Children, Families and Finances


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Father Involvement and the Future of Children and Families

Q: Why is father involvement a topic of social concern in America today?

Sean Brotherson picture
Sean Brotherson

A wide variety of scholarly studies, publications, and social programs in recent years have focused attention on the issue of fathering. Diverse disciplines ranging from early childhood education to juvenile justice to modern health care have sought to address the topic of male involvement in family life and its consequences. According to some scholars, the “most urgent social problem” in the United States today is the increasing number of fathers who either are not in the home or are ineffective parents while at home. As a result of such social concerns, efforts to encourage better fathering have been ongoing in the United States for over twenty years. 

Why is fathering an important issue on the nation’s agenda? Perhaps because, as a number of scholars have noted, increasingly more children do not reside with their fathers, have only limited interaction with their fathers, and receive little economic support from their fathers. One research study on the topic of family upheaval in America addressed this concern about father involvement and was titled: “A Generation at Risk.” Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that one of every three children in America, which amounts to 24 million children, lives in a home without the involved presence of a father or father figure. Because children depend on the adults in their lives for care and support, the question of how adults are responding to the needs of the rising generation is a critical issue for families and communities.

For further information on father involvement and strengthening families, access the remainder of this short research article for ND Compass by Dr. Sean Brotherson, Extension family science specialist at NDSU, by visiting:


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Powerful Tools for Caregivers Program Grows in ND

NDSU Extension Service was pleased to conduct a Powerful Tools for Caregivers Class Leader Training in Fargo on June 27 & 28, 2016. Extension FCS Agents and community educators/volunteers from across the state attended this 2-day workshop to become certified to offer this education to family caregivers in their respective communities.


According to the AARP Public Policy Institute’s report,Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update, in 2013, North Dakota had 62,100 family caregivers who provided 58 million hours of unpaid care valued at $860 million. These caregivers are spouses, partners, adult children, other family members, neighbors and friends.  Family caregivers provide a range of daily activities, such as transportation, personal care, managing finances, grocery shopping and much more.  Finding ways to support North Dakota’s family caregivers and bridge the gaps where they may be struggling, is an aim of the Powerful Tools for Caregivers program.

NDSU Extension Service provides statewide coordination for this national program disseminated by Powerful Tools for Caregivers, an independent, non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon. Over the course of six weeks, family caregivers learn about tools needed to take care of themselves as they care for an older adult. If family caregivers learn to take good care of themselves, they will be better prepared to take good care of their loved ones. Caregivers learn how to: reduce stress, improve self-confidence, better communicate their feelings, balance their lives, increase ability to make tough decisions, and locate helpful resources. 

The Powerful Tools for Caregivers program was recently expanded to serve the population of caregivers of children with special health and behavioral needs as research indicates caregivers experience many common concerns and stresses addressed by this program.  Class leaders will now be able to conduct both the classes for caregivers of adults with chronic conditions and the classes for caregivers of children with special health and behavioral needs.

For more information about the Powerful Tools for Caregivers program or to learn about upcoming classes, contact Jane Strommen at

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Picture the person you might think of as stubborn, obstinate, uncompromising, adamant, hard-headed, insistent or unrelenting. Do you have someone in mind? Now think about a person who you would call determined, unwavering, strong-minded, gritty, persistent, firm, steadfast, resolute or persevering. What about now? Do you have someone in mind?

Grit Snail imageThe first set of words has more of a negative connotation. The second set of words is more positive, but both sets could refer to the same person. When your middle school student adamantly refuses to take his or her turn at bat during the family reunion softball game and leaves the field, you see the stubborn, obstinate side of your child. When the same child sits in his or her room practicing his or her violin every night for months on end until you think you are listening to a professional recording, we say that child has determination or persistence, even grit.

Persistence, or grit as many are calling it, has been getting a lot of attention recently. No matter the term, we really are talking about working hard and sticking with it to reach a goal. Researchers are referring to people who have the willingness to set a goal and work during a long period of time to achieve that goal. They also are discovering that practice, practice and more practice is, indeed, what eventually sets these gritty people apart from others. Natural talent is being looked at with a skeptical eye, while hard work and stick-to-itiveness are taking the driver’s seat.

According to psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, one way to help our children develop grit is to introduce them to a growth mindset so they see that “failure is not a permanent condition” and the children are encouraged to have a try, try again attitude. To find more information on mindsets, grit and developing persistence in your children, look up the helpful resources listed here.

Kent Pekel, Search Institute:

Carol S. Dweck






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Can We Talk? Making Couple Communication Effective

Arguing couple

You cannot not communicate. It’s a rule. It’s a law of the universe. It’s a reality.

We are always communicating, not only by the words we say, but by the looks we give, the tone of our voice, the way we turn our bodies, and even by the words we don’t say. If you bite your tongue and refuse to criticize, you are saying, “I care about your feelings more than about being right.” If you are mad and decide not to speak to your partner, you are communicating with your silence: “I don’t want to be around you right now.”

