In our work, the cause and effect nature of parenting is really at the heart of all we do. Supporting parents to gain the understanding that their behavior today, even prenatally, has a huge impact on who their child will become is critical in motivating positive parenting. Today we will discuss an important aspect of family life that we don’t often think specifically about. Most people would not argue the importance of physical flexibility, but have you ever thought about the idea of psychological flexibility? That’s where we will be focusing our efforts today. First we will look at what exactly we mean by that term, then we will highlight some intriguing research about the importance of psychological flexibility in regard to parenting, and finally, we’ll visit the ways that the GGK and GGF curricula can support the growth of this quality in your families.
So what exactly do we mean when we say psychological flexibility?Researchers define it as how a person adapts to the demands of changing situations, shifts their thinking and perspective, and balances the various desires, needs, and areas of their life while remaining consistent in their values (Kashdan & Rottenberg, 2010). This feels a little confusing, let’s break that down a bit more.
Adapting to the Demands of Changing Situations
This is someone who understands that what worked or was true in one situation, may not work or be true in this situation. Basically a psychologically flexible person would be able to recognize when a current situation requires a different response and they behave accordingly.
Shifting Thinking and Perspective
This describes someone who is flexible in response to situations. Rather than demanding that the situation change, they realize that they only have control over themselves and how they think about the situation. This person is open to looking at things through a different lens when necessary.
This is pretty simply the ability to maintain a sense of balance between the varying life roles we all have. This person would understand the importance of maintaining a delicate balance between work and family life for example.
Consistency in Values
Think of the lyrics to the Katy Perry song…”do you ever feel like a plastic bag drifting through the wind.” The psychologically flexible person is the opposite of this. Instead of going whichever way the wind blows, they behave in a manner that is appropriate to the current situation, but is intentionally guided by their values.
This is where the idea of psychological flexibility begins to have an impact on your work. We know that negative emotions and bumps in the road are part of being human. In order to grow and learn, we must all go through developmental changes that define who we are and what our social roles in life are (Labouvie-Vief, 2003). As a home visitor you cannot prevent daily struggles and stressors for the families you work with, but instead you work to help them organize their life in a way that reflects their goals and values.
Up until recently, most of the research regarding psychological flexibility was designed to look at how to become an emotionally healthier individual (Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda, & Lillis, 2006). Some newly released research, however, has found a connection between a parent’s psychological flexibility and their child’s psychological outcome. They found that greater general psychological flexibility led to greater parenting psychological flexibility, which resulted in more adaptive parenting practices, and in turn, decreased child behavior problems (Brassell, et al., 2016).
These findings indicate several things that are important to programs like yours. First of all, programs should include skills for parents that are designed to foster psychological flexibility in the parenting role. Additionally, by incorporating psychological flexibility into parent training, parents can learn ways of managing their own internal challenges that keep their parenting consistent with their parenting values. When a parent is aware of their own internal experiences but stays connected to the present moment, their parenting behaviors are less reactive, ultimately resulting in better outcomes for their child (Brassell, et al., 2016).
A resilient family is one that can manage themselves in an ever-changing, often unpredictable environment. Change and new situations are the norm in our world today, so by supporting psychological flexibility in families, we are helping them develop the kind of mindset that will result in optimum development for their children. The science is clear on this, but how do we go about it? The Growing Great Families curriculum incorporates many strategies designed specifically around this sort of science, which makes it a great place to start.
GGF Unit 1: Strengthening Family Foundations and Motivating Growth
- Module 2: Shaping Your Child’s Future
- Module 3: Learning About Family Values and Strengths: Strengthening Family Foundations
- Module 4: Family Traditions and Cultural Practices
- Module 5: Growing Goals
GGF Unit 2: Reducing Stress: Tools for Stress Management
- Module 1: Protecting Your Children from Toxic Stress
- Module 2: Sizing Up Your Strengths…Reducing Stress
- Module 3: Becoming Your Own Personal Coach
- Module 4: What Happened to My Needs When I Became a Parent?
- Module 5: Warning Signs for Stress Overload
- Module 6: Communicating Effectively
- Module 7: The Power of Appreciation
- Module 8: Problem Talk
- Module 9: Growing Your Support Network: Strengthening Protective Buffers
GGF Unit 3: Discipline and Special Parenting Circumstances
- Module 1: Discipline and Punishment: What is the Difference
- Module 2: Discipline: Strategies for Growing Self-Regulation
- Module 3: Discipline: Dial it Down Time and Spanking
GGF Unit 4: Blueprints for Emergent Use
- Blueprint 2: Supporting Goal Success with Families
- Blueprint 3: Reconnecting Parents to their Children’s Needs During Times of Stress
It is pretty easy to be a nurturing parent when everything is going well. When we are not experiencing any personal challenges…we find ourselves behaving much more empathically with our children. But as we all know, our lives are way more complicated than that and so are those of your families. This is why families will benefit the most from your services when you support their practice of all of the essential parenting skills between visits.
Our brains are designed to conserve mental energy. This means that, at least some of the time, our behaviors are automatic. Have you ever leaped to a conclusion about something or someone? This is your brain conserving energy, by relying on stereotypes or habits (Dunning & Suls, 2004). If our brains didn’t work this way, our mental efforts and our time would be completely taken up by activities like turning off our alarm clock or brushing our teeth. Unfortunately, all too often parents fall into this mental energy conserving, default mindset when faced with life challenges or family stress. The default mindset is often overly influenced by past experiences, and does not consider the actual present situation (Hart, et al., 2009).
Repetition and daily practice of all the GGK attachment tools and GGF stress management techniques will support families in overcoming this potential parenting pitfall. Spend the first part of each home visit (Making Connections) talking about how they’ve been practicing what you talked about during your last visit. Be sure to include lots of time for them to practice their parenting skills during the visit. Then, be sure to close each visit (Home Time) by discussing how and when they plan to practice what you talked about that day. The continued repetition of nurturing parenting responses will eventually create a new default mindset. The goal is automatic parenting responses that add protective layers and result in a child who feels loved and valued – safe and secure – and capable and curious…regardless of family stressors or life challenges.
Brassell, A. A., Rosenberg, E., Parent, J., Rough, J. N., Fondacaro, K., & Seehuus, M. (2016). Parent’s psychological flexibility associations with parenting and child psychosocial well-being. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science.
Dunning, D. H., & Suls, J. (2004). Flawed self-assessment: Implications for health, education, and the workplace. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 69-106.
Hart, D., Albarracin, A. H., Eagly, A. H., Brechan, I., Lindberg, M., & Lee, K. (2009). Feeling validated versus being correct: A meta-analysis of selective exposure to information. Psychological Bulletin, 555-588.
Hayes, S. C., Luoma, J., Bond, F., Masuda, A., & Lillis, J. (2006). Acceptance and commitment therapy: Model, processes and outcomes. Behavior Research and Therapy, 1-25.
Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical Psychological Reveiw, 865-878.
Labouvie-Vief, G. (2003). Dynamic integration: Affect, cognition, and the self in adulthood. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 201-206.