UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania — For nearly 20 years, Penn State research professor Mark Feinberg has been developing and sharing Family Foundations, a course for couples expecting their first child that focuses on how to work as a team, communicate and solve problems. New research shows that couples who took family foundations classes 10 years ago had more positive family relationships and experienced fewer problems with family, parents, and children than other families during marriage. COVID-19 pandemic.
Their findings, recently published in the journal Family process, showed that parents who were randomly assigned to family foundations classes reported that their children had significantly lower levels of negative mood, behavior problems, and sibling conflict than parents. children from families in the control group. They also reported lower levels of their own hostility, harsh and aggressive parenting, and co-parenting conflict.
Family Foundations parents also reported relatively higher levels of positive aspects of family life in the early months of the pandemic – including warm parenthood, couple closeness, sibling warmth, and family cohesion.
Feinberg notes that the Family Foundations approach can have lasting and far-reaching impacts because “it promotes positive changes in parenting teamwork, leading to improved parental mental health, parental warmth and sensitivity, and ultimately leading children to experience less stress, experience less depression, cooperate more, form better friendships, and do better in school.”
Measuring the impact of family foundations
For the study, Feinberg’s research team surveyed 400 couples who participated in his Family Foundations study 10 years ago and also asked participants to complete eight days of daily reports describing daily changes in stressful events. , mood, sleep, family tension, child behavior, and the use of health protective behaviors to prevent COVID-19 infection.
Previous research has shown that taking Family Foundations classes reduces preterm birth and low birth weight, improves the quality of family relationships and reduces family violence, and improves the mental health of parents and their children during infancy. , early childhood and middle childhood.
Feinberg suggests that the skills parents learn in family foundations can benefit families in times of crisis because strong teamwork helps parents deal with stressors such as job changes, finances, or medical issues – whether these stressors arise during the transition to parenthood or during a pandemic.
Research-based tips for building happier families
Feinberg offers suggestions for building happier families based on his research.
“Look at how you can support your partner in parenting — listen to them, appreciate them, acknowledge the challenges and constraints they face,” Feinberg says. “Excessive arguments and conflict about children and parenting will lead both parents to feel undermined and demoralized. And these negative feelings will lead parents to be less patient, less warm and harsher with children.”
Feinberg adds, “Don’t bury frustrations and anger, but don’t let tension and frustrations overwhelm the positive bond and caring between you. Ultimately, that positivity and caring between you will be what sustains your own mental health and that of your child’s lifelong well-being and happiness.”
Investing in prevention produces lifelong benefits for parents and children, Feinberg says. He urges policymakers to invest more in prevention and public health programs like family foundations that aim to improve family functioning and resilience.
The research team also included Associate Professor of Health and Human Development Research Jacqueline Mogle, Assistant Professor of Health and Human Development Research Michelle Hostetler, Associate Professor of Health and Human Development Damon Jones, Assistant Professor of Health and Human Development Samantha Tornello, postdoctoral fellow Lindsey Gedaly, research assistant Joseph Cifelli, all of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State; and Jin-Kyung Lee, former postdoctoral fellow at Penn State’s College of Liberal Arts.
The study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Development and the Social Science Research Institute.
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