Tips on Effective Versus Ineffective Communication

Since we are always communicating, then how do we make our communication as couples most effective? Some tips to remember about effective versus ineffective communication can be useful:

  • Effective communication resolves the problem. Ineffective communication aggravates the problem.
  • Effective communication builds personal esteem. Ineffective communication diminishes personal esteem.
  • Effective communication enhances the relationship. Ineffective communication damages the relationship.
  • Effective communication relays important messages. Ineffective communication obstructs important messages.
  • Effective communication reinforces mutual respect. Ineffective communication limits trust and respect.
  • Effective communication bonds a couple together. Ineffective communication distances a couple from each other.

Key Questions to Ask in Couple Communication

The key question to begin with as you interact with a partner is not, “Am I communicating?” You are always communicating. The key question is: “Am I communicating effectively or ineffectively?”

Just ask yourself the following when you reflect on your couple communication:

  • Is the problem getting resolved or aggravated?
  • Is each of us feeling better or worse about ourselves?
  • Is our relationship being strengthened or damaged?
  • Is an important message being understood or misunderstood?
  • Is our interaction helping or hurting our trust of each other?
  • Do we feel closer or farther apart?

Reach for Closeness and Mutual Respect

During the time of year when couples approach Valentine’s Day (February 14), it is common to reflect on our couple relationships. Communication is an important ingredient that affects the quality of couple relationships. These questions can help you to assess whether your communication with each other is achieving what you’d like to achieve: caring, closeness and mutual respect.

            For further information on a variety of aspects of strengthening couple relationships, access the educational publications at the National Extension Relationship and Marriage Education Network online by visiting:

Source: Sean Brotherson, Extension Family Science Specialist, North Dakota State University, (701) 231-6143,

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How Much is Too Much?

All I want foverindugeor (insert occasion here) is one of these, and one of these, and, oh! All of these! Please? (Picture adorable face of child, grandchild, nephew or niece, eyes wide, smiling hopefully.)

This time of year tends to bring out the generous in everyone. Unfortunately, that can turn into excess for many of us, including, or should I say especially, children. If you are one gift shy of having to build a new room on your home, you may wish to consider some of these suggestions from wise people who have adjusted their thinking on the overabundance of their birthday and holiday giving:

  • Focus on what you can give or do for others who really need a day-brightener. You know who they are and what they need. Let your kids help with the preparation and presentation. Make people the spotlight of your celebration.
  • If you know the gifts are coming from far and wide, don’t add to it. Use your resources to provide a dance lesson, concert ticket or sporting event with just one child at a time. Make it something special to enjoy together, not something more to step on in the dark.
  • If you feel you have to have a pile of presents under the tree and your kids love to unwrap stuff, buy some needed clothing items and wrap them. This is how children learn to say thank you, even when they don’t really love the gift.
  • Spend every day being grateful for what you have. Children learn to have an attitude of gratitude from the adults they love and trust.
  • Purchase a particular number of gifts that each person will open. The suggestion is generally three, and make one of those something to wear.
  • Incorporate plenty of physical activity and/or games into every celebration to make great memories. Take plenty of photos. These activities will lessen the focus on high-calorie treats and gifts, gifts, gifts.

One awesome gift to give yourself it a totally free online parenting class on overindulgence.  University of Minnesota Extension and Jean Illsley Clarke have teamed up to bring you this one-hour class atoverindulgance book

In addition, the popular book “How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children, From Toddlers to Teens, In an Age of Overindulgence” by Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson and David Bredehoft is a gift in itself. 

Kim Bushaw, Extension Specialst for Human Development and Family Science

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Differing Family Traditions at the Holiday Season


Christmas CrackersTraditions offer family members an opportunity to feel included, share values and connect with each other in meaningful ways. While many link the holiday season with family traditions involving a celebration, celebration is only one type of tradition. The other major types are traditions of connection and traditions of community.

Regardless of type, family traditions that last and have personal meaning for family members are the ones that develop the strongest relationships. Such traditions during the holiday season may range from singing carols to neighbors to making holiday cookies together in the kitchen.

Family traditions of connection are centered on regular, consistent activities such as morning time and bedtime, meals, outings and vacations. Birthdays, family reunions and holidays tend to comprise the traditions of celebration. Traditions of community can include weddings, funerals, other religious events, and community gatherings ranging from block parties to football games.

A key benefit of family traditions is predictability, that sense of regularity and order that families need, especially children. Children look forward to annual holiday traditions such as making Christmas ornaments or gathering with family members for a meal. Another benefit of family traditions is identity, the sense of belonging that makes families feel unique. What are the unique traditions that you practice during the holiday season?

Building and maintaining traditions has always been based on family decisions, but now that there are so many different types of families, communication is more important than ever before. Single-parent families, blended families, multi-generational families, families with different ethnic backgrounds – each type will need to discuss and select those traditions that work best for them in their specific circumstances. The same is true for families experiencing economic stress or a family crisis such as divorce.

It's important for families to recognize that traditions vary widely and often change over time. Sometimes, a little bit of change in family traditions is not a bad thing. At different times, families need to assess their situation and identify those traditions that can they can reasonably maintain, along with the traditions they may need to modify or abandon.

