SAAF_Family_Page11
SAAF_Family_Page11
What strong African American families do
Good parenting is both a science and an art. No one can tell you exactly what you should say and do in every situation with your child, so responding in the moment and playing it by ear (the art), is necessary. But there are things we know from research that caregivers do to raise strong kids who do not fall prey to negative influences and seek out positive goals for their lives (the science). We followed hundreds of Black families for a decade to learn what caregivers do to raise strong kids who do not fall prey to negative influences and seek out positive goals for their lives. Here is what Strong African American Families do along with suggestions for applying these ideas in your family.
Good parenting is both a science and an art. No one can tell you exactly what you should say and do in every situation with your child, so responding in the moment and playing it by ear (the art), is necessary. But there are things we know from research that caregivers do to raise strong kids who do not fall prey to negative influences and seek out positive goals for their lives (the science). We followed hundreds of Black families for a decade to learn what caregivers do to raise strong kids who do not fall prey to negative influences and seek out positive goals for their lives. Here is what Strong African American Families do along with suggestions for applying these ideas in your family.
Provide warmth and nurturance
Main idea:
Children who feel and know that their caregivers love them have a greater sense of security about their lives and place in the world which helps them to stand up to negative influences from outside the family.

Mother kissing her son

Even when life is stressful and kids misbehave, it is important for them to know and feel that they are loved. Caregivers who express warmth and love toward their children through loving words, affection, playing and laughing together are helping nurture their child and their relationship. Being nurturing does not mean letting kids get away with things. On the contrary, effective parents have high standards for kids’ behavior (see “Have consistent and firm expectations for child behavior” below), but they balance those expectations and discipline with a lot of love. This love also helps children know they can look to their caregivers for guidance.

As kids enter their teens, the ways you nurture them may need to change as they seek independence from you and may become less likely to accept physical affection. One way to be nurturing to your teen is to help them feel understood by acknowledging their feelings when you notice them and helping them clarify their point-of-view about things that happen. For example, listen to them as they describe something that happened with a friend. Be “approachable” by paying attention to when your child seems receptive to talking and when he wants to be left alone, and listen before you jump to conclusions or lecture. When they feel understood, they feel loved and accepted which brings them closer to you.

Because teens can often feel like caregivers disapprove of everything they do, also look for opportunities to compliment them—like noticing they made a higher grade on the last math test than the previous one or they were really helpful taking care of their younger siblings one day—so they feel your approval.

Provide warmth and nurturance
Main idea:
Children who feel and know that their caregivers love them have a greater sense of security about their lives and place in the world which helps them to stand up to negative influences from outside the family.

Mother kissing her son

 

Even when life is stressful and kids misbehave, it is important for them to know and feel that they are loved. Caregivers who express warmth and love toward their children through loving words, affection, playing and laughing together are helping nurture their child and their relationship. Being nurturing does not mean letting kids get away with things. On the contrary, effective parents have high standards for kids’ behavior (see “Have consistent and firm expectations for child behavior” below), but they balance those expectations and discipline with a lot of love. This love also helps children know they can look to their caregivers for guidance.

As kids enter their teens, the ways you nurture them may need to change as they seek independence from you and may become less likely to accept physical affection. One way to be nurturing to your teen is to help them feel understood by acknowledging their feelings when you notice them and helping them clarify their point-of-view about things that happen. For example, listen to them as they describe something that happened with a friend. Be “approachable” by paying attention to when your child seems receptive to talking and when he wants to be left alone, and listen before you jump to conclusions or lecture. When they feel understood, they feel loved and accepted which brings them closer to you.

Because teens can often feel like caregivers disapprove of everything they do, also look for opportunities to compliment them—like noticing they made a higher grade on the last math test than the previous one or they were really helpful taking care of their younger siblings one day—so they feel your approval.

Have consistent and firm expectations for child behavior
Main idea:
Expectations for behavior are clear, enforced, and consistent.

A mother talking sternly to her daughterEffective caregivers are very clear about the behaviors they expect from their children and do not let them get away with misbehavior. Inconsistent and “hands-off” parenting can lead to children learning destructive behaviors.

While you cannot say ahead of time everything that is acceptable or not, children need a good sense of what is expected of them. Discuss specific rules with your children and consider making a chart with chores that specifies who does what and when.

Expectations for your children need to be consistent to be effective. Sometimes parents let something slide one day and get upset the next day for the same behavior. Such inconsistency is not setting a clear message about what is acceptable behavior and can cause anxiety and inconsistent behavior in children. While it may be impossible to be consistent all the time, consistency is a key goal.

