2012 References, Resources and Research

Parents need more support, not more information blog post

Benefits and characteristics of social support

Mutual support, in the case of API “parent-to-parent” support, is the psychological process of giving and getting help that fosters a sense of trust, belonging and community; creates opportunities for catharsis, confession, and supportive criticism; encourages role modeling; and teaches by example effective coping strategies (Levine & Perkins, 1987). Research confirms that this powerful reciprocity creates a “safe and supportive” setting for parents, youth and children to deal with the underlying psychological issues and social factors impacting their feelings and behaviors (Maton, 1988)

The positive consequences of social support, as manifested in the literature, are “personal competence, health maintenance behaviors, especially coping behaviors, perceived control, positive affect, sense of stability, recognition of self-worth, decreased anxiety and depression, and psychological well-being” (Langford, Bowsher, Maloney, and Lillis 1997)

One description of a mutual help support group for parents is described as a “series of groups developed to provide a support network in which parents develop additional resources, strategies and emotional armor to deal with day-to-day challenges, learn better parenting practices and prevent crises” (Zlotnick, Wright, Cox, Te’o, & Stewart-Felix, 2000).

Shulman (1992) presented nine dynamics of mutual aid and their relevance in group practice.
1.       sharing data,
2.       allowing a dialectic process for debate or the exploration of differences,
3.       openness to the discussion of topics and issues that are taboo,
4.       discovery of commonality and shared feelings among members of the group,
5.       mutual support through caring about members of the group,
6.       mutual demand or the expectation that members of the group will work on their problems,
7.       applying individual problem solving in a way that is meaningful for the entire group,
8.       relying on the group as an arena for rehearsing new ways to communicate or behave,
9.       gaining strength from others in the group (Steinberg, 1997).

Empowerment is an approach in social work practice that works to achieve a more positive or potent sense of self,  knowledge and a capacity for comprehension of one’s political and social environment, and a functional competence to work toward personal and collective goals (Beck, 1983; Lee, 1996)

Self-help success related to creation of a social network, change in role from helpee to helper, sharing of coping behaviors, presence of role model, and existence of a meaningful group structure. (Carpinello, S., Knight, E., & Janis, L. 1992)

Support groups can be a way for mothers to share their experience during the process of becoming a mother. New mothers, especially those who are frustrated with mothering tasks, may not feel alone when they know that other mothers experience similar feelings (Aston, 2002). Child-care skills and management of interpersonal relationships can be discussed in support groups.(Cheng et. al. 2006)

By providing emotional support, companionship and opportunities for meaningful social engagement, social networks have an influence on self-esteem, coping effectiveness, depression, distress and sense of wellbeing (Berkman & Glass, 2000).

Social support appears to exert a protective function against depression primarily through the mediation of self-efficacy (Milgrom, Martin, & Negri, 1999; Teti & Gelfand, 1991) and “promote[s] a positive self-evaluation in parenting…mediating the stress of the experience” (Reece, 1993).

A comprehensive meta-analysis of the effects of parent support  programs found that programs with stronger effects on children’s social and emotional development provide opportunities for parents to meet together and provide peer support (Goodson, 2005)

Peer support is a way for people to come together with shared experiences and the intention of changing unhelpful patterns and moving beyond their perceived limitations by building relationships that are respectful, accepting and mutually responsible (Macneil & Mead, 2003).

Perceived sameness and the process of social comparison allow people to exchange practical information about ways of coping  with challenging life situations. Thoits (1986) described the way in which self-help group members possess a knowledge of the 24-hour-a-day reality of a condition that others simply do not possess.  Our interviewees frequently mentioned this practical exchange: It just-it’s just nice to talk to somebody, you know, like if you don’t know what to do and you want to find out what other parents are doing, how they handle certain things at home mainly. (Summers et al., 1989; Taylor et al., 1990; Thoits,  1986) A Multi-site Evaluation of Parent to Parent Programs for Parents of Children With Disabilities

Examples of the kind of practical information parents shared  included suggestions about behavior management, toilet training, and what to expect at the next stage of child development. It is this exchange of practical information that may account for improvement in participants’ coping efficacy.  (Summers et al., 1989; Taylor et al., 1990; Thoits,  1986) A Multi-site Evaluation of Parent to Parent Programs for Parents of Children With Disabilities

Perceived sameness makes information more credible.  Highly believable information may account  for the improvement in participants’ coping  efficacy.(Summers et al., 1989; Taylor et al., 1990; Thoits,  1986) A Multi-site Evaluation of Parent to Parent Programs for Parents of Children With Disabilities

