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6 Steps to Deal with Fears for Your Children

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

What frightens you the most as a parent when it comes to your children's health? Before you read any further, take a few minutes to write down your top three fears using a broad definition of health that includes physical, social and emotional health. Then, rate your level of fear for each one on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being "not fearful at all" and 10 being "very fearful."

fear_dad_11172014
What I fear most is that my children will get in a horrible accident that will change their life for the worse or even end it. When my younger daughter Jillian was 2 years old, we were playing on the living room floor with Daizy, a Labrador-Greyhound mix we had rescued from the pound only days before. This get-to-know-you play session suddenly turned into one of my scariest parenting moments. As Daizy laid down to rest in front of me, Jillian scurried around my back and, in coming around to the front of me, startled Daizy. Daizy lept up and accidentally swiped Jillian's face with her paw. For a moment, it seemed nothing was wrong because Jillian's only reaction was to close her eyes and look stunned. But then, the blood started flowing down her face -- appearing to originate from one of her eyes -- and she began to cry and scream.

After a moment of indecision, I quickly removed my shirt and placed it over her face. Fortunately, a couple of EMTs lived two houses down from us. I grabbed Jillian and ran over to their home and, as I ran, prayed they were home. I knocked on the door and, thank God, both of them were home. I explained what happened and partially removed my shirt from Jillian's face so they could assess the injury. The blood started to flow once more. I reapplied my shirt until one of the EMTs wrapped Jillian's head in so much gauze it looked as though she was wearing a turban that had slid down her face.

By this time, I feared the worst -- Daizy has slashed Jillian's eye and she'd have permanent damage. Being EMTs, my neighbors assured me that they had seen much worse and not to jump to conclusions. One of them rushed us to the nearest hospital for treatment. Fortunately, Daizy had only caused a gash above Jillian's eye and slightly scratched the inside of her eyelid. The eye itself was unharmed.

I'm generally not a fearful parent. Even though I fear accidents the most, I rarely think about whether they might happen. But every once in a while, the scar that Jillian still has from that awful day reminds me how much I love my children and don't want any harm to come to them.

Every year, the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan conducts a national poll on parents' top health concerns. The 2014 poll asked parents to rate how big of a problem 26 health concerns are for children and teens in their community and, separately, for children and teens across the country. They rated each concern as a "big problem," "somewhat of a problem," or "not a problem." The survey is a kind of proxy for what parents fear when it comes to children's health.

According to the 2014 poll, the following eight concerns appeared in the top 10 concerns on both lists:

  • Childhood obesity
  • Bullying
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug/substance abuse
  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Internet safety
  • Teen pregnancy

Childhood obesity topped both lists, with the others in each list ranking differently in terms of level of concern.

Now, look at the list of your top three fears. Are they included in the list of eight above?

A much more important question is whether your level of fear for each fear is founded. (That's why I asked you to rate your level of fear.) Fears have a nasty way of working behind the scenes to cause stress and guide our behavior in unproductive and sometimes destructive ways. Parents' fears can cause a ton of stress and lead to behavior that damages their relationships with their children. As I wrote in my last post, parents these days are particularly vulnerable to over-protecting and controlling their children's lives. This behavior results from fears (and concerns) they have that, in many cases, are unfounded.

Follow these steps to determine whether any or all of your fears are founded.

  1. Prepare to be wrong. Recognize that you might not need to be as fearful and maybe don't need to be fearful at all. Most people are overconfident in their views. If you won't entertain the possibility that you might be wrong, there's no reason to take another step.
  2. Step back and separate from the fears. Get some distance from your emotions so that you can objectively assess your fears.
  3. Examine the evidence from a broad perspective. Conduct some research on the prevalence in the broader population of the issues underlying your fears. Use reputable, objective sources and not ones that will simply confirm your fears. (To get you started, I provide a list of relevant sources at the end of this post.) Based on what you learn, how do the issues underlying your fears stack up against the data on prevalence of those issues?
  4. Examine the evidence from a narrow perspective. How prevalent are the issues in your community? Your community might differ markedly from the general population. The sources you used in Step 3 might have data on your community, but you might have to find similar sources at the state or county level (e.g. your state or city health department). How do the issues stack up against the data in your community? Even if you've lived in your community for a long time -- maybe your entire life -- you might be surprised how little you know about the prevalence of issues in your own backyard.
  5. Examine recent exposure to events and information that could create biases that support your fears. Has anything happened in your family, friends' families, or community related to your fears? Have you heard a lot recently in the news about incidents related to the issues underlying your fears? Have you been watching movies or television focused on your fears? If you answered yes to any of those questions, consider whether that exposure reflects reality in terms of prevalence of the issues underlying your fears. Realize that you could suffer from the availability bias in which people rely on recent exposure to specific events and information to form their opinions even when those events and information are out of the norm.
  6. Step back once again and consider all the evidence. If you have a friend who is a particularly objective person, share what you learned and ask him or her for input.

As you read through those steps, you might have thought "Ugh! It's going to take a lot of time to complete them, and I just don't have the time." It will take some time, but not as much as you think. Regardless, when it comes to your children, taking time to examine whether your fears are founded is vital to understanding whether the stress they cause and the behavior that results from them is worth it to you and the relationships you have with your children.

Here are some websites on children's health for further reading:

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Christmas in November

I've never had a bad Christmas. For the most part, they've all been pretty good. Here's the thing, the holidays that haven't been as great as others, have all been for one reason. That reason? Me.

December is the busiest month of the year, am I right? Listen up, this is experience talking. I know before December starts, busy is the only thing that is certain. As I screened Saving Christmas, one character made me think...the brother-in-law. This year, I'm doing something different...something I've never done before. 

kirk cameron's saving christmas

In the film, the brother-in-law is the melancholy, depressed guy who hates everything. He hates the consumerism of the holiday, he hates the "war on Christmas", he hates everything. Are you that guy? I have come to some conclusions after seeing the depressed brother-in-law in the film. I don't want to be that guy. Neither should you. We should want more, for ourselves, for our families, and for this season.

After watching this movie, I plan to do three things differently this year. I plan to proactively fight against the all-consuming stress of the season. Here's how I plan to make this Holiday what it's supposed to be about. Maybe you're like me, and you need this reminder. Feel free to consider this post your very own Christmas miracle:

1) Stop, Reflect & Remember: It's About Giving...Not Getting.
I'm not on my a-game when I'm my super-busy or constantly around humans for social events and whatnot. I know this about myself. This can make December suck for me. I know if I don't take a moment, be it for five minutes, to get alone and be still, I'm sabotaging myself and my family.

Find time to stop and reflect long enough to realize this season is about giving...not getting. Yes, I'm telling myself this too. The more you and I can understand this, the more we will enjoy the season. I just read a quote from Anne Frank, she supposedly said, "No one has ever become poor by giving." That's all...me, Anne Frank, and Kirk Cameron just saved your Christmas. You're welcome.

2) Make it About the Kids...Not Yourself.
My childhood Holidays were awesome. I didn't grow up rich or poor (that I know of), but my memories of the Holiday season are positive. One of my favorite memories is of opening a toy 18-wheeler log tuck. There's no way it cost my parents more that $10 in 1980's currency. I still remember stacking the little logs and pulling that truck around the house and imagining I was crossing over mountains and whatnot—the original Ice Road Truckers. My point is this, not only did I invent Ice Road Truckers, I look back at my kid-self and realize it didn't take much to make me happy. It's the same with your kids. Yes, make it about the children. But also, you don't have to stress about satisfying them. Odds are it takes much less than you're thinking to make them happy. What's the best memory you have as a kid during the holiday? You're probably thinking of a story similar to mine now. If you're not, you're an ungrateful brat and need to refer to the first point of this post! ; )

In the movie, Mr. Cameron says, "sometimes you have to be brought low...to see with new eyes”. This year, see the lights and decorations through the eyes of your child. See your family with fresh eyes. You will no doubt agree with Cameron when he says, "Our lives are so full — if only we had eyes to see them." Don't mess up Christmas for the kids.

3) Tis a New Season
I've went wrong in the past. From not taking time to reflect, to waiting until the last minute to go to the mall. Then, I've had the audacity to complain I can't find parking at the mall on December 23. Hello! There's parking spots open in November, right?! This is a new season, for you and me. A chance to start off different, and right. This said, my holiday season started last week. In the DC area, it's now dark at like 4pm. I drove home and was about to slip into my melancholy-fall-slumber of depression and boredom. Yes, I can be bored and busy, you can't? But something happened, a miracle. After fighting traffic, I walked in my front door to the smell of food cooking, the Etta James Holiday music station playing, and my daughters drawing at the kitchen table. Boom, instant cheer! My point is, you'll never save Christmas for you or your family if you never look at it with new eyes. This isn't last year or that one bad year you had, this is this year. 

