Last month, SCAN held its second facilitator training for the Strengthening Families Program, this time with a focus on the curriculum for elementary aged children (6-11). Heather Eshleman and Larry Williams, from the Strengthening Families Foundation, led the two-day training, sharing their expertise and extensive experience with the program.
Here are our three main takeaways from the training:
1. The objective of the program is key.
The Strengthening Families Program came about to combat the reoccurrence of substance abuse that, unfortunately, tends to be passed on through the generations of a family. The way the program does this is through parent and child education with the philosophy (and the statistics to back it up) that active parenting is the best anti-drug measure out there.
There are certain risk factors that put children in danger of developing substance abuse problems down the road, such as family conflict, lack of supervision or discipline, and lack of communication. Evidence shows that even when families are in the most at-risk of environments, strong families can avoid many adverse outcomes. The Strengthening Families curriculum aims to mitigate risk factors by leading both parents and children in strengthening their “protective factors”. Facilitators work with parents to promote and improve family bonding, parental monitoring and discipline, communication between parents and children, and consistent and predictable parenting. Children, in turn, work to improve their resiliency, a trait shown to greatly help youth to do well and bounce back despite family/personal challenges or set-backs.
2. Focus on strengths.
Strengthening Families is a strength-based curriculum, so rather than finding the flaws and problems in a family and “fixing” them, group leaders look for the strengths a family already has and builds upon them. The class provides a welcoming, non-judgmental environment for parents and children to feel free to express themselves and share their problems and struggles as well as successes with the group. Group leaders are encouraged to facilitate open communication with participants. Rather than dogmatically dictating the “do’s and don’ts” of parenting, facilitators lead and model, teaching by example. They actively listen to parents and support them instead of castigating them, making suggestions and talking with them, not at them.
3. Staying true to the program makes a difference.
Strengthening Families is an evidence-based program that promises robust results. It has proven to effectively increase parent efficacy, parenting skills, and marital communication, as well as decrease stress, depression, and alcohol and drug use among parents. At the same time, due to the program, children have shown decreased depression, conduct disorders, aggression, use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and increased cooperation, social competencies, school grades, and forging of pro-social friendships.
While the evidence for the program is undeniable, training attendees learned that adaptations can make the program more effective but modifications break fidelity and do not guarantee the fantastic results promised. Adaptations are changes made by group leaders to get the skills taught to the particular people participating in the program; they make SFP a better fit to culture, age, local custom, religion or gender of class participants and they can help improve recruitment and retention rates by 40%. Modifications, on the other hand, such as dropping, adding or rearranging lessons, make fundamental changes to the program. As modifications essentially create a new program, their effectiveness is unknown and therefore, the program is no longer evidence-based.
– Alice Clark, Parent Education Coordinator
Last month, SCAN held a training for facilitators who will lead a new parenting program offered by SCAN’s Parent Education Program: Strengthening Families. Strengthening Families is an evidence-based program focusing on building positive relationships between parents and middle-school children. Charlie McLaughlin from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth led the three-day training with lots of energy and enthusiasm. Here are our Top 5 Tips from the training:
Give love and set limits.
Balancing showing love and setting limits for children can be hard. Some parents focus on setting limits for their middle school children and think that they do not need as much attention and affection as when they were younger. Other parents are afraid to set limits because they want their child to feel loved.
Children need both love and limits. Parents still need to show affection and tell their child that they love them. Parents also have a responsibility to set limits to keep them safe and teach them right from wrong. Parents should teach their child that actions have consequences and that certain behaviors are acceptable and others are not.
To keep a balance between love and limits, parents should speak openly about what the rules and expectations are and what the consequences will be for breaking those rules. If a child does not follow the rules, the parents should calmly follow through with the consequence. When children are following the rules, parents should be sure to compliment their child and thank them.
Understand each other’s challenges.
Some children may think that parents have easy lives. From their point of view, parents get to earn money, set house rules, stay up as late as they want and go anywhere, anytime. They may not understand how hard parents have to work to earn money, how stressful paying bills and taking care of all of the housework can be, and how much they may worry about their child.
Some parents may think that their children have easy lives. They do not have all of the responsibilities of paying bills or doing all of the housework. They do not have to work full-time jobs or give rides to their children. Parents may not understand how stressful it can be to try to balance school work (which can be really hard), after-school activities, friends and family. Youth also may have to deal with bullying or peer pressure to drink or use other drugs.
Both parents and youth need to be aware of the challenges everyone in the family is facing, so that they better understand each other and appreciate the challenges other family members are facing.
Actively listen to your child.
Parents should listen to their children and let them finish talking before reacting. Sometimes parents respond before a they can completely explain something that happened. If a child tells his parents that one of his friends was caught cheating, the parents may jump in and respond at that point. If the parents respond by reminding the child that cheating is wrong or saying the child can’t spend time with this friend, then the child won’t have the chance to explain that he reminded his friend that cheating is wrong and tried to stop him. He will probably not come to his parents again with a problem because he may think that his parents do not listen to him and do not trust him to know that cheating is wrong.
Parents should let their child explain everything that happened to make sure they know the whole story before reacting. This can be difficult, but it shows the teenager that their parents will listen to them. When children feel their parents listen to them, they are more likely to come to them for help.
Use “I statements.”
Parents should also make sure that they are clear with their children about what they are feeling. One effective way of doing this is using “I statements.”
“I statements” follow this format: “I feel ___ when you ___ because ___.” This is followed up with what the parent wants the child to do differently in the future.
Using “I statements” makes it clear how the parent feels without putting blame on the child. Parents should use “I statements” in a calm voice, and they should be willing to listen to their child’s response.
Plan family meetings.
Making time to meet as a family can be difficult because of people’s busy schedules. However, family meetings are an important opportunity to address issues that come up and celebrate accomplishments. Having regular family meetings means that families do not only talk to each other when something is going wrong. Having a set for a family meeting that all family members participate in strengthens each family member and the family as a whole.
SCAN is very excited to begin this new program, and our facilitators are looking forward to meeting and working with parents and their children this Fall! Please contact us if you’re interested in learning more.