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Helping New Fathers Be Good Parents By Joyce Y. Lee and Shawna J. Lee

Fathers have a significant impact on their children’s well-being – an impact that begins even before the child is born. In fact, studies have shown that fathers who are involved during pregnancy have healthier children.
During the early years of life, emotionally nourishing father-child relationships lay the foundation for lifelong health and well-being for children. Fathers who are involved during pregnancy also tend to stay involved over the long term. Indeed, the positive influence of father involvement can be felt throughout adolescence and young adulthood.
Our research lab studies father-child relationships, and we recently looked at the question: What early parent education programs are out there to support fathers during the prenatal and postnatal periods? Our study, published on June 14 in the journal Pediatrics, suggested that there are not that many.

Not Many Father-Friendly Early Parent Education Programs
Specifically, our systematic review examined U.S.-based parent programs for men during the perinatal period, i.e., pregnancy through the first year of life. We could identify only 19 programs (out of a total of 1,353 studies reviewed) that were considered “father-friendly.” Father-friendly was defined as involving or targeting fathers and including outcomes related to fathering, such as father involvement, father-infant interaction and father’s parenting knowledge.
Most programs were offered in clinic or hospital settings. Programs ranged from general education programs (on childbirth, infant care and infant development) to relationship and co-parenting programs to clinical and case management programs.
In addition to the small number of existing programs for fathers, most programs reviewed in the systematic review lacked evidence of improving key fathering outcomes. Relatedly, only three studies were considered high-quality. These findings demonstrate the dearth of father-inclusive programs that yield promising outcomes.
Overall, when it comes to education and support during the perinatal period, research shows that there are few parenting programs to prepare men for the magic moment when they welcome their new baby, even though this time has been identified as a critical window of opportunity to intervene to support fathers during their transition to fatherhood.
Most existing programs are designed primarily for mothers. This is a missed opportunity, because fathers in the U.S. are increasingly involved in their children’s lives. And fathers today want to be involved not just as breadwinners, but also as caregivers who provide nurturing and responsive parenting.

Father-Friendly Practices by Health Care Professionals
In obstetrics and pediatrics settings, fathers participating in research have reported feeling neglected. They are often viewed as playing a secondary role to mothers. This may entail the father seeing himself as a “helper” of the mother instead of a “co-parent” alongside the mother.
This neglect persists for several reasons. For instance, health care professionals may be unwilling or inadequately trained to work with fathers. Clinical services may not be sensitive to men’s parenting needs. Further, mothers might limit men from being engaged in prenatal and postnatal services.
Yet, men have a vital role to play during infancy. To help address the above barriers, Michael Yogman and Craig Garfield, pediatric faculty at the Harvard Medical School and Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, respectively, recommended that health care professionals engage in father-friendly practices. These include acknowledging fathers’ presence at health care visits, welcoming fathers directly, educating fathers about parenting and encouraging fathers to assume childcare roles early on.

Innovative Early Parent Education Programs for Fathers
Although there aren’t many yet, innovative parent education programs targeting men during the perinatal period are emerging. One example is Dads Matter, a father-friendly home visitation program that may improve fathers’ engagement with their babies among socioeconomically disadvantaged families.
Another emerging program is Baby Elmo. This is an interactive program that helps fathers understand their babies’ emotional needs to support positive father–child interactions. Baby Elmo is currently being tested for its effectiveness within low-income communities.
Our research lab is implementing a father-engagement program for low-income fathers, in collaboration with Healthy Start home visitation programs in Michigan.
Yet another promising program is Supporting Father Involvement by Philip Cowan, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California–Berkeley. Supporting Father Involvement is a group-based relationship program that has been successful in promoting father involvement with young children.
On the whole, these programs help ensure that American children – especially those at the highest risk of living apart from their fathers – grow up in households where their fathers or father figures are positively involved from the very beginning.
Fathers play a key role in children’s lives, starting from the very beginning of life. Their involvement in pregnancy is just as important as the involvement of mothers. We celebrate mothers on Mother’s Day and offer multiple programs and resources for helping women navigate motherhood.
We also celebrate our fathers on Father’s Day. However, we leave them with almost no resources for navigating the transition to fatherhood. This disparity in services is inevitably hurting not only fathers, but also their children. It’s time to change this narrative.
This article was written by Joyce Y. Lee, a Ph.D. student in social work and psychology at the University of Michigan, and Shawna J. Lee, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan.