Hopefully, you and I will stop and reflect, make it about the kids, and create a new season of traditions this holiday. Let's realize as Mr. Cameron says, "You and I are in the middle of a story. The difference between our story and the one we heard as kids is that we get to write our own story." Whether you hate this time of year, are fighting with your spouse, or you just aren't that into Christmas, you get to pick whether you're Scrooge or not.

So, are you gonna watch everyone have fun or are you gonna actually have fun this season? I was inspired after watching this movie to rearrange my life, to tell my daughters new stories, to not be the husband and dad who frustrates his wife and kids, to make things right...that's Christmas. So, you wanna know my solution for getting past all of the stress of the season? It's something I've never done before. I'm starting Christmas in November. If you need me, I'll be sipping my Chesnut Praline Latte and listening to Christmas music today. I'm not waiting until December.

How will you save Christmas for you and your family this year?

Get the sneak peek of Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas!

Watch  Kirk Cameron's Interview on Access Hollywood Live:

 

Follow Saving Christmas:

  • Follow Saving Christmas on Facebook.

  • Find a theater near you here.

  • See images from the set of the film here

Download "The Ultimate Guide to Connecting with your Child"! 

Connecting_with_your_child_cover

This free ebook is designed to help you and your children become closer and more connected. Use it for yourself or share it with other dads.

In this free ebook we share:

  • The best questions to ask your school-aged child to get him or her talking
  • Great questions you can ask your teenager
  • Questions you can ask yourself to be sure you're doing all you should to be a great dad

Use this ebook to help you and the dads you know connect with your kids in a meaningful way.

Faith-Based Film Spotlight: Saving Christmas (In Theaters Friday)

This Christmas, have your family dive headfirst into all the joy, dancing, celebration, feasting, imagination, and traditions that make Christmas, well, Christmas! This film will resonate with our faith-based fatherhood leaders. See the videos and see what I mean...

 

KIRK CAMERON’S SAVING CHRISTMAS is an interesting take on the story providing a basis for our timeless traditions and celebrations. 

This year, it's time to take in the splendor; take in the majesty; take in the story. Take it all in…and realize it's okay to enjoy it all.

The season isn't a time to be sad, depressed or annoyed from all the busy-ness. Okay, you probably will get annoyed if and when you have to find parking at the mall, but still, overall, it's supposed to be a time to truly enjoy family!

KIRK CAMERON’S SAVING CHRISTMAS is in theaters for a limited engagement beginning November 14 for two weeks only!

Stay tuned to The Father Factor Blog, as I will be writing a feature about this upcoming family film on the blog. But for now...

Get a Sneak Peek of Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas!


Watch the first trailer for Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas.

Watch  Kirk Cameron's Interview on Access Hollywood Live:

 

Follow Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas:

  • Follow Saving Christmas on Facebook.

  • Find a theater near you here.

  • See images from the set of the film here

Download "The Ultimate Guide to Connecting with your Child"! 

This free ebook is designed to help you and your children become closer and more connected. Use it for yourself or share it with other dads.

Connecting_with_your_child_cover

In this free ebook we share:

  • The best questions to ask your school-aged child to get him or her talking
  • Great questions you can ask your teenager
  • Questions you can ask yourself to be sure you're doing all you should to be a great dad

Use this ebook to help you and the dads you know connect with your kids in a meaningful way.

Why Horseplay is Vital for Your Kids

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

When my daughters were toddlers and preschoolers, I played a game with them called "Attack Baby." I'd lie on the floor and let them run at and jump on me. They'd scream at the top of their lungs as they ran toward me. Right after or right before they landed on me, I'd pick them up and throw them to either side of me. (Don't be appalled. I gently laid them on the ground so they'd roll safely across the floor.) Every once in a while, I'd include a tickle or two before I discarded them to either side of me. As I did so, the attacking screams turned to joyful laughter.

why-horseplay-is-vital-for-your-kidsThe objectives of the game for them were to have fun and do as much damage to their dad as possible. My objectives were to help them learn the joy of physical play and how to play and not hurt someone in the process (i.e. learn emotional self-regulation). They sometimes lost control, particularly when they'd gang up on me. My youngest, in particular, would sometimes launch herself feet first and try to pound on my chest or head. Whenever they got out of control and became too physical, I stopped the game and explained that they needed to regain control or that session of Attack Baby was over. As time went by, they learned how to control themselves more consistently and still have a blast. To this day, some 15 years later, they remember Attack Baby with fondness and tell new friends, when describing their relationship with me, how much they enjoyed it.

In the Art of Roughhousing, Dr. Anthony T. DeBenedet and Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen reveal the benefits of horseplay (rough-and-tumble play), such as how it develops close connections between parents and children, helps solve children's behavior problems, and boosts children's confidence.

Roughhousing is interactive, so it builds close connections between children and parents, especially as we get down on the floor and join them in their world of exuberance and imagination. Most important, roughhousing is rowdy, but not dangerous. With safety in mind, roughhousing releases the creative life force within each person, pushing us out of our inhibitions and inflexibilities... Play -- especially active physical play, like roughhousing -- makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likeable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful... Roughhousing activates many different parts of the body and the brain, from the amygdalae, which process emotions, and the cerebellum, which handles complex motor skills, to the prefrontal cortex, which makes high-level judgments. The result is that every roughhousing playtime is beneficial for body and brain as well as for the loftiest levels of the human spirit: honor, integrity, morality, kindness, and cooperation.

Unfortunately, this art is becoming a lost one as video games and other technology-based activities play an ever-increasing role in children's lives. Moreover, other changes in children's environments that facilitate horseplay have faded or disappeared, such as schools reducing or eliminating recess and physical education.

But another truly unfortunate factor in this development is the hyper-focus of so many parents today on their children's safety, a focus that negatively impacts their daily interactions with their children.

Sadly, among many of today's families, roughhousing barely limps along on life support. What was once a motto of Safety First has evolved into a fretful new motto of Safety Only. Many parents are more frightened by skinned knees and bruised feelings than life's real dangers: stifled creativity and listless apathy.

This hyper-focus on children's safety is an outgrowth of how parents today over-protect and over-schedule their children's lives. So it's not surprising that children's playtime has, as the authors point out, become "adult-organized, adult-refereed, and adult-structured." Parenting as protection has taken on huge significance despite the fact that the world of today is no more dangerous than in the past. In fact, it's safer for children. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the death rates for children caused by unintentional injuries (e.g. vehicle-related, drowning, and fires) and murder were lower in 2010 compared to 2002. The reduction in deaths of 32 percent from unintentional injuries is staggering! Also staggering is the reduction in murders over an even longer time period. Among teens 15-19, for example, the reduction was 63 percent between 1993 and 2012 and was, in 2012, at its lowest level since before 1970.

I'm not arguing that parents shouldn't be concerned for their children's safety. Situational safety has its place. Being chronically concerned about children's safety does not. Children will get hurt. Bruises, abrasions and broken bones are a natural part of childhood. Parents shouldn't be so concerned about safety that they don't allow their children to be, well, children. Children are wired for horseplay with their parents and other children. It's one of the ways they learn about their world, how to appropriately interact with others, and to have fun. So by all means, enjoy playing a little roughly with your children on a regular basis, and get off the hyper-safety bandwagon.

When is the last time you spent time on the floor playing with your kids?

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

17 Critical Issues: A Guide for Fatherhood Practitioners & Staff

So you want to work with fathers? Whatever your situation or reasons for caring, we're glad you do! You might be asking the following questions: Where do I start in working with dads? What in the world do I focus on? How do I actually help meet the needs of fathers around me?

17-Critical-Issues-CoverThese are all great questions! And, you’re not alone in asking them. Everyone who works with fathers has asked them at one time or another. Which is why we developed a discussion guide to answer these questions. More specifically, we created this guide in response to requests for help in identifying the most critical issues to address with dads.

In talking with you and based on our years of experience, we identified 17 issues that are critical to address when assisting fathers of any race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background in becoming involved, responsible, and committed dads.

We offer a full guide called 17 Critical Issues to Discuss with Dads for purchase. In this post, we wanted to give you sample of the 17 critical topics that are covered in more detail with the full guide:

1. Family of Origin
What is the most important factor that influences a father’s knowledge, attitudes, values, and behavior about how to raise and care for his child? If you said, “The influence of the family he grew up in,” you are correct.