Being firm and consistent does not mean being harsh. If you are frequently blowing up at your kids, they may lose confidence in themselves or just find ways to do things behind your back. Being firm and consistent means enforcing house rules matter-of-factly. There are consequences for breaking rules regardless of how upset a parent may be, or not, about the behavior.

Talk with your children regularly about what you expect, and when necessary, discuss how things are working. Sometimes, particularly as children get older, it becomes time to set new rules that match their developing maturity. If your child gets a bad grade at school because she has not completed homework regularly, for instance, you can talk with her about why this is a problem. Then set a new rule such as requiring she show you completed homework each day before watching TV.

Because teens can often feel like caregivers disapprove of everything they do, also look for opportunities to compliment them—like noticing they made a higher grade on the last math test than the previous one or they were really helpful taking care of their younger siblings one day—so they feel your approval.

Have consistent and firm expectations for child behavior
Main idea:
Expectations for behavior are clear, enforced, and consistent.

A mother talking sternly to her daughter

 

Effective caregivers are very clear about the behaviors they expect from their children and do not let them get away with misbehavior. Inconsistent and “hands-off” parenting can lead to children learning destructive behaviors.

While you cannot say ahead of time everything that is acceptable or not, children need a good sense of what is expected of them. Discuss specific rules with your children and consider making a chart with chores that specifies who does what and when.

Expectations for your children need to be consistent to be effective. Sometimes parents let something slide one day and get upset the next day for the same behavior. Such inconsistency is not setting a clear message about what is acceptable behavior and can cause anxiety and inconsistent behavior in children. While it may be impossible to be consistent all the time, consistency is a key goal.

Being firm and consistent does not mean being harsh. If you are frequently blowing up at your kids, they may lose confidence in themselves or just find ways to do things behind your back. Being firm and consistent means enforcing house rules matter-of-factly. There are consequences for breaking rules regardless of how upset a parent may be, or not, about the behavior.

Talk with your children regularly about what you expect, and when necessary, discuss how things are working. Sometimes, particularly as children get older, it becomes time to set new rules that match their developing maturity. If your child gets a bad grade at school because she has not completed homework regularly, for instance, you can talk with her about why this is a problem. Then set a new rule such as requiring she show you completed homework each day before watching TV.

Because teens can often feel like caregivers disapprove of everything they do, also look for opportunities to compliment them—like noticing they made a higher grade on the last math test than the previous one or they were really helpful taking care of their younger siblings one day—so they feel your approval.

Monitor what children are doing
Main idea:
Effective caregivers know where their kids are, who they are with, and what they are doing.

Teen boy looking at his cell phone

Caregivers cannot ensure consistent and firm rules about a child’s behavior if they are not aware of what the child is doing. Knowing what they are doing allows caregivers to intervene, when necessary (“no, you may not go hangout with your friend’s older brother”), and it lets children know what expectations are for them. This communicates to them in a concrete way what positive behaviors are considered positive. Of course, it also provides the opportunity to tell them “no” if they ask for permission to go somewhere or do a certain activity. Expecting them to report their whereabouts and activities is necessary for caregiver’s ability to do this.

Monitoring kids’ activities also means paying attention to things like how much time they spend playing video games or watching TV. This means you may notice that they are doing too much of something, or perhaps, not enough of something else. For example, you may notice that they are spending less time with friends and more time alone. This does not necessarily mean there is a problem but seeing that it is happening gives you the chance to look into it.

Monitor what children are doing
Main idea:
Effective caregivers know where their kids are, who they are with, and what they are doing.

Teen boy looking at his cell phone

 

Caregivers cannot ensure consistent and firm rules about a child’s behavior if they are not aware of what the child is doing. Knowing what they are doing allows caregivers to intervene, when necessary (“no, you may not go hangout with your friend’s older brother”), and it lets children know what expectations are for them. This communicates to them in a concrete way what positive behaviors are considered positive. Of course, it also provides the opportunity to tell them “no” if they ask for permission to go somewhere or do a certain activity. Expecting them to report their whereabouts and activities is necessary for caregiver’s ability to do this.

Monitoring kids’ activities also means paying attention to things like how much time they spend playing video games or watching TV. This means you may notice that they are doing too much of something, or perhaps, not enough of something else. For example, you may notice that they are spending less time with friends and more time alone. This does not necessarily mean there is a problem but seeing that it is happening gives you the chance to look into it.

Provide regular, clear communication

Main idea:
Effective caregivers talk with their children regularly and effectively.

A man and teen boy talking

Being a good communicator means listening (and really hearing) what children have to say as well as being clear when telling them things. Effective caregivers strive to have this kind of back-and-forth talking with their kids as often as possible. While they may not have time to sit down with each child every day for an in-depth talk about the day, they strive for regular check-ins. These can be more formal: “Let’s go sit on the porch and talk,” or can be squeezed in when possible. For instance, taking just one child on a trip to the grocery store provides time alone with them.

