Nurturing Empathy: The Transforming Power of Parent Support Groups

What if every parent nurtured the emotional needs of their children to fully develop trust, empathy, resilience, and joy?

Photo of Lysa Parker
4 7

Written by

Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

When API’s founders became mothers for the first time, they realized they were totally unprepared and quickly overwhelmed. They met each other at a mother-to-mother breastfeeding support group that radically changed their lives. They discovered the power of parent-to-parent mentoring, support and guidance to be transformative. During this time, they began reading numerous books and research studies on attachment theory, child development, psychology, books by Dr. Alice Miller, Margaret Mead's work in anthropology and David Reiss's research in genetics, all supported the revised Nature AND Nurture theory. New studies on the developing brain were just beginning to make the mainstream media. All of this science was supporting the empathic, responsive care of infants and young children as critical for their optimal physical and emotional development. This confluence of exciting scientific studies combined with their personal experiences inspired them to create a grassroots nonprofit organization that offered a similar support group model for parenting that would be open to all mothers, fathers and caregivers. The science was also important to share with parents and professionals who were less likely to have access. Under the guidance of the founders, the organization created The Eight Principles of Parenting designed to promote empathic parenting principles and practices, rooted in science, to shift societal focus to the development of healthy parent-child relationships.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)

Website

http://www.attachmentparenting.org

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Tennessee

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Nashville

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Tennessee

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

New York, NY, Austin, TX, Nashville, TN, Huntsville, AL, West Los Angeles, CA, Westwood, CA, Los Angeles, CA, Sacramento, CA, Roseville, CA, San Francisco, CA, Fresno, CA, Searcy, AK, Atlanta, GA, Colorado Springs, CO, Parker, CO, Jacksonville, FL, Tampa, FL, Maui, HI, Champaign, IL, Napierville, IL, Elgin, IL, Park Ridge, IL, Schaumburg, IL, Lafayette, IN, Dyer, IN, DesMoines, IA, Iowa City, IA, Topeka, KS, Louisville, KY, Ringwood, NJ, Camden County, NJ, Hastings, NE, Greenville, NC,

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Parents face a lack of concrete support systems and social connections, research-informed information in child development, paid parental leave, and informed caregiving. Well-educated and undereducated adults alike lack an understanding of children’s emotional needs and normal development which negatively impacts their parenting skills and responses to their children, all contributing factors to child abuse. These problems persist due to strong cultural beliefs, practices based on misinformation, poor role-models, lack of strategic, cohesive efforts by political, business and community leaders, and a societal focus on remediating problems rather than on prevention. Our grassroots network of support groups provide a proactive optimal start approach and safety net for parents in their communities where they can learn new information and be supported and validated in their new skills.

API’s solution to help children grow up with sense of self, purpose, and belonging is to empower parents through high-quality support networks that provide evidenced-informed information, encouragement in their parenting journey, and positive parenting practices known to foster early secure attachment--all implemented through a 22-year-old proven sustainable grassroots, cost-effective, peer-to-peer modeling strategy.

In API’s design, self-identified community change agents/volunteers are trained and accredited to lead local parent support groups of the peers. The accreditation process consists of applying for leadership, providing recommendations from peers, reading relevant science-informed materials, corresponding with a director of leader applicants, demonstrating a basic knowledge and understanding of attachment theory, some experience with attachment-focused parenting, group facilitation skills, and the ability to make referrals to local professionals when needed. API’s innovation of The Four P's of Innate Needs: Proximity, Protection, Predictability and Play along with the Eight Principles of Parenting have guided parents since its inception: 1) Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting, 2) feed with love and respect, 3) Respond with sensitivity, 4) Ensure safe sleep, 5) Use nurturing touch, 6) Provide consistent, loving care,  7) Practice positive discipline, and 8) Strive for balance in family life. All of the principles are designed to foster empathy, trust, joy, and affection within the family. 

As part of their community, support group leaders provide free face-to-face support groups and make long-term investments to institutionalize support and resources in their community. Groups meet monthly or more often for support, activities, outreach and to grow together as a supportive tribe or community.

