teen boys are becoming fathers.
  • Children are growing up in homes without their fathers.
  • Marriage is an option.

The topics of teen pregnancy, teen fathers, and marriage are of the utmost importance to NFI -- particularly because of how closely they align with father absence and child well-being.

According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in Why It Matters: Teen Childbearing, Single Parenthood, and Father Involvement, “…teen mothers are at high risk for single parenthood and especially high risk of parenthood without the biological father in the home”. Further, “Reducing teen pregnancy can improve child well-being by in­creasing the chances that children are born into two-parent families and, in particular, families with married parents.”

babycarriage

Research shows that children have better outcomes when they grow up in a home with two married parents. Studies further indicate that while father involve­ment is important, where the father lives is also important. In one study, the benefit of increasing father involvement was more than twice as great when the father lived with the child than when he lived elsewhere.

But when it comes to teens:

  • The majority of teen mothers (88% in 2010) were unmarried when their child was born.
  • Of those teen mothers who were not married when their child was born, only about one-third (34%) went on to marry by the time their child reached age five.
  • Furthermore, more than one-third (38%) of teens who were married when their child was born split up by the time their child reached age five, and 42% of those who were cohabiting when their child was born split up by then.

In addition, teen mothers living apart from the father of their child report that half of the nonresident fathers met with their child in the past month, and, among those who did, about half visited at least weekly. Recent research also shows that father absence is actually the cause for children having poor outcomes related to a range of physical, mental, and social issues – compared to when their father is involved in their lives

Interestingly, with regard to intergenerational cycles - teen boys who live with both parents initiate sex at an older age compared to teen boys whose father is absent (the former, helping to prevent future, unplanned, teen pregnancies.)

So, it seems decent to conclude that by working to help teens make wise decisions about sex and pregnancy, and how to participate in healthy relationships, we will also, by default, work to reduce father absence and increase the proportion of children who grow up with involved, responsible and committed fathers – all for the benefit of current (or future!) children.

BAM! A match made in heaven.

Looking for programs to work with teens who are, and who are not, already parents? NFI recently launched two new curricula for teens: Download samples of Love Notes and Relationships Smarts Plus.

Research to Application: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

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 the latest research on human behavior to enhance the effectiveness of their work with fathers. NFI provides this guidance in a series of blog posts called Research to Application: Guidance for Practitioners and Programs. The series is also available in the form of quick reference guides that you can download by clicking on the button at the end of the posts.

The series offers a platform for generating dialogue among NFI, organizations, and practitioners on ways that research can be applied to addressing pain points in serving fathers. This post is the second one in the series. (To access the first post, click here.) It provides ideas on how you might integrate research on autonomy, mastery, and purpose into your work with fathers. Integrating this research could help you better motivate fathers to be the best dads they can be. It could also help you motivate fathers to enroll in and habitually attend your fatherhood program because helping fathers achieve autonomy, mastery, and purpose will add value to your program from fathers’ perspective.

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

The Research

Daniel Pink in Drive [1] captures the research on what motivates humans. He provides insight into the three elements that are crucial to motivating people to take action regardless of the situation. When people feel they have autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their lives generally or around a specific situation (e.g. making decisions about how to parent their children, decisions regarding their jobs, etc.), they are more likely to be motivated, or driven. They are also more likely to feel a sense of well-being.

  • Autonomy means that a person has the freedom to make his or her own decisions. Autonomous people have control over their decisions. Pink points out that being autonomous isn’t synonymous with independence because a person can be autonomous in an interdependent situation, such as parenting in which a father and mother depend on each other to raise their child. Autonomy is critical for engagement.
  • Mastery means that a person has command over something, such as knowledge about how to be an effective parent and skill in how to care for a child’s needs. To attain mastery, a person must desire to become better and better at something that matters, such as how to be a better father and husband/partner. The engagement that comes from autonomy is critical to a person’s desire to master something. For someone to master something, they must understand three things: 1) it is possible to become better at something, 2) it is hard work (a pain) to become better at something, and 3) it is never possible to attain complete mastery, only to get closer to it over time.
  • Purpose means that a person has a reason for doing something and involves determination, as in a person being driven to be a better parent by a greater objective than just being a better parent. Intrinsic motivation (i.e. driven by something inside of them) is crucial to sustained purpose. If someone is only extrinsically motivated (i.e. driven by something outside of them), purpose won’t stand the test of time. Motivation will be fleeting at best.