Be sure to listen as much, if not more, than you talk. You do not have to have answer for or a response to everything your child says. For instance, if they describe a problem with a friend, you do not need to force a solution on them. Instead, just listen with responses such as, “that must have made you mad.” This kind of listening helps your child feel known and understood, feel closer to you, and more likely to come to you when they really need help with a problem.

In addition to good listening, effective communication with your children also means you communicate to them in clear ways. For example, you explain why they are being punished for breaking a rule rather than just flying off the handle about it.

Good communication means that you allow your children to talk about anything including the rules of the house. While you may not change your mind, you are open to hearing what your kids have to say about things and listen to their point of view.

Provide regular, clear communication

Main idea:
Effective caregivers talk with their children regularly and effectively.

A man and teen boy talking

 

Being a good communicator means listening (and really hearing) what children have to say as well as being clear when telling them things. Effective caregivers strive to have this kind of back-and-forth talking with their kids as often as possible. While they may not have time to sit down with each child every day for an in-depth talk about the day, they strive for regular check-ins. These can be more formal: “Let’s go sit on the porch and talk,” or can be squeezed in when possible. For instance, taking just one child on a trip to the grocery store provides time alone with them.

Be sure to listen as much, if not more, than you talk. You do not have to have answer for or a response to everything your child says. For instance, if they describe a problem with a friend, you do not need to force a solution on them. Instead, just listen with responses such as, “that must have made you mad.” This kind of listening helps your child feel known and understood, feel closer to you, and more likely to come to you when they really need help with a problem.

In addition to good listening, effective communication with your children also means you communicate to them in clear ways. For example, you explain why they are being punished for breaking a rule rather than just flying off the handle about it.

Good communication means that you allow your children to talk about anything including the rules of the house. While you may not change your mind, you are open to hearing what your kids have to say about things and listen to their point of view.

Create a predictable homelife
Main idea:
There is routine in family activities.

A family holding hands and praying at a dinner table.This means that things happen during the day and week at predictable times and in predictable ways. Dinner is about the same time every day. There are expectations for bedtimes and clarity about who does what chore and when. There are also regular “rituals” in family activities, like Sundays are for visiting grandparents and Tuesdays are taco night. These kinds of predictable activities give structure to family life.

Predictability also means that kids know how caregivers are probably going to react to things they do such as staying out late or drinking or wrestling with their brother in the house. Lack of predictability means kids are more likely to experiment with unhealthy behaviors. When they know what the boundaries are, they are more likely to not stray too far.

Not having a predictable home life can lead to chaos. Children and youth live with a degree of uncertainty of day-to-day life which can create anxiety and a search for comfort outside the home. But when family life is more predictable, these expectations offer a kind of security that allows for more healthy development and family relationships.

Create a predictable homelife
Main idea:
There is routine in family activities.

A family holding hands and praying at a dinner table.

 

This means that things happen during the day and week at predictable times and in predictable ways. Dinner is about the same time every day. There are expectations for bedtimes and clarity about who does what chore and when. There are also regular “rituals” in family activities, like Sundays are for visiting grandparents and Tuesdays are taco night. These kinds of predictable activities give structure to family life.

Predictability also means that kids know how caregivers are probably going to react to things they do such as staying out late or drinking or wrestling with their brother in the house. Lack of predictability means kids are more likely to experiment with unhealthy behaviors. When they know what the boundaries are, they are more likely to not stray too far.

Not having a predictable home life can lead to chaos. Children and youth live with a degree of uncertainty of day-to-day life which can create anxiety and a search for comfort outside the home. But when family life is more predictable, these expectations offer a kind of security that allows for more healthy development and family relationships.

Stay involved in children's school life
Main idea:
Academic success is improved when caregivers are involved in their child’s school activities and experiences.

A mother helps her son with homeworkEffective caregivers know how their child is doing academically and socially at school. Doing this requires some effort. It means being in touch with teachers to find out strengths and weaknesses of the child, paying attention to school assignments, and talking to children about their work and school experiences.

Being involved in school communicates to your child that education is important, and that you expect them to make an effort to learn. Knowing what is happening on a daily or weekly basis—rather than waiting until grades are given at the end of a term—allows you to act on problems before it is too late.

Hopefully, your child’s school and teacher(s) are reaching out to you to encourage your involvement, but if they are not, do not hesitate to ask questions, request a meeting with a teacher, or volunteer to help with things if you can.