API continues to provide support and resources to every group and every group leader. API also encourages and provides continuing education to the accredited leaders. API recognizes that leaders themselves need support so programs such as periodic conference calls, an online forum, a listserve or one-on-one support provide avenues for supporting the leaders. This approach values the importance of local, in person support in a world of online communication, however online communication is used as reinforcement and a motivator to participate in local communities.


API’s model is cost effective and poised to saturate communities because of the benefits of technology, highly skilled volunteers, and strong knowledge and commitment by local Leaders to foster a new parenting mindset. API’s model is long-term, focused on prevention and generational change toward greater peace and compassion. Children grow to be their healthiest when they're enveloped in loving, predictable, securely attached relationships with their parents and caregivers as well as trusted adults in their communities. API is leading an effort to provide all parents, caregivers and professionals the information and support necessary to perpetuate a positive ripple effect into communities, through society and ultimately, around the world.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • No, not explicitly

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded

1994

Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Kendra shared her story of how attending her local API support group impacted her parenting: “These women understood firsthand the importance of attachment. Like me, they lacked a secure attachment with their own mothers. We needed Attachment Parenting International (API) to lead the way for us. We needed API to validate what we felt in our hearts, yet had no model of our own. We needed API to give us permission to trust ourselves. Their support proved to me the importance of interacting with other parents who could relate to my experience. After moving, I completed my [leadership] training and started [a group] API of Iowa City because the next group was two hours away. My fire is fueled by others who...need tools to cope as a parent.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

API’s impact through its network is challenging to assess without additional funding, and estimated to be greater than what we have collected. A current study at Southern Methodist University is examining the impact of practicing attachment parenting. A past study of 176 parents in API groups found positive relationships between knowledge of attachment parenting, number of meetings attended, quality of childhood, quality of relationships with parents, and overall parenting attitudes (r=-.29 to .47). These findings are indicative of our work last year in our 80 active groups, 250 Leaders and applicants, hosting 1000 free support meetings, playgroups and events for 12,000 individuals. More than 90 testimonies on Guidestar described how API positively changed families and children’s development. In addition, API reached 150,000 on social media and spent 27,000 hours addressing questions.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $50k - $100k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

API’s model is free of charge to parents so that all parents may be served. As such, group attendance and publications have no cost. Financial sustainability is achieved through a large network base and volunteer staff, as well as income through Leader accreditation fees and group fundraising returns, grant writing and fundraising, planned giving, affinity, affiliate, and giving programs, sponsorships and selective advertising opportunities.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Children’s attachment quality and well being is being addressed largely by fee-for-service treatments or classes that serve as a remedy rather than prevention Our innovative approach can begin even before pregnancy and extends throughout the early years of life. We offer not only parent support but we are beginning to offer structured classes that include an overview of attachment theory, brain science and practical strategies related to the Eight Principles. These classes will feed into existing support groups. Many parenting classes don't offer on-going support for new parenting skills.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Improving our understanding of the emotional needs of children, support groups, parenting classes and paid parental leave will vastly improve child well-being. Shifting our attitudes to respect for children’s emotional needs that are rooted in empathy will transform how we interact with our children. Exciting, new scientific evidence in neuroscience and epigenetics, informs us as to what the developing brain needs and that our genes are not our destiny. Neuroscience is teaching us that we can tame our negative emotions through mindfulness, and become more in tune with our parenting instincts.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 33.3%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 0%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 33.3%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 33.3%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 0%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 33.3%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 33.3%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 33.3%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 33.3%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 33.3%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 33.3%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 33.3%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 33.3%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 33.3%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 100%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 50%

4 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Lacy Stephens
Team

Hello Lysa, 
What a fantastic and impactful approach to improving child well being and strengthening families. I am wondering if there is any strategic outreach to low income communities. It seems that the approach would be particularly valuable and empowering to parents in under served communities. Wishing you continued success in this important work.   

Photo of Lysa Parker
Team

Thank you Lacy. Yes, outreach to low income communities is definitely part of our strategic plan as we scale up.  An integral part of that plan includes more formalized parenting classes then identifying and training graduates of the classes to facilitate a support group in their community. 

View all comments