"A father’s own father is often the most powerful 
influence in shaping how he fathers his children."

If you want insight into how a father thinks and what he feels about fatherhood, and how involved he is in the life of his child, ask him what he learned about being a father from his parents and extended family. The family someone grows up in is often called a “family of origin,” because it is the family in which a person begins his or her life. 

2. Masculinity and Fatherhood
Have you ever put together a model airplane? The idea was that if you followed the instructions, your model should have looked like the picture on the box. Unfortunately, your model might not have looked like the picture, because pieces were missing or you didn’t thoroughly read or follow the instructions. 

The key to developing good fathers is to first develop good men. Learning what it means to be a man and father works the same way. Men learn from their parents and culture a model for how a man and father should look and act. This model comes with instructions that help men grow into the “right kind” of man or father.

3. Fathering Skills

Unfortunately, many fathers lack the self-efficacy they need to be good fathers. Self-efficacy is the belief in a father that he has the skills—or can acquire the skills—that he needs to be a good father. A lack of self-efficacy can be especially chronic in fathers whose own fathers were physically or psychologically absent. Self-efficacy is the belief in a father that he has the skills—or can acquire the skills—that he needs to be a good father.

4. Child Development

Picture this situation. A father prepares a meal for himself and his three-year-old son. As they dine, on the three-year-old starts to eat with his hands. The father tells his son that he must use a fork. The child uses the fork for a few minutes and then reverts to using his hands. The father becomes frustrated and yells at his son to stop using his hands and pick up the fork, or else dad will take the food away. 

What’s wrong here? If you said the father shouldn’t have yelled at his son and threatened to take away the food, you’re right. But why did the father yell at and threaten his son? The primary reason is that dad didn’t understand that it’s perfectly fine, developmentally speaking, for a three-year-old to use both utensils and hands to eat. One of the most helpful tools for fathers is information developmental milestones. Some of the biggest mistakes made by fathers stem from a lack of knowledge about child development. So it’s vital that dads learn about child development and the physical, emotional, and social milestones their children should reach by a certain age. 

5. Raising Boys, Raising Girls

Are boys or girls harder to raise? Is there any difference in the way a father should raise a son compared to a daughter? These are questions that can weigh heavily on the minds of fathers. Perhaps you have asked yourself these questions. The answer to the first question is that boys and girls pose different challenges at different stages in their lives; so, as a general rule, neither boys nor girls are harder to raise. The answer to the second question is that the basics of fathering sons and daughters are the same, but it’s the ways in which fathers engage their sons and daughters that must sometimes be different.

6. Discipline

“Just wait until your father gets home!” is a phrase that we might have often heard growing up. Dad as disciplinarian has defined most fathers throughout history. So it’s not difficult for fathers to grasp the idea that a basic role for them is to discipline their children. But what’s not so clear to a dad is how to use appropriate discipline (i.e., when to use it and proper techniques), and that he must model self-discipline if he hopes to raise a healthy child. 

7. Gender Communication

You might wonder what gender communication has to do with fathering. It has a lot to do with fathering because when moms and dads effectively communicate, it helps them raise healthy children. It also helps fathers raising daughters to know how their daughters are “wired” to communicate and vice versa. 

8. Building Healthy Marriages and Relationships

The most important relationship in the home is the relationship between the father and mother. How well the father gets along with the mother affects their children every day. This is true whether the father and mother are married to each other or not. Children look to their father’s relationship with their mother as the blueprint for developing their own relationships. If a father’s relationship with the mother is healthy, then the children will have a model for what a healthy relationship looks like. 

9. Dealing with Emotions

Years ago a report on CNN recounted the horrific story of a man who entered a home in Atlanta and killed all the members of a family except one—a ten-year-old boy. The boy locked himself in an upstairs closet to escape the carnage. The police found him as they searched the home after the killings. Outside the hospital where doctors had examined the boy, a reporter interviewed the minister of the church this boy’s family had attended. When asked how the boy had held up through this tragedy, the minister said with his face and voice full of pride, “If he wasn’t a man before, he sure is now.” It was amazing that this minister was proud that a tragedy of this magnitude had made a man out of a ten year-old boy. He had likened the tragedy to a right of passage into manhood. 

If fathers are to raise healthy children, they must first learn that it is manly to express their emotions and connect with and understand their emotions. They must then learn to express their emotions appropriately. You might encounter some fathers who uncover long-lost feelings and, perhaps, who have suppressed memories that will require the help of a professional counselor. You might also encounter fathers who need help getting their anger and rage under control. Be sure to have a list of resources to refer fathers for assistance. 

10. Grief and Loss

Perhaps the emotion that fathers have the most difficulty expressing is the grief that results from the losses they encounter. All fathers experience loss, such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or divorce. If a father doesn’t live with his children, he faces the loss of his children every day. Losses like these can devastate a father emotionally, spiritually, and financially. Other losses are not as obvious or life changing, but they are losses nonetheless. Examples of loss include losing a ball game, losing a bid for a contract or job, and having to cancel a trip you were really looking forward to. 

11. Men's Health

The health of our nation’s men is in crisis. Although women suffer more often from some ailments, such as autoimmune disorders, on balance men are far and away worse off when it comes to health outcomes. Consider these startling facts on the state of men’s physical health: 

  1. men live an average of five years less than do women;

  2. more men than women die from each of the 11 leading causes of death, including suicide (81 percent of suicides are committed by men);

  3. 91 percent of work-related deaths strike men;

  4. men perish from drug-induced deaths at a rate of 16.2 (per 100,000) compared to 10.2 for women;

  5. alcohol-induced deaths are 3 times higher among men;

  6. more men than women use alcohol, binge drink, and drink heavily; and

  7. more men than women are obese. 

12. Sexuality
How many times have you heard the word “sexuality” uttered by men or been used to refer to men? Do men know the difference between “sex” and “sexuality” or understand the concept of “sexual self-worth?” The sad fact is that most men don’t know the difference between sex and sexuality, nor do they understand the concept of sexual self-worth. Most men, unfortunately, are raised to focus on the physical act of sex as the end all and be all of their sexual nature as human beings. 

13. Intimacy
Before reading the rest of the information on this topic, consider the first few words or phrases that pop into your mind when you hear the word “intimate.” Did you consider words or phrases like “a close friend,” “personal,” “confidential,” “emotional,” or “spiritual?” Or did you consider words or phrases like “sex,” “sexual,” or “making love?” In working with men on this topic, it’s critical that you help them understand what intimacy truly means. 

14. Power of Spirituality
Many fathers say they have been transformed by what their religious beliefs teach about the role of a father. As a result, some fatherhood programs are rooted in scriptural principles, teaching fathers to follow those principles as they raise their children. In working with fathers on this issue, it’s vital you communicate that spirituality is an important part of being a father and of a family.  

15. Power of a Fathers' Support Group and Network 
The quality of the relationships a man has is just as important to his health as is going to the doctor, eating right, and exercising. Men with strong social networks are healthier than men with weak ones. They live longer than do men with weak networks. It’s vital that fathers have people in their lives with whom they feel safe to share their feelings and to talk with about the challenges of fatherhood. No one understands better what it means to be a man and father than does another man and father. 

16. Balancing Work and Family
One of the primary challenges fathers confront in becoming involved, responsible, and committed dads is the challenge of balancing work and family. NFI’s Pop’s Culture survey revealed that work responsibilities are the most significant barriers to fathers being the best dads they can be. 

17. Financial Responsibility
“I want my two dollars!” is a familiar refrain of children when allowance time rolls around. Regardless of how much of an allowance parents give to their children, it’s often the first strategy parents use to teach their children financial responsibility. An allowance, when tied to chores, teaches kids that they must earn their money. Many parents take the idea of earning pay one step further by setting up savings accounts so that their children learn the value of saving money for the future—a lesson in delayed gratification.

Depending on how long and intensively you have worked with fathers, consider using additional NFI resources to more fully address some of the topics. Many of our curricula go into greater depth on most of these topics. We encourage you and the dads you work with to subscribe to our FatherSource™, a weekly email that includes tips and advice on a range of topics, and our Father Factor Blog, which also includes tips and advice from our staff and experienced dads, and will keep you updated on the latest research on, and opinions about, fatherhood and father involvement.