Parents who used parent peer support groups for non-emergency help in this study benefited from contacts with other  parents by (a) feeling better able to cope with  their child and family situation, (b) feeling better able to view their family and personal circumstances in a more positive light, and (c) helping the parents make progress on goals that are important to them.  (Summers et al., 1989; Taylor et al., 1990; Thoits,  1986) A Multi-site Evaluation of Parent to Parent Programs for Parents of Children With Disabilities

Links between parent social support, stress and child outcomes

Unfortunately, a poll conducted by Building Strong Families found that parents often “go it alone.” That is, they do not regularly seek support from family, friends, or community resources. However, research shows that having a network of support helps to strengthen families, and having support from others is associated with positive outcomes for both parents and children. (Assets Alliance 2003)

Evidence links the adequacy of social support to amelioration of developmental crises and to the attenuation of stress effects (Gottlieb, Note1) including the stressful life event of childbirth.It is reasonable, then, to propose that availability of social support will facilitate responsive mothering, particularly under stressful conditions, and thereby encourage secure infant-mother attachment. The apparent impact of support and stress on infants and mothers suggests again the necessity of considering the social context when attempts are made to understand development (Bronfenbrenner 1979).

The combination of social support and secure attachment exhibited the lowest anxiety levels after stress (interaction effect) with social support alone reducing cortisol responses to stress. http://portal.uni-freiburg.de/psychologie/abteilungen/psychobio/team/publikationen/JPsychosomRes-08.pdf

The adequacy of the mother’s social support is clearly and consistently associated with the security of the infant-mother attachment. (Crockenberg 1981)

Peer support decreased not only the number of mothers who were potentially experiencing major PPD but also those with probable minor PPD.  The effect of peer support on postpartum depression: a pilot randomized controlled trial
Mothers were much more likely to respond to an increase in job stressors by withdrawing than by becoming more irritable. Both mothers and independent observers described mothers as more behaviorally and emotionally withdrawn (e.g., less speaking and fewer expressions of affection) on days when the mothers reported greater workloads or interpersonal stress at work. Job stressors may have their strongest impact on the daily parenting behavior of mothers who generally experience higher levels of emotional distress (depressed or anxious mood) and, in particular, mothers who report more Type A behaviors.  Effects of daily stress at work on mothers’ interactions with preschoolers.

The AAP encourages pediatricians to parents to resources to buffer stress:  Children’s social, emotional, and physical health; their developmental trajectory; and the neurocircuits that are being created and reinforced in their developing brains are all directly influenced by their relationships during early childhood. The stresses associated with contemporary American life can challenge families’ abilities to promote successful developmental outcomes and emotional health for their children. Pediatricians are positioned to serve as partners with families and other community providers in supporting the well-being of children and their families. The structure and support of families involve forces that are often outside the agenda of the usual pediatric health supervision visits. Pediatricians must ensure that their medical home efforts promote a holistically healthy family environment for all children. This statement recommends opportunities for pediatricians to develop their expertise in assessing the strengths and stresses in families, in counseling families about strategies and resources, and in collaborating with others in their communities to support family relationships. The Pediatrician’s Role in Family Support and Family Support Programs

Studies have indicated that an accumulation of minor day today chronic life hassles is related to more aversive maternal interactions.  Patterson (1983) showed that days characterized by higher rates of minor stresses impinging on mothers were typified by higher rates of observed coercive behavior and irritability in the mother’s interactions with the children.  There has been increasing evidence supporting the general beneficial impact of social support as a possible protective or buffering influence to counteract the effects of stressful events on parent functioning (Mitchell & Trickett, 19880; O’Connell & Mayo, 1988) (Webster-Stratton 1990)

Analyses indicated that life stress and parenting daily hassles significantly predicted aspects of child, parent, and family status. Hassles, however, proved to be a more powerful stress construct. Further analyses indicated that mothers’ social support moderated the influence of hassles on indices of maternal behavior. The results are discussed in relation to the potential for minor parenting stresses to influence microsocial processes within parent-child relationships and contribute to dysfunction in children and families.(Crnic& Greenberg, 2008)

Changing parenting emotional wellbeing relates to changes in parenting behaviors which in turn is related to child outcomes. (Adam, Emma K., Gunnar, Megan R., and Tanaka, Akiko, 2004)

And why should we care? Why should anyone, in fact, care about our country’s richest, luckiest, most fortunate and highly educated moms in the first place? “We should care,” Luthar said, “because we are the ones raising the next generation of leaders, and if we are so messed up, people had better pay attention. If you’re not fed yourself, if you’re not sustained as a mother, how are you going to sustain anyone else? That’s the most worrisome aspect.” Http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/11/30/the-most-troubled-moms/?pagemode=print http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suniya_S._Luthar

