New research into a modified version of Group Triple P in New Zealand could be a game changer when it comes to encouraging fathers to participate in a parenting program.
A randomised controlled trial of a version of Group Triple P for fathers in New Zealand has shown that when men are treated as active participants in the parenting process, rather than being assumed to be there to play a supporting role, men are just as likely as their partner to actively participate in group sessions. They’re also just as likely to benefit and so are their children.
Study authors Tenille Frank, Louise Keown and Matt Sanders said that following the trial, both parents were more likely to report significantly fewer child behaviour problems and increased use of positive parenting practices. There was also less conflict between parents about child rearing, mothers felt more confident and also reported that their partners’ parenting practices improved.
Given social changes around gender and parenting issues – particularly in middle to upper income countries – it would seem obvious that fathers these days would be more interested in playing an active role in parenting. However, little research had previously been done to see how best to engage fathers or investigate the kinds of issues that fathers would find relevant.
“Parenting programs often involve women training other women to be better parents. Ninety per cent of those who conduct courses are female, and mothers make up 70 per cent of attendees,” Professor Sanders said.
This trial of Group Triple P incorporated a number of new strategies to engage fathers and this began well before actual participation in the program.
Program advertisements were worded to include positive messages about father involvement. Dads as well as mums were also involved in screening interviews about their child’s behaviour and to explain what their participation in the programme would entail.
New content was incorporated to maximize fathers’ engagement and teamwork between parents. Additional topics included explaining the benefits of both father and mother involvement for children’s development and strategies to manage father-identified parenting challenges.
Findings from previous research was used to identify the kinds of issues or problems that dads would be interested in. These included how to balance work and family, how to gain co-operation with their partner in parenting, the range of ways to show physical affection with their kids and how dads can contribute to enhancing their child’s self-esteem.
Other father-identified areas of interest included improving their children’s social skills.
During the group sessions each parent had their own work book. Fathers were asked about their specific concerns, as opposed to just asking the mothers about their children. Fathers and mothers were encouraged to set their own homework tasks between sessions and to each report back their progress on implementing parenting strategies.
When telephone consultations were conducted, the researchers included both fathers and mothers together using a speaker phone or multiple handsets and each parent was encouraged to contribute.
As well as the implications for the way in which practitioners engage with dads, Professor Sanders said the Auckland findings could create a much more compelling case for flexible delivery times by Triple P practitioners as well as making allowances for childcare so that both parents can attend sessions together.
“In the past, the view seems to have been that fathers are reluctant to engage in parenting programs but this study shows that when fathers’ concerns are actively raised during participation to encourage their involvement, gender differences disappear,’’ Professor Sanders said. “Fathers and mothers recorded similar levels of completion of the program, which was high, and similar levels of satisfaction.”
Since the study did not compare a mothers-only intervention with a group involving both mothers and fathers, it’s too early to say from a research perspective that children are more likely to benefit, or more likely to move out of the clinical range of behaviour problems, when fathers as well as mothers attend a parenting program.
However, there is a lot more that can be gained by researchers, providers and agencies from this study, particularly when it comes to the relatively high retention rates. The study authors suggest this might have been due to the fact that because both parents attended together, each was accountable to the other and therefore completion was more likely.
They also suggest that efforts taken to increase teamwork between mothers and fathers, such as joint telephone sessions and tailoring the content for fathers and mothers, may also have contributed to the high levels of program satisfaction.