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Teenagers, Anxiety, and Screens: Two Challenges that Face Today’s Teens and How to Overcome Them

According to a recent study of 688 university students, over a third of participants reported feelings of fatigue, loss of sleep quality, and increases in anxiety and depression from overuse of smartphones. Younger people whose brains are still developing are at even more risk of negative effects from screen addiction. What signs should parents look for that their teen is suffering from anxiety? How can parents help their children overcome these problems?
 
Symptoms of Anxiety
 
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 18.1% of the adult population in this country suffers from anxiety. Even though this condition affects millions of people, it is still misunderstood by the general public. These signs may indicate that your teen is struggling with anxiety:
 
Emotional changes. When anxiety strikes, normally well-adjusted young ones can change their behavior drastically. Irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, and unusual emotional outbursts are signs of anxiety.
Social changes. Anxiety causes the sufferer to withdraw from those they care about. Teens may stop interacting with friends, avoid extracurricular activities, or simply choose to spend more time alone than they do with others.
Physical changes. Headaches, stomach problems, excessive fatigue, and changes in eating habits are common side effects of this condition.
 
These changes don’t always mean your child has anxiety. However, if you see several of these signs, it is advised to seek professional help.
 
Symptoms of Screen Addiction
 
Even if your child isn’t showing signs of anxiety, they may still be spending too much time with screens. These signs point to a problem with screen time.
 
Feeling guilty or lying about how much time they spend online.
Procrastinating or avoiding duties for screen time.
Agitation, anxiety, and depression when confronted with their issues or unable to use screens.
Loss of the sense of time or forgetting about previously scheduled activities.
 
Researchers are still trying to understand how digital access affects brain development. However, it has been noted that exposure to violence negatively impacts mental health. Children with unfettered access to the internet can also fall victim to dangerous scammers, bullies, and people with malevolent intentions. Parents who witness these signs should take steps to reduce and control the amount of time teens spend with screens.
 
Overcoming Anxiety: A Parent’s Role
 
Use these strategies to help your teen overcome screen-induced anxiety.
 
Validate their emotions. Let them know that they are not “bad” for being anxious.
Make a plan to deal with anxiety attacks. Play a soothing game of cards, take a walk, or make something with your hands. These things help distract from strong, negative emotions.
Limit screen time. Pediatricians recommend no more than two hours each day. Parents may need to hide tablets, phones, and laptops to ensure compliance.
 
Technology has improved our world in countless ways. However, moderation and maturity are needed to get the most out of what it has to offer. Stay alert and establish realistic rules to keep your teen from falling victim to screen-induced anxiety.
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How to Cultivate Compassion and Gratitude in Your Children

 Social isolation is a serious trend affecting today’s world. While high-speed internet connections give us the illusion of having more friends and acquaintances, statistical facts say otherwise. According to a recent poll, 72% of Americans experienced persistent feelings of loneliness. Loneliness is a precursor to clinical depression and can have adverse effects on physical and mental health.

Young people who are still developing social skills are at higher risk of falling victim to this condition. Compassion and gratitude are important psychological tools in the effort against social isolation. What are compassion and gratitude? How do they help in the formation of healthy and mutually beneficial relationships? What steps can parents take to cultivate these traits in their children?

Defining Compassion and Gratitude

Compassion is the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of another person. Compassion is similar to empathy. However, empathy is simply the emotional impulse. When someone feels compassion, they also feel the need to do whatever they can to alleviate the pain they see. Multiple scientific studies performed with infants and animals lead researchers to believe that compassion is an essential evolutionary trait. Without that drive, there would be little reason for group members to help each other overcome obstacles.

Gratitude is the experience of being thankful for something good. Psychologists define gratitude in two ways. In the most common usage, gratitude is an emotion. It’s something that’s felt when a gift is received, or trouble is avoided. However, gratitude is also an attitude. Grateful people are generally more pleasant and positive, which leads to wider social possibilities. The appropriate use of gratitude strengthens bonds, enhances self-esteem, and encourages contentment.