In “Who Mothers Mommy?”, Luthar hopes to synthesize all her research since the early 1990s. Ultimately, she believes that inner-city and affluent mothers are in the same boat. “We can ask both sets of mothers, ‘Do you feel truly seen and loved for the person you are at your core?’ How many mothers can answer yes?” http://www.tc.edu/news.htm?articleID=8313

Over the past 30 years investigators have called repeatedly for research on the mechanisms through which social relationships and social support improve physical and psychological well-being, both directly and as stress buffers. I describe seven possible mechanisms: social influence/social comparison, social control, role-based purpose and meaning (mattering), self-esteem, sense of control, belonging and companionship, and perceived support availability. Stress-buffering processes also involve these mechanisms. I argue that there are two broad types of support, emotional sustenance and active coping assistance, and two broad categories of supporters, significant others and experientially similar others, who specialize in supplying different types of support to distressed individuals. Emotionally sustaining behaviors and instrumental aid from significant others and empathy, active coping assistance, and role modeling from similar others should be most efficacious in alleviating the physical and emotional impacts of stressors. Mechanisms linking social ties and support to physical and mental health

The study examined two components of a family support program, a mothers’ self-help discussion group and a parent education group, to determine their effects on social support and parenting stress. Findings suggest that, after three months of program participation, mothers in both groups felt less social isolation and parenting stress than did mothers in the control group. IMPACT OF A FAMILY SUPPORT PROGRAM ON MOTHERS‘ SOCIAL SUPPORT AND PARENTING STRESS

Social support benefits even those who are doing perfectly fine (at the moment!)

Helpers benefit

Those who help others also benefit.  This has been referred to as the “helper therapy principle” (Riessman, 1997).

The benefits from helping others refer to “increased feelings of competence, equality, social usefulness,
independence, and social value” (Roberts, Salem, Rappaport et. al., 1999).

Knowing that helping others is helpful in and of itself.  Helping others also increases one’s confidence and self-esteem. (Riessman & Carroll 1995)

Social proximity generates a positive physiological feedback loop

The experiments I have conducted show that many group activities—singing, dancing, praying—cause the release of oxytocin and promote connection and caring. As social creatures, we have created activities that prompt the expression of oxytocin in order to foster connection to others. In fact, those who release the most oxytocin when they are trusted are happier and healthier because they have richer social lives. “The Trust Molecule” – WSJ article; PJ Zak, R Kurzban, WT Matzner

However, despite the effectiveness of the videotaped format, consumer satisfaction was significantly lower compared to videotape combined with group discussion. Participants in the videotape only condition indicated the lack of personal contact and feedback were undesirable (Webster-Stratton et al., 1988).
Findings suggest that family support services are making a positive difference by creating points of ‘connection’, including opportunities for informal learning and peer-support. We argue that the informal, ‘social networking’ role of family support services should be valued alongside evidence-based parenting training programs.Parent needs and family support service outcomes in a Canadian sample

Survey data were collected on a military sample to test two main hypotheses about the impact of face-to-face and computer-mediated social support following disruptive life events. We tested two main hypotheses: first, as previous research indicates, the impact of a disruptive life event is partially dependent upon the amount of social support one receives during the time of the event (H1). Second, the type of communication used will further impact the effectiveness of social support in comforting individuals following a negative life event. Results support both hypotheses, indicating that the buffering role of social support following a disruptive life event is not only dependent upon the amount of social support one receives, but is further affected by the type of communication that participants used to receive support. The effect of informal social support: Face-to-face versus computer-mediated communication

While we have argued that there may be many advantages to exchanging social support in electronic networks, we are hesitant to speculate whether this kind of support alone may be sufficient for the kinds of known benefits that are associated with traditional social support. Even if information and shared experience exchanged among similar participants may be useful, it may not satisfy other needs often met through FtF support exchange. In regard to off-line interactions, Schwarzer and Leppin (1991) have demonstrated that support relationships may provide both cognitive social support as well as behavioral social support. Wellman and Wortley (1990) found that females tend to exchange verbal and nonverbal messages of emotional support, while males tend to give support by way of doing instrumental activities to assist others. Such emotional support and instrumental activities may potentially be less available through online discussions among relative strangers, no matter what else the benefits might be. ATTRACTION TO COMPUTER-MEDIATED SOCIAL SUPPORT

Social support engagement provides a healthy role model

Early familial processes appear to cast long shadows on perceived support that only become apparent from such a vantage point (Graves et al., 1998).

Family communications theory states that boys particularly use the family unit as social support.  Increasingly population research is describing social support (usually defined as its opposite – social isolation) as a key family stressor alongside parental mental illness, parental substance abuse, home violence, low income and perceptions of a difficult child (Bayer, et al., 2007).