Go to any library and look at the parenting books. Three things will strike you. First of all, there will be fewer books for dads than mums. Second, the books that do exist for dads are generally condescending and “light hearted” in nature. Third, there is nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing) aimed at dads who have children older than three years old. Recognising this as an issue, the charity Movember has stepped in to fill the void with Family Man, a free, online parenting programme aimed at dads.
The aim of Family Man is to equip parents with children between the ages of two and eight with the skills to manage challenging behaviour and increase their parenting skills. The charity claims users will see a difference in their child’s behaviour within a fortnight.
I have taken a look at Family Man to see what it involves. The course is comprised of three, 20-minute long animated episodes depicting various scenarios. The scenarios show everyday parenting situations, such as whether you should play with your child or how and when you should offer praise or deal with them making noise.
Every now and again, the animation stops and asks you how you would react to the scenario, offering a series of multiple-choice questions. Depending on the answer you give, you will receive tips and advice on whether that would be a productive and helpful way to respond and deal with your child.
Family Man has been adapted from a programme called ParentWorks, which was designed by Professor Mark Dadds at the University of Sydney. It has also been vetted by a global panel of psychologists and parenting experts to ensure the suggestions and advice offer the best parenting outcome.
What did I think?
I had to try this programme to be convinced by it, but it is a very clever digital solution to an issue affecting dads: IE, lack of support and useful information. The responses to the various questions were also incredibly thought provoking.
I’ll give an example. In response to my answers to one question, I was informed that spending quality time with your children is sometimes best done in small five-minute spells instead of dedicating, say, an entire afternoon to your child.
I have been trying this out with my kids and it has proven to be solid advice. It’s especially pertinent during the present lockdown scenario we’re living with as it can be very difficult to get away for long periods of time with your children.
Why aimed at dads?
Some will ask why Family Man is aimed at dads. It’s a fair question and one that deserves an answer.
The short answer is that mums are very welcome to use Movember’s Family Man, it is simply targeted at dads. As I outlined above, there is a lack of quality parenting advice for dads, especially once children are beyond the toddler stage.
Professor Dadds went into more detail. He said: “Evidence-based parenting programmes are effective in reducing behavioural problems, yet few involve the participation of fathers.
“Our study of ParentWorks showed that this type of intervention was successful in reducing child behavioural problems, ineffective parenting, couple conflict, and improving parental mental health.
“We were able to recruit a large number of dads to take part and both fathers and mothers seemed to benefit equally from the programme. Family Man was designed to be accessible to all families and may be especially useful in rural and remote areas, where resources can be hard to access. It is delivered online, without the support of trained practitioners, which overcomes a key barrier for many parents.”
Figures from Movember show that only one-fifth of parents who take part in parenting programmes are men. There are various complex reasons for this, not least the fact many are marketed at women.
Added to this, men are not always made to feel welcome when they do engage with such groups. Work commitments and a reluctance by some men to seek help are also barriers to them engaging with parenting groups.
Commenting on Family Man’s release in the UK, Jane Endacott, Director of Digital Health Mental Health and Suicide Prevention at Movember, said: “Being a parent can be a very rewarding experience, but it isn’t always easy. Dealing with meltdowns in the supermarket or a child who repeatedly ignores instructions can be incredibly stressful. It can cause friction at home and over time that can impact the whole family’s mental wellbeing.”
“There is a huge amount of research that shows parenting is more effective when it’s done as a team. We know that when all available parents are engaged in parenting decisions, it benefits the whole family.”