17-Critical-Issues-CoverDownload our free sample of 17 Critical IssuesA Guide for Fatherhood Practitioners & Staff to Use in Presentations, Home Visits, or Meeting with Dads

 

The How and Why Behind Never Giving Up Hope

Dads and moms aren't perfect. But, if mom understands the importance of involving dad, she will understand that she herself - is a vital factor in connecting father to child. The following story reveals exactly this...

102814blog

Jamal recently emailed me with his story of becoming a father overnight...

It’s been eight years since my daughter has come into my life. I say “come into,” because I was not present when she was born. In fact, I didn’t even know that I had a child. Let me explain. I dated my daughter’s mother the spring/summer of 2005 and the relationship ended in the fall of 2005. We did not speak or communicate for months after the break up. During this period of time, I decided to focus on improving my life, so I re-enrolled myself in college to complete my degree. I picked a temp-to hire position with a company with the hopes of working there full time after completing my education. I lived at home with my mother, made very little money, and the only responsibility I had was to myself

The summer of 2006 rolls around and I’m continuing to stay focused on my goals working during the day and going to school at night. One night, I saw a news report which mentioned my ex's name and connected her in some way to an abandoned baby. Feeling a sense of urgency to see if my ex was okay, I immediately called her and we spoke briefly. In my mind I started to count back the months that she and I had been intimate, and it had been almost exactly nine months. So I asked her if the abandoned baby was my child. I was told no, and to stay out of it.   

I just knew I had to know
the truth for me.


After hanging up the phone, you would think I would feel relief, but I did not. My heart was heavy and I could not shake the fact that this abandoned child could indeed be my child. Up to this day, I don’t know what compelled me to investigate further to find the truth. I just knew I had to know the truth for me. I contacted detectives working the case and was given instructions to contact a local children’s organization to take a DNA test. The test was taken on July 17th. I waited for about a week for the results, and the wait seemed like an eternity. Finally the day had come. It was July 21st. I was at work sitting at my desk. An email appeared from children’s of youth organization, with subject line titled paternity test. I opened the email and it turned out I was the father. 

My life had changed overnight. 
I was a father to a precious little girl.


In that moment I felt a whirlwind of feelings: anger, confusion, fear, happiness, excitement, anxiousness - probably ever emotion imaginable. My phone had been ringing off the hook but I could not speak to anyone. I cried at my desk and sat still. My life had changed overnight. I was a father to a precious little girl. Not too long after, I received a follow up call from the children's organization and they only had one question: ”Do you want custody of your daughter?” Without hesitation, I said "Yes." After going through the process and a series of legal events, I was granted custody of my daughter and was given the right to name her. On that day of August 1st, I held my daughter for the first time. I knew then, that everything that I was had to change, and it was step up time for sure. 

It has been 8 years now.


It’s been 8 years now and we are still going strong. Being immersed in the joys and responsibility of fatherhood, I had not opened up publicly about my side of this experience. I now feel an obligation to come forward and talk about my experience with the hopes to inspire others, not just in the arena of parenting but in life to go for what you believe in, even when the odds are stacked against you. If my daughter ever gets a chance to read this, I want her to know that I never gave up on her and never will. I hope my belief in my daughter will inspire her to go forward and believe in her own self and dreams. Becoming a father has taught me so much about life and myself. My daughter has been a teacher to me as I am to her. While I am blessed and proud to be her father, I realize that the victory and glory is not mine, but God’s, as it was his divine plan in the beginning.

Becoming a father has taught me
so much about life and myself.

While this situation isn't easy; sadly, it's not unique. Marriage is difficult. Parenting is difficult. Having a baby is a uniquely difficult time in the life of mom and dad. But, we must remember that it is vital to the baby, that both mom AND dad be involved before and after pregnancy. We know from research that a dad's involvement is vital to a child's well-being.

We at NFI spend a lot of our time creating tip cards, brochures, and pocket guides to help dads and moms understand these very facts - and as I read Jamal's story, I saw the pieces falling into place. There are so many benefits for everyone involved when mom helps to ensure dad is involved from the start:

  1. Think Baby: 
    Your child benefits from Dad's involvement the moment he or she is born and the benefits continue through adulthood.
    • Healthy Development: A child with an involved dad has been shown to do better on tests of emotional, social, and mental development. Involved dads have been shown to increase weight gain in preterm infants (preemies) and increase the change that mom will breastfeed. 
    • Success in School: a child of an involved dad does better in school, on average, than a child who grows up without an involved dad. They're more likely to get A's, behave well, and less likely to drop out of school. 
    • Good Physical Health: Involved dads who are active and have a healthy weight are more likely to have a child who is active and have a healthy weight which is vital to avoiding many diseases such as diabetes.
    • Good Behavior: a child with an involved dad is less likely to smoke, use drugs, become or get someone pregnant as a teen, or engage in violent and other risky behavior. 
    • Well-Being and Success as an Adult: a child with an involved dad is more likely ot have higher self-esteem.
       
  2. Think Mom:
    Mom benefits from dad's involvement from the moment mom becomes pregnant. Really!
    • Good pregnancy: when dad is involved in moms' pregnancy, mom is more likely to attend pre-natal visits. Mom is less likely to have health problems while pregnant, such as anemia and high blood pressure.  
    • Less Stress for Her: an involved dad reduces moms' stress. It's easier to talk with an involved dad about ways to help reduce stress. 
    • Better Family Finances: an involved dad is more likely to work harder and earn more money. 
    • Better Marriage/Relationship: When both parents share the load of raising a child, it reduces the stress on both parents. Less stress leads to a better marriage and relationship.
       
  3. Think Dad:
    Dad benefits from his involvement from the moment mom becomes pregnant. These benefits include some of the sames ones that mom receives, includingbetter family finances and a better marriage relationship.
    • Early Bonding With Child: When dad prepares to be a dad while mom is pregnant, he is better able to bond with his child and more likely to be involved as his child ages. Studies show that when dad is involved leading up to and during the birth of his child, his oxytocin or "bonding hormone" rises while his testosterone or "wandering hormone" declines.
    • Better Health and Well-Being for Him: An involved dad is more healthy emotionally and physically. He is more likely to go to the doctor when sick and for regular check-ups. 
    • More Giving: Being a dad can help dad be  more giving to family and the community. The involved dad is more likely to be social, volunteer, and spend time doing things like attending church and helping the community.
    • Success at Work: The involved dad's child is more likely to succeed, to advance, and advance more quickly in his or her career. The skills dad develops while raising a child is the same skill that helps him succeed at work.

Let Jamal's story encourage and remind you that everyone wins when a child has an involved dad. Oh, and, it's never too late to start being involved.

How involved was your dad? How did his involvement or non-involvement affect you?  

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Like this blog post? Consider our Pocketbook for New Moms™: a Pocketbook Full of Reasons for New Moms to Involve Dads

 

 

Note: the story above was submitted solely by Jamal and does not reflect any opinions from NFI.

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]

There are 2.7 million children with a parent in prison or jail. Ninety-five (95%) of all inmates will eventually be released. Ninety-two percent (92%) of parents in prison are fathers. Most—2 out of 3 inmates—will reoffend and be back in prison.

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]

When it comes to fatherhood and prison, we are locking too many dads in jail with little to no help. The fathers behind bars are not connecting with their families from behind prison walls or upon release. These dads need help. They need our help or they are likely to reoffend.  

The father absence crisis in America is real. When we talk about father absence, we mention the U.S. Census Bureau's statistic that 24 million children—one out of three—live without their dad in the home. Over 13,000 of you have viewed The Father Absence Crisis in America. We received lots of feedback on that post. Some readers said, "Great, now we know the problem; what's the solution?"

Well, the truth is, there's one answer: The solution to father absence is father presence. Our job here is done. You're welcome. Please visit our donate page....oh wait, that's not enough information, you say? You need more? We thought you might need a more helpful response to this problem. So, we decided to break down the problem into workable numbers and be sure you know what NFI is doing to fix the problem.

Here's what you need to know 

  1. There is a crisis in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America—one out of three—live without their biological dad in the home.
  2. There is a “father factor” in nearly all of the societal issues facing America today. We must realize there is a father absence crisis in America and begin to raise more involved, responsible, and committed fathers.

Fathers Behind Bars:
The Problem for America's Children

Here is the problem related to father absence and prison in two stats:

    1. There are 2.7 million children with a parent in prison or jail. Tweet: 2.7 million children have a parent in prison or jail. Here's The Problem & Solution for America's children: http://ctt.ec/P6HqW+
    2. Ninety-two (92%) of parents in prison are fathers.
Having a parent who is incarcerated is now recognized as an “adverse childhood experience” (ACE), which is different from other ACEs because of the trauma, stigma, and shame it inflicts on children.