Cultivating Compassion and Gratitude

Sharpen your family’s compassion and gratitude skills by instituting a few changes in your daily life.

Make an effort to be grateful. During dinner, have each family member say something about their day for which they were grateful. Encourage young ones to keep a gratitude journal and write in it every day.
The best way to teach compassion is by showing it to your child. When they’re hurt, angry, or troubled, use active listening to help them sort through the problem. Once the issue is identified, work with them to develop a solution.
Model the behavior you would like to see. Show gratitude for the actions of others and participate in compassionate acts when your child is around. Talk with your child about what you are doing and why.
Volunteer as a family. Volunteering is a family-friendly activity that encourages the formation of community connections while allowing members to practice empathy, gratitude, and compassion.

Families that make gratitude and compassion part of their daily routines enjoy calmer homes, deeper relationships, and a richer social life. Boost your family’s immunity to social isolation with these simple tips.

Deana Cupo LCSW

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3 Ways to Manage Yourself on Bad Days

Stress is a fact of modern adult life. The energy needed to maintain a career, home, family, and social life can be difficult to gather some days. When your personal reserves are running low, your relationships suffer. In addition to a number of serious physical symptoms, stress contributes to anxiety, anger, irritability, and depression. When you’re overwhelmed with these emotions, the normal antics and issues your child participates in could be just enough to send you into an adult tantrum.

It’s normal to encounter feelings of stress from time to time. However, it’s important to know how to manage the effects so that your negative emotions don’t compromise your relationship with your children.

Your Mood Sets the Tone

Don’t underestimate the power you have to shape your child’s thinking and habits. Numerous studies have connected parental mood to their children’s long-term mental and emotional stability. Children learn their sense of self-worth from the way their parents interact with them. When you are suffering from the effects of stress, you aren’t able to respond to your children with complete loving-kindness. A pattern of negative interactions over time erodes self-esteem. In extreme cases, children can suffer real neurological effects that threaten the development of healthy social skills.

Reducing the Effects of Stress

Parents can use some simple coping techniques to lessen the effects of stress on their daily mood.

Prioritize self-care. Keeping up with your busy schedule wears you down bit by bit. Taking time to relax and make yourself feel good gives you the energy to tackle life’s problems without succumbing to irritability or anger. Make time in your day to exercise, eat a good meal, read, or partake in your favorite leisure activity.
Extend your empathy and compassion to yourself. It is vital that you show yourself the same respect and consideration that you show to others. Give yourself a break when you’re having a hard day. Don’t force yourself to continue trying to fix problems when you honestly don’t have the mental and physical energy. Ask your friends, family, and support system for help when you need it.
Maintain calm, no matter what. If your child confronts you with questionable behavior while you are already suffering from the effects of overwhelm, do whatever works to keep yourself from responding in anger. Excuse yourself to an isolated space for a few moments. Take some deep breaths. A brisk walk around the block, jumping jacks, or any activity that shakes up the body and clears the mind works to keep you from saying something you might come to regret.

The best way to combat the effects of stress on the parent-child relationship is to be proactive. By taking care of yourself on a regular basis, you increase your ability to handle stressful situations. With a mindful attitude, parents can keep their stress from negatively impacting their children’s future.

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The Friction of the Parent-Child Relationship and How to Overcome It

Before having children, future parents often imagine their offspring will be more cooperative and relatable than those they see around them. Children are, after all, made by combining pieces of each parents’ personality, physical traits, and mental aptitudes. How could you not get along with a miniature version of yourself?

The truth is that, while children may share certain traits and habits with their parents, they are their own people. Their decisions, motivations, and preferences can vary vastly from your own. This can contribute to friction in the parent-child relationship. This state of irritated disagreement occurs at all ages and for a variety of reasons. What causes friction between parents and children? How can parents correct the underlying causes of this dysfunction?