These three elements are like the legs of a three-legged stool. They work together to support the base of the stool (e.g. the skill someone seeks to obtain), but it is purpose that is the most vital of the three elements. While people who have a high level of autonomy and mastery at something can be very effective at that something, people who have both of those elements and a clear purpose behind what they’re doing are even more effective.

Ideas on Application

This three-element framework is a good one for assessing how well your current fatherhood program motivates fathers. If you don’t yet have a program, it offers a good framework for developing one that will leverage fathers’ motivators. 

A well-designed fatherhood program can give fathers a sense of autonomy and help fathers build toward mastery in fathering knowledge and skills. Regarding autonomy, a program must help them move toward greater engagement in the lives of their children. Here’s how.

  • It should be balanced from a prescriptive and non-prescriptive perspective. It should balance research-based, prescriptive content (e.g. tips) on what makes for effective parenting regardless of fathers’ individual circumstances (e.g. knowledge of child development and how to apply effective discipline techniques) with general guidance that allows fathers to choose how to be good fathers given their individual circumstances (e.g. how to be involved in their children’s lives if they have regular versus limited or no access to their children). If you’ve ever watched the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, think about how Captain Barbossa (the villain) defines the third rule of the pirate’s code known as parley when he captures the beautiful heroine: “The code is more what you'd call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner.”
  • It should include wrap-around services necessary for some fathers to overcome challenges that present barriers to a sense of autonomy (i.e. the sense that they have as much control as possible over their fatherhood-related decisions). These are services provided by your organization or partner organizations that address the pressing needs that fathers might have that aren’t directly related to parenting and fathering knowledge or skills, such as the need for a job, a high school diploma or GED, visitation rights, or affordable child support. Because fathers’ needs can be a moving target, it’s essential to assess their needs before, during, and after they participate in a fatherhood program so that your program always has a beat on the pulse of fathers’ most pressing needs.

Regarding mastery, a program should:

  • Be research-based in its content. Simply put, it should include content on what works that is based on research and evidence. (Such programs are alternatively called research- or evidence-informed.) The facilitator of the program (whether delivered in a group-based or one-on-one setting) must be clear with fathers that: 1) it is possible to become better at being a father regardless of circumstance, 2) it is hard work (a pain) to become a better father, and 3) it is never possible to attain complete mastery in parenting and fathering, only to get closer to them over time.
  • Include opportunities for fathers to apply, or at least reflect upon, what they learn. Research shows that parent-education programs with application components are extremely effective. Ideally, fathers would go home after learning a new discipline skill, for example, and try it when their children need to be disciplined and then have the opportunity to share that experience and receive constructive feedback. Unfortunately, that’s not possible for some fathers (e.g. non-custodial) to apply some of what they learn often or at all. Programs should include tools that allow for customized application of what fathers learn, such as action steps fathers can take between sessions, or a close approximation, such as role-plays and time for reflection on how they might or would apply what they learn.
  • Include an alumni component that allows fathers who “graduate” from a program to continue to build toward mastery around parenting, fathering, and related issues (e.g. relationships). Fathers become hungry for more as their sense of autonomy and mastery develops. The organizations that use NFI’s programs have found that fathers often want to re-enroll in a program they have already completed to continue, in large part, their learning. By offering additional programs or workshops of any length in a sequence, your organization can help fathers continue to build toward mastery.