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]

The number of children with a father in prison has grown by 79% since 1991.

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]

Incarceration often spans generations.

  • Fathers in prison are, overwhelmingly, fatherless themselves.
  • Youths in father-absent households have significantly higher odds of incarceration.
  • More than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from prison every year.
  • Fathers are returning to their families without the skills they need to be involved, responsible, and committed fathers.
  • Two-thirds of released prisoners, or 429,000, are likely to be rearrested within three years.

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]

Recidivism is a huge, national problem. 

Fathers Behind Bars:
The Solution for America's Children

NFI's InsideOut Dad® program for incarcerated fathers connects dads in prison with their children, heart to heart. InsideOut Dad® is the only evidence-based parenting program designed specifically for incarcerated fathers. An evaluation conducted by Rutger's University found that fathers who went through InsideOut Dad® while in prison showed statistically significant increases in fathering knowledge and confidence/self-esteem compared to a control group.

InsideOut Dad® addresses criminogenic needs, a key factor in:

1) Reducing Recidivism: Reentry initiatives that contain NFI's fatherhood programs have been found to reduce recidivism by 37%.

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]

We can all agree it is ideal for men to get out of prison or jail, become a successful, contributing member of society, and stay out. Giving incarcerated fathers a vision that they have a unique and irreplaceable role in the life of their child along with increased confidence and changes in attitude and skills is a powerful motivator for successful reentry. Fathers who are involved with, and connected with their children and families prior to release are less likely to return to jail or prison. In fact, some individual states have conducted evaluations that connect the use of IoD along with other interventions to reduced recidivism.

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]

Recidivism WITH fatherhood programs 24% 
VERSUS 
Recidivism WITHOUT fatherhood programs 38%

2) Maintaining Facility Safety and Order

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]


It has been said, “Idleness is a devil’s workshop”. Facility safety is of utmost importance in the corrections environment and benefits the Prison/Jail warden(s) as well as fellow inmates. Fatherhood Programs in particular can help to engage inmates and encourage good behavior. By connecting inmates to their role as a man, and specifically as a father, they are more engaged in that aspect of their life and in turn, can help to create a peaceful, contented environment as much as possible.

In addition, men who participate in fatherhood groups often create a bond among members, which generates good morale. Good morale is important for safety and there are less disciplinary infractions.

By connecting with their children, incarcerated fathers are motivated to maintain good behavior to keep visiting rights, which is beneficial for both the facility and correctional officers working with them. In addition, research shows that fathers who connect with their children (and families) prior to release have a higher likelihood of staying out of jail/prison.

InsideOut Dad® addresses the marital/family domain that is concerned with an offender's family relationships, including:

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]

A study by the Vera Institute of Justice found the strongest predictor of success upon reentry was the perception by the person released that he/she had family support.

Why does all of this matter? Well, because you and I are paying for what doesn't work and we have been for years. 

It's time for a solution that's cost effective for taxpayers and facilities: InsideOut Dad® program costs just $600 for the first 10 fathers, then sustained at only $10 per father. Because the program can contribute to reduced recidivism among fathers, the potential cost savings are huge. It costs an average of $29,000 per year to incarcerate a parent.

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]

It costs an average of $29,000 per year to incarcerate a parent.

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]

InsideOut Dad® program costs $600 for the first 10 fathers, then sustained at only $10 per father.

Be a Part of The Solution. Visit Fatherhood.org/iod to download a sample of InsideOut Dad®.

Click here to enlarge this infographic.

Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic]


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Download a sample of our popular InsideOut Dad® resource and learn how you can connect an incarcerated father to his child.

 

How to Avoid Being a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Dad

I screened this new family film from Disney last Saturday. Normally it works out that my wife and daughters can join me. But, with all the weekend activities of two kids in school nowadays, this movie got screened by me, myself, and I. Sitting alone in the dark movie theater presented me with an interesting opportunity to not just watch the movie, but to consider my role in the family. Here's what I mean...

alex_profile_03Don't get me wrong, I generally enjoy chasing my youngest daughter down long theater halls, running for the third trip to the restroom or to get popcorn...again. But this alone time provided me with the chance to consider the meaning behind the comedy. This movie is silly. It's funny. Everything goes wrong in one day for this fine family. Think Money Pit but with a family instead of a house. And it's somehow funny because it's happening to another family—not yours. Watching, you somehow connect because it's real. You've seen this day before. 

Although Ben Cooper (Steve Carell) plays the dad and his children are a little older than mine, I watched this film from his eyes. Quick back-story: Ben Cooper is a rocket scientist who's been laid off from his position. He's new to the day job of being home. But, as we watch, he's fumblin' and stumblin' his way through. While he isn't perfect, he's there.

I was reminded throughout the film of my role as dad. This movie says important things about dads. As dads, we can't be perfect, but we can be present. As I watched the Cooper's have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, three things jumped out at me—things to avoid so as not to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad dad.  

alexander-and-the-terrible1

1) Stay Positive.
Mr. Cooper knows how to stay positive. Here's a man who has been unemployed for while and he manages to stay positive with his wife and kids through it all. We see him handling all the family chores like a boss; all while dealing with a teen son, a teen daughter, a young son (Alexander), and an infant son.

His life is hectic like yours and mine. But he manages to keep it positive. Oh how I needed to see this reminder in my life! Let's just say in my family I'm often "the realist" to a fault! I want my home to be a fun atmosphere where my daughters are comfortable talking to me. Right now, I think that's true. But, I tend to be a ball of negativity. If I'm ever postitive, it's probably just because my girls are so young right now. Watching Ben relate to his teen son and daughter gave me hope it's possible to be positive, yet realistic, and parent teens.

alexander-and-the-terrible

2) Stay Calm.
I don't stay calm well. There, I said it. I'm basically a baby. Shh, don't tell anyone. When something doesn't go as planned, I'm an upset, whiny baby. Many times in this movie, we see Ben isn't in control. Mimicking real life, Ben has to let some things play themselves out. I should better at staying calm. Are you a calm dad? If so, good for you. To be real, by the time I'm home from work and traffic, the smallest thing can really bother me. I think my home would be a much more relaxed place if I was more calm about life in general. Are you able to "take things as they come"? Maybe we can all learn something from Ben here. Whether it's your teens' failed driver's test or an alligator in your living room, Ben seems to be the go-with-the-flow type of dad. This serves him well.

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3) Never Give Up.

Whether you're having the bad day like the Cooper's or not, you as dad should have the mindset of Ben. He is the leader by example. I can't give away the film; but, let's just say, at his personal lowest, he's still the leader of his family. I didn't cry on this one part. Nope. There might have been a lump in my throat. But, no, no tears, promise! Here's the point: never give up! You're the dad. No matter how low you get, you're still the example. How you react to situations is being watched. You can be discouraged. You can be sad. But you can't give up. You can't quit...not if you're trying to avoid being a bad dad.

You are not perfect and you will never be perfect; especially as a dad. But, I left the theater realizing that being perfect doesn't matter. We will fix the father absence crisis by father presence. For all the silly and funny things that happened in this film we see a dad who is present. We see a dad who doesn't have all the answers. He doesn't nor can he fix everything...but he is there. He is present. The longer I'm a dad, the longer I work for this fine fatherhood organization, the longer I hear stories of good and bad dads and situations...and the answer of how to avoid being a bad dad is to show up. Beyond staying positive, staying calm, and never giving up, we must show up! When you are involved, responsible and committed, there is no terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for your child.

Have you ever had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? We'll offer fatherhood counseling in the comments!

Download "The Ultimate Guide to Connecting with your Child"! 

Connecting_with_your_child_cover

This free ebook is designed to help you and your children become closer and more connected. Use it for yourself or share it with other dads.

In this free ebook we share:

  • The best questions to ask your school-aged child to get him or her talking
  • Great questions you can ask your teenager
  • Questions you can ask yourself to be sure you're doing all you should to be a great dad

Use this ebook to help you and the dads you know connect with your kids in a meaningful way.

Fatherhood Leader: How You Can Go Mobile With Your Fatherhood Skills

We call it the 24/7 Dad® To Go eBook Series and it gives you, the fatherhood leader, the opportunity to go mobile with your fathering skills. From health and discipline to communication and co-parenting, these books will help you and the dads you serve with the practical advice you expect.