Root Causes of Friction

When friction strikes, it’s essential to find the root cause of the disagreement. This will enable you to formulate an effective plan to neutralize the bad feelings. These are common causes of friction in the parent-child relationship.

When your child isn’t getting the emotional validation and positive attention they crave, they may choose to act out. This cry for attention can come in the form of tantrums, uncooperative behavior, or even violent acts like hitting or punching.
Parents who are pulled in too many directions can have a hard time keeping up with all their demands. Friction happens when your need for rest or self-care is challenged by the needs of others in your care.
High parental expectations can set children up for a lifetime of success. Unrealistic or harsh expectations, on the other hand, have the opposite effect. According to a recent study, when parents set expectations, children are more prone to failure when confronted with unyielding standards. This can add to the buildup of friction between parents and children.

Once you decipher the reason behind the problems, what can you do to fix them?

Addressing Friction

Use these techniques to confront the issues that are causing friction in your home and bring calm to your parent-child relationship.

Check in with yourself. Have you been taking care of yourself? Reduce your own stress levels by engaging in activities you love, going to the gym, and eating a healthy diet. Take care of your own needs so you have the energy to help your child sort through their issues.
Listen to your child. Try to reserve judgment and maintain a calm demeanor when they say things you don’t agree with. Look at the situation from their perspective to gain an empathetic understanding of their frustration.
Make communication a family value. Regular family dinners and special one-on-one time with each child give parents opportunities to talk about issues before they become big problems. Periodic family meetings cut down on discord between family members by giving them a formal time and place to air grievances.

Family friction can threaten the happiness in your home. But with a little patience, empathy, and loving kindness towards yourself and your children, you can restore harmonious relationships.

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6 Must-Have Parenting Books and Why

 

Like the saying goes, babies don’t come with instruction manuals. New parents are often left to figure things out for themselves, using a mix of personal experience and advice from friends and family. Even practiced parents struggle as they try to guide their children through crucial stages of development. Here are six parenting books that offer trustworthy information and practical solutions for families with children of all ages and abilities.

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
This book uses modern neurobiology to help parents understand their children’s developmental stages. It presents 12 ways to encourage healthy intellectual and emotional growth in children.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting
Many parenting books focus on the child and children’s behavior, but don’t always address how parent behaviors contribute to family dynamics. Dr. Laura Markham works with parents in this book to identify how they affect each situation, how to minimize reactions in themselves, and how to cope and connect with their kids in a positive way. Approachable and compassionate, Markham and her followers have created a whole community online where parents can find ongoing encouragement, tips, and support.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
Positive parenting techniques build trust, encourage independence, and reduce the likelihood that your child will make dangerous decisions. Good communication is a key component of effective parenting. This book gives you solid examples of ways to build effective communication between you and your child by overcoming common barriers.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder Dependence on electronic entertainment has sent the rates of childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder (ADD), depression, and anxiety off the charts. This book lays out scientific evidence that spending time in nature improves the overall well-being of low-activity children.

Raising Your Spirited Child, Third Edition: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic
Spirited children present unique parenting challenges like emotional meltdowns, defiant behavior, and high levels of sensitivity. Parents learn strategies to help their child build self-regulation skills. This book is great for autism, ODD, and ADD families that struggle with social integration.

Teen Picks
These three selections will help you guide your teen across the bridge from child to adult.
How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk:  Presents advice specifically geared towards older children. These strategies keep the lines of communication clear during these potentially turbulent years.
Parenting Teens With Love And Logic: Preparing Adolescents for Responsible Adulthood, Updated and Expanded Edition is a practical guide to ensuring your child is ready to take on the trials of adult life.
Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World examines the way internet-based technology changes young people’s thinking and presents ways to counter negative or erroneous digital influences.

Parents can sometimes feel alone in their quest to build a better life for their children. However, a trip to your local bookstore is a great reminder that aid is always available.