Purpose is a bit trickier. As Pink points out, building autonomy and toward mastery will increase the chances that someone will become more motivated. Certainly a good fatherhood program that addresses the first two legs of the stool will get you two-thirds of the way there. Organizations that run NFI’s programs have found that just by participating in a fatherhood program, fathers develop a greater sense of purpose in being a great dad. We find that the energy and enthusiasm facilitators bring can help fathers find their purpose. Unfortunately, only fathers can find and unlock the intrinsic motivation associated with a greater purpose in being a great dad. 

This is where you must get creative. You must first determine whether fathers are extrinsically or intrinsically motivated to participate in your program. Doing so will help you identify the fathers who, because they’re intrinsically motivated, are more likely to engage with the program and consistently attend and those whose extrinsic motivation, while necessary to get them to attend initially, will make it more difficult for them to engage with the program and more likely to participate infrequently or drop out. You’ll have to spend more time with the latter group to help them find their purpose.

The best time to identify fathers’ motivators is before you start to work with them one-on-one or in a group. Regardless of setting, you could schedule one-on-one time with each father before you start your work with him. If you will work with fathers in a group, you could bring the entire group in for an “introductory session” before the first session. Either way, use the following two-step approach to identify fathers’ motivators.

  • Step 1: Ask fathers either or both of the following questions. What is the main reason you’re in this program? When it comes to being involved in your child’s (children’s) life, what keeps you up at night?”
  • Step 2: Use the “5 Whys” line of questioning to go even deeper and help fathers uncover their truest (or deepest) motivators. It works like this. Ask the fathers either of the questions above. After they provide their answers, and regardless of the content of their answers, simply ask “Why?” or “Why is that?” Don’t say anything else. Don’t pass judgment on their answers. After the fathers’ second answers, again ask “Why?” or “Why is that?” Continue this line of questioning until you’ve questioned their answers five times. By the fifth time, you should have identified fathers’ truest motivators. It’s like peeling back the skin of an onion. Using the 5 Whys can seem awkward at first, but keep at it. 

The beauty of this approach is that it can help fathers unlock the motivators they didn’t even know they had. Fathers whose initial responses might indicate extrinsic sources of motivation might instead (or in addition) have intrinsic sources. Write down their answers so you remember them and so that you can identify the fathers with whom you might need to work more diligently to engage with the program and consistently attend. When fathers encounter obstacles to being involved with their children or attending the program, or are just having a bad day, use what you learn to remind fathers why they’re going through the program. You can also use this approach as the program progresses (e.g. halfway through and at the end of the program) to see whether fathers’ motivators change.

Regardless of how you apply autonomy, mastery, and purpose, 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 info@fatherhood.org so that we can improve future versions of this guide.

Resources 

As you apply the autonomy, mastery, and purpose framework to increase fathers’ motivation, consider reading Drive and the following book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. This book focuses on the research that shows people can develop and grow throughout their lives, and that nothing is set in stone. It can further inform you about mastery, in particular.

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

[1] Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books.

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

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

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,

...to 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 evecere@fatherhood.org or by phone at 240-912-1278.

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.

What Dads Can Learn From the Santa Barbara Killing Spree

I’ve blogged many times over the years about the disturbing “father factor” I’ve seen in virtually every shooting spree or mass murder that has made the news. In nearly every case, the shooter grew up in a fatherless home. 

what dads can learn from santa barbara killing spreeFollowing in the wake of the D.C. sniper, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Tucson, Chardon High School, and the Norway terrorist, the Santa Barbara case in the news today appears to be no different: a murder spree carried out by a lonely, angry, disturbed young man with a troubling family background. 

At this stage, we don’t have a lot of detail about the “inner workings” of Elliot Rodger’s family life, but we do know that his parents divorced in 1999, and he, according to an article in The New York Times, seemed to be at odds with his family throughout his teenage years. And reports have shown that Rodger’s parents gave him lots of “things”: therapy, medicine, an expensive BMW. But did they give themselves? 

I am not suggesting that his family life caused his violent behavior, but it is becoming more and more clear as these horrific incidents occur that a family life defined by instability and turmoil is a significant factor that must be considered as we figure out how to make such incidents less common. 

