What you wanted to know about Reframing Parenting – answered
In our Reframing Parenting in the context of COVID-19 webinar Annette Michaux and Frameworks Institute CEO Nat Kendall-Taylor discussed the challenges and opportunities for supporting children’s wellbeing through effective framing in the context of COVID-19.
During the webinar, participants were able to ask questions, which have come up often in our reframing work, and have been answered here.
- What are the potential risks of using the term ‘vulnerable families’ in our messaging? What are some alternatives?
- What effect can it have on people’s thinking when we describe parenting as a struggle? What are some alternatives?
- How can we gain organisational support to change how we frame our messaging?
Q. What are the potential risks of using the term ‘vulnerable families’ in our messaging? What are some alternatives?
When we lead with terms like ‘vulnerable’ or ‘disadvantaged’, we risk triggering the commonly held fatalistic view that some communities are beyond help and that the cycle of poor parenting can’t be broken. We make it easier for people to blame and dismiss the very families and communities that we work with.
The Australian public draw on certain deeply held assumptions when they think about parenting, including that:
- good parenting happens naturally and automatically simply from having a concern for children
- good parenting is a choice, at the individual’s discretion and willpower
- we are destined to parent as we were parented.
People also tend to think that Australia provides adequate support already, leading them to believe that families struggling must be making poor choices.
These common beliefs can lead people to demonise and ‘other-ise’ people who may be struggling in their parenting. If good parenting is simply about caring – and caring is something that good people do naturally – then struggling as a parent means that you are abnormal or immoral. The research found that these patterns of thinking are particularly strong when combined with stereotypes of low-income and other disadvantaged communities.
What can we do?
We need to balance our messages about real issues with solutions and the potential for change. We can still talk about the issues that many families face, but it’s more effective to avoid leading with those issues and avoid using blanket terms and labels such as ‘vulnerable families’ or ‘disadvantaged communities’. More effective strategies are to:
- emphasise the way in which we are all connected and dependent upon each other
- explain that everyone needs support, and some parents will sometimes need specific or additional support
- use language such as ‘we’ and ‘our communities’ to reduce the emphasis on support being for just ‘those’ people
- present concrete solutions and explain how those solutions will work
- instead of ‘the homeless’ or ‘vulnerable people’ consider ‘people experiencing’ or ‘people exposed to’.
After: “Children thrive when our policies and programs support parents. Support can help parents to navigate rough waters such as financial problems or stress. We need to make support available to all families so that parents can navigate challenges and all children can thrive.”
Q. What effect can it have on people’s thinking when we describe parenting as a struggle? What are some alternatives?
We often lead with an acknowledgement of the struggles and challenges that parents face. While well intended, our reframing parenting research shows that this can make the challenges of parenting seem inevitable and insurmountable. Rather than making people more willing to seek help, it can actually reinforce the belief that nothing can be done to improve parenting, and that parenting skills can’t be learnt.
- leads people to conclude that problems arise because of choices made by individual parents, rather than contexts and circumstances
- normalises the wrong thing – the struggle – rather than normalising support or help-seeking.
After: “For children to develop well they need well-supported parents. Support can help parents to navigate rough waters such as financial problems or stress. We need to make support available to all families so that parents can navigate challenges and all children can thrive.”
After: “For children to develop well they need well-supported parents. But we sometimes feel as if we’re navigating rough waters. If you’ve been feeling tired or anxious, our counsellors can help you get back on an even keel.”
Nat Kendall-Taylor’s article The hardest part of being a parent has nothing to with raising kids, December 2019.
Q. How can we gain organisational support to change how we frame our messaging?
Sustained organisational change requires a deliberate, planned approach. Organisational readiness is critical to effective change efforts. Staff and leadership at all levels must be willing and able to put new practices in place if change efforts are to succeed.
There are a range of strategies that can build readiness for change and support the introduction of effective framing. Draw on implementation research for strategies that can support the introduction of the reframing research, including:
Establish an implementation team:
- to drive the implementation and champion the framing approach.
Build motivation to change how we talk about parenting:
- explain why the change is so important and the impact it can have on families and other stakeholders
- develop a shared understanding of the need for change among stakeholders (e.g. staff, funders, community partners, Board members)
- engage and nurture multiple champions to promote the change
- share early success to build buy-in and motivation.
Ensure that leadership take an active role in driving the change:
- communicate consistently and clearly with all staff about the value of the framing approach
- provide access to training and materials that will make introducing the new approach manageable
- create processes and structures to enable individuals and groups to think about the need for change and actively participate in the change process
- develop or adapt policies and procedures that will make it possible to implement new frames
- create opportunities for staff to learn and develop solutions together to support the new approach.