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We know you're busy. Heck, we're busy too! We're dads, we're leaders, which brings me to this...we've made it as convenient as possible for you to take our fatherhood advice mobile - giving you and the dads you serve the quality fathering and parenting advice you expect from us.

We've asked dads (and organizations) what the most important topics are to them, and have created ebooks to address those topics with field-tested, research-backed advice from our resident fatherhood experts!

The 24/7 Dad® To Go eBook Series is the first of its kind – short, simple, affordable, and practical ebooks tackling specific issues that you and the men in the programs you lead are asking about.

We've been careful to make sure each ebook is based on the principles of NFI’s leading fatherhood program, 24/7 Dad®, which is, and we mean to brag, the most widely used fatherhood program among community-­based organizations in the U.S. Why? Because we know fatherhood is a skill-­based activity dads can get better at with the right mix of knowledge and inspiration.

Go Mobile With Your Fatherhood Skills

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How it Works:

  • Annual subscription for $99.99 gets you 12 fatherhood ebooks
  • The ebooks are provided to you via email, containing a web link to a sharable PDF file.
  • Once purchased, you will receive an email with the link to your first ebook within 24 hours of ordering
  • Then, on a monthly basis, you will receive an email with a link to that month's fatherhood ebook.

Father Factor Spotlight: Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

We like to talk about movies with a fatherhood and family message. Disney's upcoming family flick Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day will have your worst day looking pretty decent. Check out the trailer and learn a little more about this new family film.

alexander

In theaters October 10th, Disney's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day follows 11-year-old Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) as he experiences one of the most terrible and horrible days of his young life - a day that begins with gum stuck in his hair, followed by one calamity after another.

But over family dinner, when Alexander tells his family about his terrible day, he finds little sympathy and begins to wonder if bad things only happen to him. That's when he makes the wish of all wishes...I'll spare you the details here...but...

He soon learns he is not alone when his mom (Jennifer Garner), dad (Steve Carell), brother (Dylan Minnette), and sister (Kerris Dorsey) all find themselves living through their own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Anyone who says there is no such thing as a bad day just hasn't had one.

NFI will be writing and posting more about this upcoming film in the coming days; but, we know how busy life and family can be. So, we wanted to be sure you watched the trailer and learn some things about the film before we launch into talking about the movie in more detail.

Here's what you need to know now for your child or to share with parents in your circle:

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day opens in theaters October 10, 2014. 

Get the Sneak Peek of Disney's Alexander!

Life couldn't be worse for Alexander until the day that changes everything. Watch the official trailer for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Follow Disney's Alexander:

About Disney's Alexander

Genre: Family Comedy

Rating: PG

U.S. Release Date: October 10, 2014

Cast: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Ed Oxenbould, Kerris Dorsey, Megan Mullally, Jennifer Coolidge, Bella Thorne

Director: Miguel Arteta

Producers: Shawn Levy, Lisa Henson, Dan Levine

Executive Producers: Philip Steuer, Jason Lust

Writer: Rob Lieber

Based on the novel by: Judith Viorst

Download "The Ultimate Guide to Connecting with your Child"! 

Connecting_with_your_child_cover

This free ebook is designed to help you and your child become closer. Use it for yourself or share it with other dads.

In this free ebook we share:

  • The best questions to ask your child to get him/her talking
  • Great questions you can ask your teenager
  • Questions you can ask yourself to be sure you're doing all you should to be a great dad

Use this ebook to help you and the dads you know connect with your kids in a meaningful way.

How Your Vote in November Could Harm or Help Children

This post was originally published in The Huffington Post.

As we approach the culmination in November of yet another election cycle, I decided to stake stock of what so many people these days are voting against -- marriage.

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A recent analysis of census data by the Pew Research Center reveals that a record share of Americans have never married. In delving deeper into this milestone, the researchers found:

  • In 2012, 1 in 5 adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married. In 1960, only about 1 in 10 adults (9 percent) in that age range had never been married.
  • About half of today's 25- to 34-year-olds (49 percent) have never been married, a fourfold increase since 1960 (12 percent).
  • When today's young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, it is likely that a record high share (25 percent) is likely to have never been married. And this is despite young adults' lack of opposition to marriage. Only 4 percent of never-married adults ages 25 to 34 say they don't want to get married.

Unfortunately, the best intentions often go unrealized. Despite this lack of opposition to marriage among young adults, the "baby train" keeps rolling down the track. As I've noted elsewhere, out-of-wedlock births and age at first marriage are at all-time highs. Moreover, the average age of women when they marry has surpassed the average age at which they give birth to their first child. A primary cause of these trends is that Americans have increasingly "decoupled" marriage and child bearing so that marriage is no longer viewed as a necessary or even desirable context in which to bear and raise children.

The decoupling of marriage from raising children is, however, only one cog in the engine that has driven us to this point. A host of other changes in values, economics, and gender patterns have contributed as well. Many of those changes are good, needed. But what a cog this decoupling is because, sadly, it is children who ultimately suffer from and have no control over it. My concern is that the adults who have control over it now believe that the primary function of marriage is to benefit the adults who enter into it and not to raise the next generation of children. Far too many Americans continue to ignore (or not care about) the evidence that growing up in home with a single, never-married parent, with a once-married but now divorced parent, or with cohabiting parents places children at a higher risk of poor physical, social, and emotional outcomes, which primarily result from father absence. As the Pew Research Center report notes, fewer than half of the public believes we're better off when marriage and children are a priority.

The improvement of child well-being is why National Fatherhood Initiative exists and is why we're so adamant in our support of marriage as the ideal context in which to raise children. Whether a father is married to his children's mother is the most important predictor of his involvement in his children's lives.

It's also why we're non-partisan. Does that sound odd or surprise you? It shouldn't because this position is not just a conservative or a progressive one. It's both. Encouraging couples to marry before they have children is a cause everyone who considers themselves to be a conservative or a progressive (or anywhere in between) should rally around. A conservative should support this cause because it will help re-establish an institution that is in steep decline. Re-establishing marriage as a vital social institution will save government the money it spends on dealing with the consequences of the decline of marriage and the increase in father absence. A progressive should support this cause because it involves the social reform of an institution that is vital to advancing and improving our society. It would allow the government to shift the money spent on the consequences of the decline of marriage and high rate of father absence to improving our society in other ways, such as improvements to our nation's infrastructure and the environment.

So regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, I encourage you to "vote yes" for marriage in the broad, societal sense. And as you consider for whom to vote this November, delve into how the candidates stand on the institution of marriage, and vote accordingly.

This post was originally published in The Huffington Post.

Why Peanut Butter Cheerios #HowToDad Wins at Cereal and Fatherhood

My daughters love Cheerios. I've had those little circles in my bed and in my shoes for years now. Today, I'm in love with a new Cheerios, Peanut Butter Cheerios, and I haven't even tasted it yet. Here's why...

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General Mills Canada has managed to connect with a dad's desire to engage with his child in a fun way without degrading dads in their new campaign #HowToDad. The new commercial on YouTube reveals exactly what we at NFI hope other brands will do...show a dad as a fully functioning and capable parent...without degrading anyone in the family.

This campaign is more than a fun commercial; from the executive leadership of General Mills Canada on down to the creative folks behind the idea at Tribal Worldwide Toronto point out, “The Cereal category is traditionally more of a health-oriented “Mom” space – even though recent studies show that men do nearly half of the family’s grocery shopping, nothing in the Cereal aisle has ever truly spoken to Dads,” says Jason Doolan, director of marketing, General Mills. “We’ve set out to change that by celebrating what it means to be an awesome dad.”

The #HowToDad campaign was created by Tribal Worldwide Toronto and features a YouTube video showing dads parent differently. The video points to HowToDad.ca for more dad-content. “It just made sense to declare Peanut Butter Cheerios as ‘The Official Cereal of Dadhood,’ because like great dads, Peanut Butter Cheerios lie somewhere in the intersection of awesome and responsible,” says Josh Stein, creative director, Tribal Worldwide Toronto. “Dads are awesome and it’s awesome to be a dad." The campaign mentions that today, dads play a significant role in raising children, and celebrate their contribution. We are presenting General Mills Canada and Tribal Worldwide our NFI Fatherhood Award later this week. Stay tuned to #howtodad on social for more details.

The new commercial opens with the dad asking, "Why should you be proud to be a dad?" He answers his own question, "You know why...because our kids think we're awesome!" What continues is pure genius in its simplest form. The commercial follows dad as he walks through the house and back-yard explaining how awesome dads are...like Peanut Butter Cheerios! Watch the full commercial here.