But given Elliot Rodger’s clear hatred for women (and everyone else for that matter), there is another “father factor” that is important to consider here as well: the positive role that good dads can play in helping their daughters and sons navigate the world of dating. 

Rodger, in his last video before he carried out his murders, suggested that he was doing what he did due to being rejected too often by the women he desired. It is understandable that such an act could cause young women to fear what the consequences may be when they turn aside unwanted advances from young men. How can fathers help their daughters get their heads around this?

For starters, it is important to note that Rodger said in his video that he thought he would be rejected if he asked a woman out. This was a young man who felt rejected; he was seemingly never rejected by an actual woman. So, young women and their dads should take heart that Rodger’s actions were those of a severely disturbed individual, not the result of a run-of-the-mill rejection by an actual woman. 

That aside, it is the role of good dads to help their daughters find their prince without kissing all the toads.

Here is how dads can help:

  • Be there: First and foremost, a good father’s mere presence helps daughters see what a healthy relationship between a man and a woman (her parents) looks like. Good dads model that relationship for their girls, allowing them to start learning about healthy relationships from the very start of their lives. Good dads also build their daughters’ self esteem, as various studies have found. 
  • Be proactive: As their daughters get older, good dads play an active role in their decisions around dating. Dad and mom should call the shots on when their daughter starts to date; it is their call, not hers. They are in a better position than anyone else to determine if she is ready to date. 
  • Discourage “bad boys”: Once she does start dating, good dads help their daughters avoid guys who appear to need “fixing;” so-called bad boys. They are bad for a reason. Despite the allure, dating should not be therapy, where your daughter is the therapist and her boyfriend is the patient. 
  • Encourage group dating: Good dads encourage their daughters to spend their first months of dating going on group dates so that they, a) are rarely alone with guys, and b) have their friends around to help them “vet” guys. There is nothing like having your peers give you an objective evaluation of a guy who may be more trouble than he is worth. 
  • Avoid unknowns: Good dads discourage their daughters from dating guys they don’t know. If a guy and a girl are interested in dating each other and they don’t know each other (e.g., don’t go to the same school or church, etc.), then it is likely they simply want to date each other based on looks alone. This is probably not a good recipe for those earliest years of dating. 
  • Don’t obsess over dating: Good dads encourage their daughters to pursue lots of different interest in their teenage years. They help their daughters focus on academics, friends, sports, and other interests, so that dating (or not) doesn’t take over their lives.

So, when it comes to the question of how to “safely reject” a guy, it can be as simple as following the same basic rules you follow in all other human interactions. Be respectful. Don’t humiliate people. And, if dads are following the above steps, it is likely that their daughters are confident, assertive young women who are surrounded by good friends and supportive parents. These are notoriously good insulators against violence. 

Finally, it is critical that dads work with their sons to help them navigate the world of dating, too. It is clear that Elliot Rodger had no idea how to interact with members of the opposite sex. Good dads ensure that their sons are confident, respectful, and hold the best interests of others above their own. They teach their sons that girls are worthy of love, not lust, and model this behavior in their own lives.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. As someone who works in “fatherhood,” it would seem I see fatherhood everywhere in the case of the Santa Barbara murders. But it appears that in every aspect of this horrible incident, there are lessons good dads can take away to ensure that they are raising sons and daughters who will be less likely to be the perpetrators or victims of such crimes. 

We dads certainly can’t control everything, but we can give our children what they need the most: ourselves.

What's one thing you're teaching your son or daughter about dating?

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 fathersource.org resource website today.

New Study Reveals: Father Absence Really is the Problem in Society

Christopher Brown recently published "The Proof Is In: Father Absence Harms Child Well-Being" for The Huffington Post where he provides his observations of the study and explains how this study is one of the most important studies done on father absence to date.