Stay involved in children's school life
Main idea:
Academic success is improved when caregivers are involved in their child’s school activities and experiences.

A mother helps her son with homework

 

Effective caregivers know how their child is doing academically and socially at school. Doing this requires some effort. It means being in touch with teachers to find out strengths and weaknesses of the child, paying attention to school assignments, and talking to children about their work and school experiences.

Being involved in school communicates to your child that education is important, and that you expect them to make an effort to learn. Knowing what is happening on a daily or weekly basis—rather than waiting until grades are given at the end of a term—allows you to act on problems before it is too late.

Hopefully, your child’s school and teacher(s) are reaching out to you to encourage your involvement, but if they are not, do not hesitate to ask questions, request a meeting with a teacher, or volunteer to help with things if you can.

Set and discuss expectations for substance use and sexual behavior
Main idea:
Children whose caregivers provide direct conversation about substance use and sexual behavior are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.

Teen girl smiling

Youth hear lots of different messages from outside the home about these topics, so it is important to not only clearly state your expectations about them, but to help your child understand and deal with what they hear from others. Caregivers who assume their children know they do not want them to use substances or engage in early sexual activity are less effective in getting those results than those who talk specifically and frankly about these issues with their children.

Caregivers can be clear about setting boundaries while also listening and respecting the point-of-view of their children. These conversations can begin with a simple, “Do you know of any kids your age that are using drugs [or having sex]? What do you think of that?” Or similarly, if a young character in a movie uses drugs or has sex, it gives you the chance to start a conversation. Getting your child’s thoughts is a good place to start as you draw out their thinking with questions like, “Why do you say you would never do that?” This gives you the opportunity to discuss the consequences of substance abuse or early sexual activity, and your expectations for their behavior, as well as ways to respond when others pressure them to participate. These are not one-time conversations. Effective caregivers have ongoing conversations about these topics as their children grow and mature.

Set and discuss expectations for substance use and sexual behavior
Main idea:
Children whose caregivers provide direct conversation about substance use and sexual behavior are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.

Teen girl smiling

 

Youth hear lots of different messages from outside the home about these topics, so it is important to not only clearly state your expectations about them, but to help your child understand and deal with what they hear from others. Caregivers who assume their children know they do not want them to use substances or engage in early sexual activity are less effective in getting those results than those who talk specifically and frankly about these issues with their children.

Caregivers can be clear about setting boundaries while also listening and respecting the point-of-view of their children. These conversations can begin with a simple, “Do you know of any kids your age that are using drugs [or having sex]? What do you think of that?” Or similarly, if a young character in a movie uses drugs or has sex, it gives you the chance to start a conversation. Getting your child’s thoughts is a good place to start as you draw out their thinking with questions like, “Why do you say you would never do that?” This gives you the opportunity to discuss the consequences of substance abuse or early sexual activity, and your expectations for their behavior, as well as ways to respond when others pressure them to participate. These are not one-time conversations. Effective caregivers have ongoing conversations about these topics as their children grow and mature.

Help children develop a solid identity as a Black American
Main idea:
Black children thrive when they have a strong sense of identity and appreciation for their culture.

A teen boy alone in his thoughtsThe effects of blatant and subtle racism as well as sometimes feeling underrepresented in the world around them can leave Black youth searching for identity in the wrong places. An important source of identity is recognizing and appreciating oneself as a Black youth or teen. Youth without this strong sense of identity are more likely to suffer from the stress effects of racism and lack of identity. When they have a positive view of being Black and have opportunities to talk about how they fit in the world, they are better able to deal with any negative effects from being a person of color in America.

Talk to your children about Black people that you admire—whether they are famous or live in your community—and explain why you admire them. Teach your children about Black history in America and your own family history.  As you actively strive to build Black pride in your children, also talk with them  about the reality of racism and how to respond when they witness or experience it.

Help children develop a solid identity as a Black American
Main idea:
Black children thrive when they have a strong sense of identity and appreciation for their culture.

A teen boy alone in his thoughts

 

The effects of blatant and subtle racism as well as sometimes feeling underrepresented in the world around them can leave Black youth searching for identity in the wrong places. An important source of identity is recognizing and appreciating oneself as a Black youth or teen. Youth without this strong sense of identity are more likely to suffer from the stress effects of racism and lack of identity. When they have a positive view of being Black and have opportunities to talk about how they fit in the world, they are better able to deal with any negative effects from being a person of color in America.

Talk to your children about Black people that you admire—whether they are famous or live in your community—and explain why you admire them. Teach your children about Black history in America and your own family history.  As you actively strive to build Black pride in your children, also talk with them  about the reality of racism and how to respond when they witness or experience it.