At NFI, we know more and more dads like you are experiencing the satisfaction and reward of taking a more active role your child's life...and us dads should be celebrated. I love this commercial for its real portrayal of a dad and family. Tribal didn't pick the dumb dad or the passive dad routine to be "funny".

Much like our 10 Ways to Be a Better Dad, the commercial shows the simple ways dads are awesome. The commercial is a reminder that what us dads do impacts our relationship with our child. Watch the commercial and you'll see why the campaign is awesome. In short, it's because it shows how awesome dads are. Being an awesome dad takes at least these 10 things, maybe more:

Screen_Shot_2014-09-22_at_1.47.41_PM1) An Awesome Dad Respects His Child's Mother

Watch closely as the dad in this commercial grabs coffee and passes it to his wife. He says, "Hot stuff coming through...the wife and the coffee." One of the best things you can do for your child is to love and respect mom.

If you're a single dad, my guess is that respecting your child's mother is still a good idea. We've said it before but it's worth repeating: When a child sees parents respecting each other, he or she is more likely to feel accepted and respected. We've written plenty on protecting your marriage. 

tumblr_n8vec3mUco1tf2ynwo1_r1_5002) An Awesome Dad Spends Time with His Child 

How a dad spends his time tells his child what's important to him. If you're "always" busy, your child will feel neglected. Say, "I love you" all you want, but your child will not feel loved. Loving your child means sacrificing other things, but it is essential to spend time with your child. It also means doing things out of your comfort zone. It means doing things that you aren't super-interested in—but you'll get interested—because your child is. 

Kids grow up quickly; missed opportunities are exactly that—missed. Beyond these 7 Ways to Connect with Your Kids, understand like Cheerios says, "An Awesome Dad 'Never Says No to Dress Up'" and "An Awesome Dad Builds the Best Forts."

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3) An Awesome Dad Listens First, Talks Second

In some cases, the only time a dad talks to his child is when he or she gets in trouble. Take time and listen to your child's ideas and problems. Listening helps them feel respected and understood. Begin listening and talking with your child when he or she is young so when difficult subjects arise, they will be easier to handle as they get older. Or, just tell hilarious jokes...because that's what awesome dad does!

Say hello to my pillow friend. Raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dadhood!4) An Awesome Dad Disciplines With Love

All children need guidance and discipline, not as punishment, but to set reasonable limits. Remind your child of the consequences of his or her actions and provide meaningful rewards for desirable behavior. 

A dad who disciplines in a calm and fair manner shows he loves his child. Get our 8 Things to Know About Disciplining Your Child. Said another way: An awesome dad knows how and when to discipline. "Because being awesome isn't about breaking rules—it's about making them."

Capes were made for dads. So raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dadhood.5) An Awesome Dad is A Role Model

A dad is a role model to his child, whether he realizes it or not. A girl who spends time with a loving father grows up knowing she deserves to be treated with respect by boys, and what to look for in a husband. A dad can teach his son what is important in life by demonstrating honesty, humility, and responsibility. Here's a great example of a role-model dad in case you need one. 

Dads teach the fun stuff. So raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dadhood!6) An Awesome Dad is a Teacher

Too often we think teaching is something others do at a school building. But a father who teaches his child about right and wrong, and encourages his child, will see his child make good choices. An involved dad uses everyday examples to help his child learn the basic lessons of life. Consider the vital knowledge you, and you only, possess with regard to music and classic movies. Consider how a dad can teach about fashion from this commercial: the awesome dad understands the Difference Between a Boy and a Man (see dad in commercial say to his son as he tilts his cap, "Suggestion...that's a Boy...that's a Man...")

Dads are full of wisdom. Let’s raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dadhood!7) An Awesome Dad Eats With His Family

Sharing a meal together can be an important part of healthy family life. In addition to giving structure to a busy day, it gives your child the chance to talk about what his or she is doing and wants to do. It is also a good time for dad to listen. Most importantly, it is a time for families to be together each day. 

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8) An Awesome Dad Reads To His Child

In a world where television and technology dominates, it is important that dad reads to his child. Read to your child when he or she is young. Instilling in your child a love for reading is one of the best ways to ensure he or she will have a lifetime of growth. We wrote a little something called 6 Tips on How to Show Your Child Reading is Awesome. Let's be honest, it's helpful. In other words, as dads, we "blow their minds." 

Dads never lose. Let’s raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dadhood.

9) An Awesome Dad Shows Affection

Your child needs the security that comes from knowing he or she is wanted, accepted, and loved. Dad, get comfortable hugging your children. Showing affection every day is the best way to let your child know he or she is loved. Remember as the commercial points out, "They (kids) look at us the same way they do superhero's...up...because we're taller."

Balance: it’s what dads do best. Raise a bowl of new Peanut Butter Cheerios to dads!10) An Awesome Dad Realizes A Father's Job Is Never Done

Even after your child is grown and ready to leave home, he or she will still look to you for wisdom and advice. Whether it's continued schooling, a new job or a wedding, you continue to play an essential part in the life of your child as he or she grows. Work hard. Dad hard. You can submit for #HowToDad here.

What's the one thing on this list you find the most rewarding?

What's Missing in the Adrian Peterson Story?

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

What in the world was Adrian Peterson thinking when he took a switch -- specifically, a tree branch -- to his 4-year-old son? He wasn't thinking, and that's part of his problem. But there's more to this horrible situation than meets the eye.

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I decided to wait nearly a week after this story broke to write this piece because I've learned that these stories are like the proverbial layers of the onion. We learn more and more as the layers peel away over the days, weeks and, sometimes, months after such a story becomes public. This story still has some legs, especially as we wait to see how the legal system will judge Peterson's action. But as is typically the case, the court of public opinion is moving at light speed to render judgment on Peterson, no doubt fueled by the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy domestic-violence incidents, and the lack of appropriate NFL policies that address domestic and family violence perpetrated by its players.

Even though this story continues to unfold, I decided to write this piece now because of what's been absent from coverage of this story -- two vital reasons Peterson acted in such a stupid, harmful manner.

First, Peterson was and still is ill prepared for being a father. Let me be clear. I'm not talking about whether he loves or genuinely cares for his son. I'm also not saying he lacks any knowledge or skill in being a father. What he clearly lacks, however, is an adequate base of knowledge and skills required of a nurturing, loving father, particularly in the area of disciplining a child.

Second, Peterson lacks even a basic understanding of the difference between discipline and punishment. I'll unpack this second reason before I return to the first one.

The evidence for this lack of understanding first appeared in a statement issued by Peterson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, who said, "Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas."

The evidence mounted several days later when Peterson spoke for the first time about the abusive act and said:

"I never imagined being in a position where the world is judging my parenting skills or calling me a child abuser because of the discipline I administered to my son... I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen. I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child."

(Click here for the full text of Peterson's statement.)

Count me in with the crowd who disagrees as you notice how Peterson and Hardin harp on the notion that Peterson "disciplined" his child.

He did not discipline his child. He used a violent, fear-based, abusive form of punishment that was, tragically, used on him as a child.

That Peterson never questioned how he was punished as a child is also part of his problem.

Discipline, which originates from the Latin word "discipulus," means "to teach or guide." To punish means, no pun intended, to "penalize" someone for an offense through pain, loss, confinement, or even death. Taking a switch to a 4-year-old in today's world, or in the world of the recent or distant past, is simply a form of abusive, fear-based punishment meant to inflict pain. It in no way teaches or guides. Anyone who doesn't realize this kind of punishment can injure a child is not in his or her right mind.

Too many fathers, and parents in general, confuse discipline and punishment. They use the terms interchangeably. (Peterson and Hardin clearly fall into this camp.) They default to punishment because they either lack knowledge of effective ways to discipline their children or, if they know of alternatives; they take the easier, swifter path because, quite simply, discipline requires more work than punishment. Discipline requires skill in applying proven techniques. It also requires parents to be calm, patient, and nurturing before, during and after disciplining children, a quality some parents sorely lack. It also requires comfort with failure as parents learn how to effectively apply the techniques of child discipline and which ones work best with their children.

Moreover, when these parents punish -- and there are times when it is appropriate to punish children -- they use violent forms that are unnecessary and place their children at risk for injury, not to mention the damage these forms have on parent-child relationships. These parents lack the knowledge of effective, non-violent forms of punishment.