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Understanding Limits and Consequences and Their Role in Parenting

Limits and consequences give young ones a solid set of rules to use when making decisions. These concepts are similar but differ in key ways. Knowing these differences enables parents to develop strategies that help their children choose cooperative and mutually beneficial behaviors more often.
Defining Limits
Limits are rules we follow to reduce the possibility of negative circumstances. These boundaries keep us safe from potentially dangerous situations. Use these tips to encourage safe yet independent decision making. Younger children need simple, well-defined limits. As they mature, limits can be relaxed to accommodate their growing sense of responsibility. A five-year-old may be limited to 20 minutes per day of access to a limited range of websites. Teenagers could be given more time and freedom with the same privilege.
Consider your child’s age and ability level when deciding what limits to set. Older children may have rules about vehicle use, attending social events, and chores or job duties. For smaller children, healthy limits include playing with toys in their proper place to reduce damage to surroundings. Rules should apply to all family members. Making rules that only apply to one or two members can seem harsh and unfair. Even if the problem is mainly perpetrated by specific parties, make an effort to include everyone in the responsibility of upholding the family ethic.Limits help keep kids safe until they are able to make their own decisions.
Defining Consequence
Consequences are the natural effects of our actions. If you prick a balloon with a pin, the consequence is a popped balloon. Help children to think before they act to minimize unhappy results.
Irritation makes it easy for hurtful words to accidentally slip. Hurtful language causes more problems than it solves. Maintain your cool when you observe your child breaking a rule. Always respond from a place of loving correction. Give your children space to experience the natural consequences of their actions. If they choose to ignore homework assignments, they shouldn’t be surprised or upset when they see bad grades on report cards. Of course, you should intervene right away if there is a possibility of physical harm or damage.
When your child experiences negative consequences because of their actions, talk with them about it. Discuss the decisions they made that contributed to the situation. Brainstorm ways to avoid a repeat of the circumstances. In your family meetings, define consequences for those who choose to subvert the family rules. Swear jars, extra chores, and repairing any damage are excellent ways to encourage good decision making. Consistency is key to effective limits and consequences. If a child doesn’t believe you will carry through on established rules, they will lose trust in your ability to offer real guidance. Once that trust is lost, it’s difficult to regain your authority. Consistency also reduces confusion and anxiety, which are common triggers for unwanted behaviors.
Limits and consequences don’t limit your child’s potential. Instead, they provide a strong foundation they can use to build a satisfying life.

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Social Skills – What they are and how to cultivate them

People of all ages benefit from good interpersonal skills at home, school, in the workplace and any other situation that requires a team effort. Children who lack social skills have a hard time relating to others and might struggle to contribute meaningfully to a group. This can lead to social rejection, which negatively impacts the emotional, cognitive and physical health of the child. A study from the University of Arizona found conclusive links between poor social skill development and depression.

Parents can help children develop the social skills needed to make good decisions and create nurturing relationships.

What Are Social Skills?

Socials skills are the mental abilities that allow people to interact with each other in a mutually positive way. There are four main behaviors associated with good social skills.

Respecting the skills and contributions of others in the group and expressing that appreciation.
Exchanging ideas and information in a group.
Following the rules of the group and displaying context-appropriate behavior.
Using different skills and methods to reach the group’s goals.

These behaviors are a combination of verbal and nonverbal actions. Children who master these competencies are popular, socially active and less prone to make harmful decisions. Those who have difficulty with any combination of these qualities can find themselves having problems making friends, keeping upgrades, or following household rules.

Cultivating Social Skills

Social skills can be taught. With some perseverance, patience and positive examples, parents can help children overcome their social deficiencies.

Create opportunities for practice at home. Hold regular family meetings to discuss issues like schedules, vacation plans, or problems that need to be solved. During these sessions, encourage your child to participate by voicing their opinion, taking notes, or assisting in other age-appropriate ways.
Take your child with you to organized social affairs like book club meetings, political gatherings, or cultural events. They will learn to observe the rules of the group and to respect those with opinions, skills, and knowledge that are different from their own. These skills are necessary for finding success in diverse group settings like colleges and workplaces.
Show your child the value of friendship. Talk to them about their friends. Ask them what they like about their companions and how they enjoy spending time together. When a disagreement occurs, talk about ways to repair the damage and reestablish the relationship. Teach children that relationships are not disposable and that there is often good reason to compromise in order to save the relationship.
Teach your children the basics of good manners. Saying please and thank you, waiting your turn and other general rules of group etiquette form the basis of almost all group rules. Make good manners and respect for others a family goal.