Another decision families need to make regarding traditions is based on this question: Old or new? Answering this question forces family members to determine whether a tradition is serving them in a positive way or whether they are serving the tradition.

Many families have old or established traditions that they would like to continue, but in order to involve younger generations in a meaningful way, the older family members may need to find ways to teach the value of these traditions. At the same time, members of the older generations should also recognize that young families need a chance to begin their own family traditions, and this may require restraint on the part of those who want to make sure certain family traditions carry on.

The best formula for working out family traditions involves a maximum amount of discussion and understanding and a minimum of pressure, guilt or other forms of negativity. Holiday traditions may differ across families but can all serve a useful purpose in creating a sense of belonging, meaning or celebration.

- Sean Brotherson, Extension Family Science Specialist, North Dakota State University, (701) 231-6143,

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Winter Weather: Kids Won’t Want to Waste a Flake

Kids winter funA warm sweater and slippers, a toasty cup of cocoa, a good book or movie all sound like the perfect weekend plan to many adults who have to battle the elements all week getting people to school, work and childcare.  Kids on the other hand are excited for the snow and all the fun that comes with the fluffy white stuff. Children love to spend time with their favorite adults. Spending time outdoors together adds even more opportunities for discovery as the landscape changes from day to day with fresh snow or melting snow. Show your child how to make a snowball, snow person, snow village, snow angel or if you are really ambitious, a whole snow fort. Start small and keep adding as winter drops more building materials!

Don’t wait till January 1 to resolve to eat better and move more, start now before unhealthy habits have a chance to add that first winter pound. Many adults lack the proper play clothes for prolonged outdoor play.  Remember to dress yourself and your children in layers. Warm socks, real winter boots, snow pants, coats, hats that cover ears and cheeks, mittens and scarves are a must to cover tender skin in our harsh elements.

For young children, the very activity of getting dressed for outdoor play is good practice and the fresh air, even for just a few minutes of outdoor play is worth the effort. If you are really lucky it can lead to a refreshing nap!    

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National Family Caregivers Month Nov. 1-30

Family CaregiversResources for Family Caregivers
National Family Caregivers Month November 1-30

According to the AARP Public Policy Institute’s new report, Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update, in 2013, North Dakota had 62,100 family caregivers who provided 58 million hours of unpaid care valued at $860 million. These caregivers are spouses, partners, adult children, other family members, neighbors and friends. These family caregivers provide a range of daily activities, such as transportation, personal care, managing finances grocery shopping and much more. The typical North Dakota caregivers is 63 years of age, working full or part-time, has 2+ years of college, is married, and has a household income less than $100,000.

Family members have long been the mainstay for providing care to aging and other friends or relatives who need help with day-to-day living. They take on this role willingly and find it a rewarding experience. However, many caregivers have no idea what to do, how to do it, or where to get help. This dilemma makes family caregivers vulnerable themselves.

So, where can a person find reliable information on caregiving? Here are a few options:

  • Visit the eXtension’s Family Caregiving Resource area for research-based knowledge on family caregiving from land-grant universities. this web site you can access information and resources when answers are needed, regardless of the time of day or your location. It offers answers to frequently asked questions, articles on caregiving topics, learning opportunities through online learning activities and state-specific family caregiver demographic fact sheets.
  • The AARP’s Caregiver Resource Center has checklists, worksheets, tips, tools, articles, blogs, Ask the Experts and more.
  • The Family Caregiver Alliance has an extensive collection of updated fact sheets on caregiving issues, from hands-on skills for caregivers to caring for adults with cognitive and memory impairment.

Where can I find services and supports targeted for family caregivers?

  • The North Dakota Aging & Disability Resource – LINK connects older adults and people with disabilities to care options that can help them live as independently as possible and maintain their quality of life. Caregivers, family members, professionals and others are encouraged to explore this website or contact the Resource-LINK to see what services and supports are available in their community. The website is: http://carechoice.nd.assistguide.netYou can contact the Resource-LINK by phone Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Time Zone at 1-855-462-5465. The Resource-LINK services are free and confidential and provided by the North Dakota Department of Human Services.
  • A new resource in North Dakota is the Powerful Tools for Caregivers (PTC) program. This is an evidence-based 6-week workshop offered by the NDSU Extension Service designed to help family caregivers take better care of themselves and to feel more confident in their ability to care for their family member. For more information on the PTC or upcoming workshops, contact Jane Strommen at
  • Another great opportunity is to attend the 1st Family Caregiver Resource Fair scheduled for November 16th, 2:00-5:30 p.m. at Dakota Medical Foundation in Fargo, ND. Experts from over 20 community-based organizations will host information booths and provide education on services and products available to assist caregivers, including mini health talks on topics important to caregivers.

For more information on caregiving, contact me at or 701-231-5948.

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ND Family Caregiver Supports and Services Study

What is North Dakota doing to address the needs of family caregivers of older adults? Take a look at the final report of a five-month long study on family caregiver supports and services conducted by NDSU Department of Human Development & Family Science and NDSU Extension Service.

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