This specific lack of knowledge and skill in the discipline of children underscores a larger problem, particularly as it concerns fathers and our culture in general. Too many men become fathers without an inkling of how to be a good father. Our culture does a pitiful job of preparing men to be good fathers, and fathers know this. Several years ago, researchers from the University of Texas and Rutgers University conducted the most significant national study to date on fathers' attitudes on fathering. Only slightly more than half of the fathers surveyed "agreed," and less than a fourth "strongly agreed," that they felt adequately prepared for fatherhood when they first became fathers.

As this story continues to unfold, we must not only examine Peterson's culpability and the appropriateness of the actions taken by the NFL and the Vikings in punishing him. We must also examine the culpability of our society for its inadequate preparation of men to be fathers and lack of training for fathers in the knowledge and skills required to be involved, responsible, committed fathers. (National Fatherhood Initiative tried for years, with no success, to work with the NFL in providing fathering training and resources for its players.) While that latter examination doesn't absolve Peterson of his individual responsibility in abusing his child, it at least acknowledges that his action didn't occur in a vacuum. Fortunately, and encouragingly, the legal authorities and the citizens in east Texas who indicted him recognized his action for what it is. Let's hope Peterson will eventually do the same.

How were you disciplined and/or punished as a child? How does how you were raised help (or harm) your style of discipline as a parent today?

For fatherhood leaders, we're here to help you serve the dads you lead. You can subscribe to our ebook service; where we share "How to Discipline Your Child" along with other helpful topics for dads.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

Parental Incarceration Might be Worse for Children than Parental Divorce or Death

The longer I'm at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), the more evidence piles up that shows how devastating having an incarcerated parent is for children.

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Last month researchers released a study that shows having an incarcerated parent might be worse for children than if their parents divorced or died. As reported in USA Today, the study found:

"That significant health problems and behavioral issues were associated with the children of incarcerated parents, and that parental incarceration may be more harmful to children's health than divorce or death of a parent...'These kids are saddled with disadvantages,' said Kristin Turney, the author of the study and an assistant professor of sociology at UC-Irvine. 'They're not only dealing with parental incarceration, but also mental health issues. It might make finding a job more difficult, or they may be forced to grow up faster than peers.' Compared to children of similar demographic, socioeconomic and familial characteristics, the study found that having a parent in prison was associated with children's behavioral problems and conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, speech or language problems and developmental delays."

We've known for decades that having an incarcerated parent places children at a greater risk for a host of poor outcomes compared with children whose parents aren't incarcerated. That's the primary reason NFI has equipped hundreds of correctional facilities, halfway houses, and re-entry programs and organizations with programs and other resources to help connect incarcerated fathers to their children and families prior to and after release. The fact that 25 states have standardized our InsideOut Dad® program across their facilities for men is a testament to how vital this work truly is. 

But when I add the results of this study to what we already know about the devastating impact of parental incarceration, I want to ensure that every state department of corrections standardizes on our InsideOut Dad program. I also want every county or city jail that houses fathers and every re-entry program that helps incarcerated fathers reenter society to understand how much impact they can have on improving child well-being by using our programs and resources to help incarcerated fathers be better dads. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But it's an objective worth pursuing. Please join me in achieving that objective.

What are you doing to help the children of incarcerated fathers?

What are you doing to help incarcerated fathers be better dads?

That Time When Ray Liotta Punched Me in My Fathering Face

I don't know "Goodfellas" Liotta. I know "Field of Dreams" Liotta, "Corina, Corina" Liotta, and "Bee Movie" Liotta. As an actor, Liotta is known for punching people in the face. His newest work as the dad in The Identical punched me in the face. His character reminded me of how I can get so many things right as a dad; yet fall prey to the sin of being distant and detached.

Liotta made me think about the root problem of connecting with our kids; the real struggle is managing work and family. If we can learn to manage work and family; we can better connect to our child, and not be like how we see Liotta's character for most of the movie—as a doubting and detached dad.

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At NFI we talk a lot about absent fathers. Our research and mission is all about the effects of father absence. We train leaders so they in turn train dads to be better dads. In The Identical, Ray Liotta's character is a decent dad. He's not phyically absent. He's a country preacher who’s home at night, provides food on the table, a roof over his family, and stability. But, he's missing a crucial piece of the great-dad puzzle. He's cold and emotionally detached from his son. Us dads can get a lot of things right as dads, yet miss the point; that is, to really connect with our kids. Being an involved, responsible and committed father is not just about being physically present, it’s about connecting with your child. 

The Identical is about a son (played by Blake Rayne) of a preacher (Liotta), who rejects his father’s desire for him to join his line of work. Instead of preach, the son loves music and wants to do that silly stuff that people from Tennessee do—like write and sing music. We follow Ryan Wade as he struggles to live out his dream all the while his father is disappointed. There’s secrets to uncover and successes and failures all along the way; but after all is said and done, this is a father-son film. 

As a dad, I can get some things right. I can have an honorable career, provide a roof and food and come home at a decent hour each night. Yet if I'm not careful about how I value my relationship between work and family; I risk having a real relationship with my daughters. Watching the father-son relationship in this movie reminded me to be careful about how I manage work and family. Basically, Ray Liotta punched me in my face.

After watching The Identical, I had to come back to our training programs. We train leaders to teach dads how to manage work and family. Managing work and family means you are able to show you value work AND family. It’s easier to meet both responsibilities if we get these eight things right.

1) Avoid taking work home
Challenge yourself to either not take your work home or do it after the kids are in bed. Train yourself to unplug mentally and physically before you get home. Some days I do this well—some days I don't. The days I do this best are the days I make myself stop in the driveway, and detach from the day's work; so I'm not detached from my girls when I step in the house.

2) Get focused while at work
Every week there's something to attend—a practice or family game night. I have two children in school now. Trust me, I know from experience, it's busy. If you look at your kid’s schedule, there’s probably something you’re missing. Try getting to the office earlier or closing your door. Be careful about how you spend your time at work. Reminder: the point is to get your job done AND get home to be with your family.

3) Put your work and family schedule on one calendar
A wise man once said if you don’t plan to succeed you plan to fail. Prioritize your duties at work and home. Not that I’m perfect at this, but something that seems to work for me is that I use one to-do list for work and home and one calendar for work and home. Take a moment to review the upcoming week. Be intentional about adding the events to your calendar. Don't forget to mark time on your calendar for down time on a regular Thursday evening at home with your kids too. Time marked "busy" doesn't have to be the big events like recitals and dances and whatnot. 

4) Learn when to say yes and when to say no
Be strategic about being a team player and pitching in on tasks. On the other hand, be careful because if you're the guy who says yes to everything you may simply be horrible at delegating—or worse—horrible at being with your family.

5) Put your commitment to family on display 
Take a look at the pictures in your office. My guess is that if you have teenagers, your pictures aren’t of teenagers. If I walked into your office, I’d probably think you had a newborn! Update your pictures. Think about it: if your child is young, display their artwork. It will serve as a reminder to you and guess what everyone will use for small talk and connection? Exactly, you will be reminded of that great artist you have at home!

6) Learn about your office's work-family balance policies
You may have extra time you can use to re-prioritize and be with your family. From use of sick time to flex-time, there may be ways to take time off from work and be with your child when he or she has to go to the dentist.

7) Make career choices with the family in mind
This may sound funny to some, but it happens (or doesn't happen). Consider stress-level and what it takes to gain a promotion before changing roles or positions. Consider your family on all things from location of the job to benefits.

8) Try and be with your family everyday.
Unless you're in prison or deployed, there isn't many more reasons for not seeing your family daily. But, I’m constantly hearing of dads who sell out for position and money over time with his child. There may exist a time and place for this; but it should always be the exception and not the norm. Being a dad means taking time. If you aren’t physically available daily, then consider phone and email as great options. The point is to be available and connected. Know how your child is doing so when something comes up, they can talk to you.

What I saw in watching The Identical was dad who didn’t know how to connect with his child. Of course he loved his son; but for various reasons from his past on down to his own interests, he spent years not really connecting with his son. He spent years disapproving of his son's successes and being detached. Living as a connected dad requires we learn how to value our work AND family. A good dad manages both. Connecting with your child may seem difficult; but let Ray Liotta's character remind you it shouldn't take a lifetime to learn.

What’s one thing from this list where you needs the most help?

Learn more about The Identical and get started connecting with your child by downloading "The Ultimate Guide to Connecting with your Child".

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This free eBook is designed to help you and your child become closer and more connected. Use it for yourself or to help other dads. In this eBook we share:

  • The best questions to ask your school-aged child to get him or her talking
  • Great questions you can ask your teenager
  • Questions you can ask yourself to be sure you're doing all you should to be a great dad

 

 

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