• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Friday 07th January, 2011

Collaboration is key

According to Darwin, being able to adapt and collaborate is a key element of the human race’s survival. As well as giving us the competitive edge when playing team games, for example, collaboration gives us a sense of collective accomplishment and pride - something that cannot be gained from individual activity. However, while the best teams are those who know how to play well together, working together collaboratively does not come easy. It may require some coaching and practice. The results will, though, be that much better.And what’s true of sport is equally the case when it comes to raising a family, as new research into the impact of the Family Foundations programme suggests.A recent study by Mark Feinberg, who developed the programme, and colleagues found improvements in family life 3½ years after parents participated in the programme. Compared to families who did not take part in Family Foundations, boys whose parents had were less aggressive, less hyperactive, and had less externalizing and internalizing behaviors by the time they reached the age of three. Furthermore, the quality of the boys’ parents’ relationships was also better. However, apart from a small increase in social competence, the study did not produce similar effects for girls.These results can be explained by looking at how the Family Foundations programme works. Family Foundations is a universal prevention programme aimed at improving parental relationships and co-parenting skills. The eight-week group programme starts when a couple are expecting their first baby. This, according to Feinberg, is when parents are more open-minded. “Because they quickly become experts on their child after he or she is born, the time before and just after birth is crucial,” he argues.By contrast to many other early intervention programmes that concentrate on coaching warm, competent parenting in just one of the parents, Family Foundations sees the collaboration between the parents as key. No matter how confident a parent might be in their parenting, an unsupportive and undermining partner can thwart even the best efforts to provide a good start in life for a child. Becoming parents also puts a strain on many couples’ relationships. The shifts in the relationship after a baby is born include changes in the division of labour and gender roles, and a reduction in couple companionship and sex. By preparing the couples for the changes which lay ahead, and aligning their expectations prior to birth, the stress of the transition into parenthood can be reduced. The relationship between their parents is often the first model children have of relationships between people and is hence extremely influential on the development of their social skills and behaviour. Children often get drawn into marital conflicts, while problematic relationships between parents can be harmful to their development. Thus when parents are supportive of each other’s parenting and work as a team sharing the joys of parenthood instead of undermining each other, child behaviour and well-being are improved. Feinberg and his colleagues found that couples who were randomly assigned to the Family Foundations programme were better adjusted to being parents, more supportive of each other’s parenting and less harsh in their parenting. And these positive effects were still apparent 3½ years after their participation in the programme. However, this positive co-parenting only seemed to have an impact on the behavior of boys and not girls. The researchers argue that this is explained by the tendency of fathers to have more involvement in the parenting of boys than girls. One explanation of the results is that the programme changed the expectations of mothers, leading them to anticipate more engagement from their partners in sharing the parenting duties. This assumption appears to have been confounded more often in families with daughters. Another explanation is that in families with sons, where fathers were likely to have had more involvement in parenting, the programme prepared the couples better for dealing with the resultant co-parenting conflicts.Whatever the explanation, we know that families are far more complex than a simple collection of relationships and the development of children is inextricably intertwined in the network of family relationships. If Family Foundations can help parents to see eye to eye on how they should raise their child, it can do much to ensure that children are provided with the necessary predictability, constancy, and security in the family which, in turn, can help them to become good family members themselves.References:Feinberg, M.E., Jones, D.E., Kan, M.L. and Goslin, M.C. (2010). Effects of Family Foundations on Parents and Children: 3.5 years after baseline. Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 24 (5), 532-542.

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