Strengthening Families Program

Thursday, March 29, 2012
The Flaherty Family - Kevin, Jessica and Shelley.

The local Strengthening Families program for youth ages 10-14 and their parent is currently being held in Alta. This interactive, evidence-based program with curriculum is provided by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and uses realistic videos, role-playing, discussions, learning games, and family projects to enforce family skills-building. The seven week program is free to all that attend and childcare is also available for younger siblings ages 2 and up.

Some of the funding for the program is provided by a grant received from Children, Youth, and Families At-Risk (CYFAR). Additional funding comes from local and area businesses, organizations, and corporations.

The Program Coordinator for Strengthening Families is Dorene Ehlers. This is her second year running the program and she still is amazed at the transformation of parent reactions toward the program after the first few weeks. To parents who have not been through the program before or know of a family who has, seven weeks can sound like forever when they are battling an already hectic schedule.

After the first two, maybe three sessions, they see how fun it is and how having the one-on-one time with their youth is a great bonding experience. Also, it is a chance for parents to see that they are not alone in some of the things they experience or will experience with their pre-teen as they go through their teen years into young adulthood.

"Every family can benefit from a program such as this," Ehlers says. "Having a program to go to that promotes and encourages ways to keep a family strong, communicating in a positive manner, and resisting negative influences, can only enhance the lives of the families that attend Strengthening Families. All families, not just those at risk, can take something away from this experience."

This week's activities included the youth playing "Follow the Leader" where everyone is doing a motion, such as jumping, clapping, etc., and the person chosen to be "it" had to figure out who the leader was. They also played a spin the bottle game where the youth had to act out appropriate coping techniques when presented with a stressful situation.

The family session began with a fun balloon game in which the families were divided into two groups. While holding hands, each group had to keep one or more balloons from falling to the floor while following commands. Some of the commands include using only their elbows, heads, knees, or a combination of moves, all while holding hands. Families also played charades by acting out a fun activity they like to do together as a family. Each family went home with a deck of cards and instructions to several card games that they could play together as a family.

All of the weekly sessions end with the Parent Creed, the Youth Creed, and the Closing Circle Phrase. This week's phrase asked parents to name one privilege that their son or daughter wanted to earn. The youth were then asked to name one privilege that they would like to earn as a reward for good behavior and making good choices.

This week's featured family are the Flahertys - Kevin, Shelley, and Jessica. they speak of their encounters with Strengthening Families.

The third week we talked about ways of promoting good behavior and giving compliments to our children as a way of positive reinforcement. Showing love for our children by giving hugs and compliments are simple ways of building self-esteem and positive relationships with each other. So many things that kids are exposed to from our media and in social settings are negative in nature and it is very important that children receive consistent, positive reinforcement to help them develop good attitudes about themselves and respect toward others.

Simple family meetings to discuss weekly events, happenings, and give kids, as well as, parents an opportunity share compliments, discuss the how the previous week's events went, and agree on the coming weeks agenda was part of the discussion. Also, setting up a points system as a way of earning rewards to things or events kids would like was discussed. With this rewards scenario, parents agree to allow kids to bank points for positive behavior such as doing daily chores or having homework done on a regular basis. In exchange, the parents agree to pre-determined rewards for their children such as going to a movie, having a friend over, or going out for a special treat. Using such a system allows both parents and children the opportunity to build trust and respect for each other by agreeing to the terms for not only earning points, but also the reward for doing so.

Maintaining a calm demeanor and not turning disagreements or small issues into larger arguments was also discussed. By not trying to talk out differences or disagreements instead of arguing, leads only to further confrontations and arguments. Rather than viewing negotiation and compromise as a better alternative, arguing becomes the learned behavior.

As a family we put together a family tree with the grandparents as the roots, family values as the trunk, and family members as the branches. The branches had leaves that were traits/characteristics of each family member such as: athletic, honest, funny, kind, hard worker, smart, energetic, helpful, pretty, strong, friendly, organized, creative, etc.

We talked about having family meetings and how to run them. We also talked about fun activities that we can to as a family. Sometimes we get very busy with daily life, work, homework, and chores and we forget to make time for the fun. It is important to set goals and try to reach them together as a family.

Shelley commented, "It has been fun to set aside time for our family and discuss issues with other families. It is interesting to hear how other families deal with situations in their home life."