Relationship-strengthening class improves life for new families

December 02, 2010

Expectant parents who completed a brief relationship-strengthening class around the time their child was born showed lasting effects on each family member's well being and on the family's overall relationships, according to a recent Penn State study.

The team, led by Mark Feinberg, senior research associate in Penn State's Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development, analyzed the effects of the Family Foundations program for three years after a child was born.

The Family Foundations program, offered in several Pennsylvania locations as part of the study, targets couples expecting their first child. Most research has shown that conflict increases while affection and support decrease among couples after a baby is born. The program's eight sessions -- four before birth and four after -- aim to foster attitudes and skills related to positive family relationships, such as emotion regulation, temperament and positive parenting. The program is effective, says Feinberg, in part because expectant, first-time parents tend to be open-minded.

"At this point in their lives, parents are eager and excited, and looking for more information about parenting," said Feinberg. "Because they quickly become experts on their child after he or she is born, this time before and just after birth is crucial. Parents are open and hungry to learn at this stage, and this allows us to give guidance to help improve their confidence and help them know what to expect."

Parents who were randomly assigned to enroll in the program reported lower levels of stress and depression symptoms and higher levels of confidence in their parenting abilities, compared to parents who were randomly assigned to a control group. Also, parents in the program supported each other more than parents not enrolled in the program. Enrolled parents showed more effective parenting styles -- they overreacted less and were less likely to spank, slap, grab or hit their children as discipline or punishment.

Feinberg said that helping parents support each other is a key aim of the program.

"When we feel supported, we feel tend to feel more confident and less distressed -- we have a longer fuse, rather than a shorter fuse," he said. "All this can lead to parents getting emotionally closer and more supportive of each other and their children."

Children of parents enrolled in Family Foundations showed higher levels of emotional adjustment compared to children of parents not enrolled in the program, as reported by mothers. At age three, boys of parents in the study showed lower levels of aggression and hyperactivity, but this finding did not apply to girls.

The attitudes parents gain, and the support they learn to provide to each other, create a protective layer that helps them weather the storm of stress that can erupt with the birth of a child.

"By giving expecting parents the tools, skills and perspectives to support each other, the program results in enhanced co-parenting relations that help protect them from stressors," said Feinberg. "Sleep-deprived new parents can feel distressed and irritated easily. But with positive co-parenting relations, disagreements tend not to escalate into conflict, and conflict tends not to blow up into violence."

Unlike some prevention programs, Family Foundations was designed for all parents, not only for those identified as "at risk." According to Feinberg, research suggests that not only married parents can benefit from such a program, but divorced parents who still seek to raise a child together can benefit from learning these skills and perspectives, too.

"Parents should not underestimate the importance of the types of support they provide for one another for their child's welfare," said Feinberg. "The fact is that children's well-being is dependent on parents' interactions."
Results from Feinberg's study were published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Co-authors include Damon E. Jones, Prevention Research Center, Penn State; Marni L. Kan, RTI International; and Megan Goslin, Yale Child Study Center.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health funded this research.

Penn State

Related Parenting Articles from Brightsurf:

Perfectionists may be more prone to helicopter parenting, study finds
The negative effects of over-parenting on children are well documented, but less is known about why certain people become helicopter parents.

The effects of smartphone use on parenting
Parents may worry that spending time on their smartphones has a negative impact on their relationships with their children.

Extended parenting helps young birds grow smarter
The current study analyzes social and life-history data from several thousand songbirds, including 127 corvids, the family that includes jays, crows, ravens, and magpies.

Education the key to equal parenting rights for same-sex couples
Same-sex marriage may have been given the green (or rainbow) light in many countries around the world, but it appears there are still some entrenched attitudes in society when it comes to same-sex parenting.

Parenting elective lets physicians spend more time with their babies
A novel, four-week parenting rotation designed for pediatric residents has dramatically increased the amount of time resident parents can spend at home with their babies, according to a study by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Parenting stress may affect mother's and child's ability to tune in to each other
A study led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has revealed the effects of the stress of parenting in the brains of both mothers and their children.

Evolution from water to land led to better parenting
The evolution of aquatic creatures to start living on land made them into more attentive parents, says new research on frogs led by the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath.

Keep calm and don't carry on when parenting teens
In a new study, University of Rochester psychologists find that mothers and fathers who are less capable of dampening down their anger are more likely to resort to harsh discipline aimed at their teens, and that fathers in particular were not as good at considering alternative explanations for their teens' behavior.

Most parents say hands-on, intensive parenting is best
Most parents say a child-centered, time-intensive approach to parenting is the best way to raise their kids, regardless of education, income or race.

One in 4 parents not prepared for 'parenting hangovers' this holiday season
A quarter of parents of young children who drink alcohol on special occasions do not think about limiting how much they drink or whether they'll be able to take care of their child the next day, according to a new national poll.

Read More: Parenting News and Parenting Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to