As you know if you've been following NFI for any length of time, we were founded 20 years ago because a group of people realized that a child growing up in a home without a dad had an increased the risk of things like:

  • living in poverty,
  • performing poorly in school,
  • emotional and behavioral problems,
  • becoming violent,
  • getting pregnant (or getting someone pregnant) as a teen,
  • winding up in prison or jail, and
  • committing suicide.

proof that father absence is the problemAs someone who works on the front lines of society, be it in a community-based program, in corrections programming and/or military programming, you no doubt know that the problem the problems in our society tend to point toward father absence.

However, as Chris explains in his newest column, "despite reams of data that NFI has compiled in six editions of Father Facts, the recognition among people across the political spectrum of the need to combat father absence, and the commitment of many private and public funders to addressing this problem, there are still some scholars and members of the public who are not convinced that dads are important to children...Many believe that family structure doesn't really matter, as long as children are cared for and loved by someone, anyone."

Now, at least among skeptic scholars, there has been one valid reason, and that what Chris deems, "the lack of rigorous analytical methods employed in much of the research.

Until now: with this new study, researchers Sara McLanahan, Laura Tach, and Daniel Schneider have reviewed nearly 50 studies to examine the causal effects of father absence.

As a leader in your community, you need to know of this new work. The research has been published in the Annual Review of Sociology, The Causal Effects of Father Absence focuses on the relationship between father absence and four outcomes of children:

    1. educational attainment,
    2. mental health,
    3. relationship formation and stability, and
    4. labor force success.

Note what NFI's President, Chris Brown, says of this new study, it "prove(s) beyond reproach that father absence causes poor outcomes for children in each of these areas."

Chris has taken the new study and boiled it down to three observations he pulled when reading that I think are worth considering:

1) Father absence is to blame. While you know this already, let this research encourage you. Realize that you are not alone. You see the effects of father absence on a daily basis, but researchers are starting to get it! This new study makes clear, as Chris writes, that "the old adage 'correlation does not imply causation,' does not apply to the effects of father absence on children." Chris makes the research clear by stating, "In other words, for many of our most intractable social ills affecting children, father absence is to blame." It's worth your time to review this study so that you have the information you need to lead your program. Understanding this point really is the "why" behind your work in the field.

2) Father absence is a global issue. Chris delves into the cross-cultural analysis of the research and finds it supports recent research on the importance of family structure to child well being (see a recent post entitled "It Takes a Married Village"). Chris sums this point up by saying: Father absence isn't just a U.S. problem -- it's a human problem.

3) The earlier we can fix father absence the better. Chris explains that with his career of working in fatherhood and on behalf of children, there is "one particular conclusion of these scholars" he finds "very sobering given that the U.S. has reached an all-time high in the number of children born to single parents: the earlier in their lives that children experience father absence the more pronounced are its effects."

Let Chris's article and the research motivate you today to work with a renewed vigor; knowing that you have research on your side, that you are combating a problem that's truly changing lives and that you are making a difference not just in fathers' lives, but in a child's. 

Read the full article here.

Have you seen "The Father Absence Crisis in America" infographic? Use it to help lead your programs today.

Vote for the 2013 Military Fatherhood Award Winner!

Every year, National Fatherhood Initiative celebrates military fathers and families through our Military Fatherhood Award™.  We get hundreds of nominations and after narrowing down to four finalists, we turn to the American people to help us select an Awardee by voting on Facebook

Our finalists are going above and beyond in staying involved in their children's lives, despite the challenges of military life, and they are an inspiration to us.  We hope they'll inspire and encourage you too!

Ssgt Charlie Linville, 2013 Military Fatherhood Award FinalistSsgt Charlie Linville, U.S. Marine Corps - a combat veteran and Wounded Warrior, Ssgt Linville insisted on attending his daughter's first karate competition the day after having his leg amputated and continues to plan activites with his daughters, despite daily pain.



CPO Patrick Mondragon, 2013 Military Fatherhood Award finalistCPO Patrick Mondragon, U.S. Navy - CPO Mondragon was effectively a solo parent while caring for his wife and kids - and continuing to fulfill his military duties - during a life-threatening health complication his wife experienced. 