The ability to cooperate and work well in a group setting is one of the most important indicators of financial success and personal satisfaction. Your guidance and loving involvement will ensure your child builds a foundation of social skills they can use to build their best life.

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5 Ways to Help Your Child Build Good Judgement

Judgment is the psychological ability to think critically about life experiences. After evaluating events, encounters and other bits of information, we use our judgment to draw conclusions. Good judgment leads to conclusions that encourage continued growth and overall well-being. Questionable judgment skills can lead us into dangerous or unhealthy situations that stunt our ability to live fully.

Parents can help their children develop strong critical thinking skills and a positive frame of mind. These qualities will lead to good judgments that contribute to success in most areas of life.

Five Ways to Foster Good Judgment Skills

Include these techniques in your family’s routine to improve your child’s ability to make good decisions.

Establish core family values. The values you display will be your child’s reference point in their own decision-making process. What is important to you as a family? What qualities and skills do you want your children to have? Use family meeting time to create a document that lists the issues, beliefs and goals that all members unite around.
Give them some control. Allow younger children to choose their own outfit. Work with older kids to create a schedule for homework, afterschool activities and other duties. Guide their decisions and help identify circumstances that lead to the best possible outcome.
Remind them of the consequences. Any decisions a child makes that violates your family’s rules should have corresponding consequences. Your child may be allowed to choose what time they complete a specific chore, but if they fail to get it done, they won’t be able to play video games after dinner.
Encourage your child to reflect on their experience. When your child brings home a report card with low grades, ask them what they think went wrong. Talk about things they could have done differently. Help them formulate a plan to make the problem less likely to happen again.
Show them your decision-making process. Narrate your day to younger children. Talk about how you fold laundry, balance your checkbook, or fulfill your other daily duties. Plan the menu for a family picnic with your teenager’s assistance. Give them a first-hand understanding of how everyday decisions are made.

Peer Pressure and Judgment

The urge to conform to group standards is an evolutionary impulse. Today, this tendency doesn’t always lead us down the right path.

Children as young as three are influenced by peer pressure. Their natural need to be accepted by a group may contribute to decisions with negative impacts. This behavior is more common in the teen years when young adults are trying to establish their own identities.

High self-esteem reduces the chances your child will give in to peer pressure. When your child makes a good decision, praise them openly. Your opinion of them forms an integral part of their own self-identity.

Your child’s judgment skills are a big part of any potential success they might achieve in life. Give them the tools to choose the right path, even when you aren’t there to guide them.

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There is no right way to raise your children

There is no right way to raise your children. There is no hard and fast rule about what will work in your home, with your particular family, your child’s unique personality, the circumstances you are in, the luck or challenges that come your way. All the money in the world can’t fix a serious problem. No matter how little you have materially, you can raise an excellent human being if all else falls into place. Consistently teaching your values will usually result in your children having the same values… but not always. Because above and beyond everything else, our children come to us with inherent qualities that we cannot special order, request, or cross off a list as undesirableThere is no right way to raise your children. There is no hard and fast rule about what will work in your home, with your particular family, your child’s unique personality, the circumstances you are in, the luck or challenges that come your way. All the money in the world can’t fix a serious problem. No matter how little you have materially, you can raise an excellent human being if all else falls into place. Consistently teaching your values will usually result in your children having the same values… but not always. Because above and beyond everything else, our children come to us with inherent qualities that we cannot special order, request, or cross off a list as undesirable.
Two of the biggest problems affecting families today are parents being tired and stressed out. The fallout from these issues can be lessened or even eliminated for the most part by creating a family management plan and acting on it. For example: if both parents work, having a plan for dinner and a routine for every member of the family for the evening, reduces stress. Not knowing what is for dinner, and generally trying to get everyone to do what you think they should do is a recipe for chaos, more stress, and unhappiness. It can really feel like herding cats. A plan for managing your family will not be perfect, or create a family system without fault, but it will put into place a structure that every member of your household responds to and eventually come to appreciate.

The management plan should have input from every member.