 


Ssgt Jorge Roman, 2013 Military Fatherhood Award finalistSsgt Jorge Roman, U.S. Army - a first-generation American, Ssgt Roman is fulfilling the American dream for his children, teaches them art and fitness, and has continued to parent his daughters during overseas deployments.

 


Maj. Kevin Billups, 2013 Military Fatherhood Award finalistMaj. Kevin Billups, U.S. Air Force - leaving for his eighth deployment in a few weeks, Maj. Billups is not only an involved father to his three children, he teaches other new military dads how to prepare for fatherhood and care for their little ones.

 

You can watch the videos their families created and vote for your favorite finalist on NFI's Facebook page.  Voting opens on Monday April 15 and closes on Sunday May 15.  You can vote once every 24 hours.

We're excited to introduce these wonderful dads as outstanding examples of fatherhood and to honor them for their service to the country.

Share this blog with other collegues and associates working in the fatherhood field!

Nominate a dad for the 2013 Military Fatherhood Award!

Military Fatherhood Award: Honoring Military Fathers and Families
Every year, National Fatherhood Initiative honors a military dad who goes above and beyond in his service to the nation and his responsibility as a dad.

NFI's Military Fatherhood Award™ recognizes and celebrates a dad who:

  • demonstrates ongoing dedication to his children
  • puts in extraordinary effort to stay connected with his kids
  • successfully balances his military duties and family life
  • invests in other military fathers and children

If you know a great military dad, nominate him for the 2013 Military Fatherhood Award™ today!  Nominations close on Monday February 4 at 12:00 p.m. EST, and we can only accept the first 600 nominations, so submit yours quickly!  (See Terms and Conditions to answer most questions about the award program.)

Share this blog post using the buttons at the top of the post to let other military friends and family know about this opportunity to nominate their dad or a dad they know!

 

Sponsors of the 2013 Military Fatherhood Award:
as of January 17, 2013

Protect and Defend Sponsors

Nissan USA   Acumen Solutions, Inc.

Supporting Friends

Boy Scouts of America

 

If you are connected with a company that would be interested in sponsoring, contact Renae Smith at rsmith@fatherhood.org.  Download the sponsorship kit here.

8 Things To Know About Disciplining Your Child

Discipline comes from the Latin word “discipulus” meaning “to teach; to guide.” Punishment means to “penalize” for doing something wrong. Sometimes, these get mixed up with each other, resulting in a less than ideal outcome for our children. Therefore, it’s vital us parents know the following eight things about disciplining our children.

8 things to know about disciplining your child discipline1. Know Your Discipline Style

  • The Dictator. This Dad is always strict and never nurtures. His children know what he doesn’t want them to do, but rarely what he wants them to do. This Dad says, “My way or the highway.”
  • The King. This Dad is strict and nurtures when needed. His children know what he doesn’t want them to do, as well as what he wants them to do. This Dad says, “Let me show you the way.”
  • The Joker. This Dad is never strict and rarely nurtures. He jokes a lot and makes fun of his children. His children don’t know what he doesn’t want them to do or what he wants them to do. This Dad says, “Let’s just have fun.”
  • The Follower. This Dad is sometimes strict and sometimes nurtures. He lets Mom take the lead on discipline and backs her up when needed. His children know some of things he doesn’t want them to do and some of the things he does want them to do. This Dad says, “Do whatever Mom says.”
  • The Dreamer. This Dad is never strict and never nurtures. He lets Mom take the lead on discipline and doesn’t get involved with it. His children don’t know what he wants them to do or what he wants them to do. This Dad says, “Whatever. Just leave me alone.”

When considering which discipline style you most associate with, ask yourself, “Is this the best style for my children/my family/my involvement?” And consider something more middle of the road.

2. Know the Family Rules
Clear communication is vital for understanding right and wrong in your house. You will need to establish clear boundaries for your home. We have written about Creating Family Rules in the past. Check them out and consider adding rules in your home today.

3. Know Your Reward Options
Many Dads believe discipline means “to control” rather than “to teach or to guide.” As a result, they use fear when they punish. It’s vital you know your child and what he/she considers a reward when it comes to discipline. 

Some examples of rewards include:

  • Praise: Tell your child how much you like their correct behavior and that they’re a good person for doing it.
  • Encouraging Touch: Give your child a hug, pat on the back, or high five. It's never too early to teach your child the fistbump.
  • Freedoms: Give your child a new freedom she or he can do one time or all of the time, such as stay up or out later, read an extra story at bedtime, have a bowl of ice cream, or money for doing an extra chore.
  • Gifts: Give your child a toy, stickers or some extra cash.

4. Know Your Punishment Options
When the time for punishment happens, it’s vital dads know they have options. Some examples include:

  • Say You’re Disappointed: Tell your children you expect more of them, and you expect them to behave the right way.
  • Pay it Back: Tell your child to make up for bad behavior, such as paying for breaking something, doing the behavior they were supposed to do in the first place, or saying they’re sorry to someone they hurt.
  • Take a break: Tell your child to sit in a corner, on the couch, or go to their room for a short period of time. This works best with children under the age of 10.
  • Grounding: Don’t let your child leave the house for some period of time. Grounding works best with teens.
  • Take Away a Freedom: Remove a freedom for a period of time or forever.

Make sure the punishment fits the crime. Don’t take away a freedom, for example, when a child does something minor and telling them that you expect more of them the next time will do the trick.

5. Know Difference Between Discipline and Punishment
Many Dads define discipline as punishment. In other words, they don’t see punishment as a way to discipline in certain situations. They see punishment and discipline as the same thing. Discipline means to teach or guide. Punishment means to “penalize” for doing something wrong.

6. Know Difference Between the Action and the Actor
Always focus on the “Action” not the “Actor.” Talk about what your child did. It’s okay, for example, to say that your child did something “bad” as long as you don’t say your child is “bad” for doing it. Keep the focus on the action.

Here are ideas for age-specific discipline:

For Dads of Infants and Toddlers:

  • Discipline as a way to protect: At this age, guidance and discipline are about protecting your little one from hurting themselves. Say “no” firmly, but not harshly, when your child does something dangerous and move him or her away from the object or area immediately.
  • Consistency is important: Be consistent with enforcing the boundaries you set in your home – inconsistency will confuse your child and give him the “ok” to push the limits if he thinks he can get away with it.  

For Dads of School-Aged Children:

  • Discipline as a way to nurture: When your child does something inappropriate, talk with him or gently about why the behavior was wrong – explain how it hurt other people, or is rude.  
  • Take a break if you’re frustrated: Never discipline out of anger. Do your best to always discipline calmly.
  • Make the discipline fit the child: Different children will respond to discipline differently. One of your children might learn better through being deprived of a privilege (such as watching TV or a favorite toy); another child might respond more to being sent to his or her room or having to do extra chores.

For Dads of Teenagers:

  • Discipline as a way to guide: At this point, your teen is becoming an adult and wants to be treated as such. You still need to be your teen’s parent, not best friend, and that means setting rules to help your teen make good decisions and firmly enforcing consequences when those rules are violated.  
  • Let them make mistakes: While your teen still needs to honor your family’s rules, giving your teen the freedom to make their own choices can be a valuable learning experience. Always make sure your words and actions communicate to your teen that you will always love them even if they make mistakes.

7. Know the “Why” of Discipline
Always explain why your child is being disciplined. Discipline is meant to guide your child and to teach a lesson. It’s essential you explain to your child why they have to sit in their room or give up TV. It’s the lesson you teach them through the discipline that is most important.

8. Know How to End with Love
No matter what, never end with the discipline; always end with love. Hug your child and let him/her know you are disciplining out of love.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about disciplining your child?

Image: iStockPhoto

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