Co-parenting program encourages dads to read to kids

Trisha Gedon OSU communications
Oklahoma parents who are going through a divorce are required to complete the Co-Parenting for Resilience Program, which is taught in nearly all 77 counties across the state. A new component of the program encourages fathers to read to their children. Oklahoma State University

STILLWATER — What happens when you combine some children’s books with helpful, research-based information and put it all in a fun, handmade book bag made from a recycled T-shirt? Some fathers in Garfield County know the answer, thanks to the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and F.R.E.D., which means Fathers Reading Every Day.

Oklahoma parents who are going through a divorce are required to complete the Co-Parenting for Resilience Program, which is taught in nearly all 77 counties across the state. Lisa Rauh, family and consumer sciences Extension educator in Garfield County, teaches the class monthly, but about a year ago incorporated F.R.E.D. into her regular programming.

Dads who go through Rauh’s class are encouraged to take home a book bag so they’ll have an opportunity to spend quality time when the children are there. In addition to two books, the bags also contain a list of the top 100 books for children, a library card application and library information, a F.R.E.D brochure, a small toy and other useful handouts.

Rauh said research indicates dads who read or tell stories to their kids make a difference that no one else can.

“Children who are read to tend to do better in school. Kids whose dads are caring and involved make better grades,” she said. “In addition, kids whose dads read to them are more creative, read better and simply know more words.”

The book bags are made by local Oklahoma Home and Community Education members, who also work diligently to get T-shirt donations to make the bags, as well as get the books and small toys donated.

“Our co-parenting program provides parents with a variety of strategies and skills they need to help reduce conflict, keep their children out of the middle of their divorce and promote resilience in their children. How parents handle the divorce has a direct impact on their children,” Rauh said. “As part of the name implies, resilience means tough and able to bounce back, and that’s what we want the children of class participants to experience. Divorce is tough on everyone involved and children often have a difficult time adjusting to this new situation.”

Something else Rauh stresses in her class is participants use the term co-parent instead of ex-husband or ex-wife. Children need two parents who are actively involved and using the term co-parent is more positive.

Unfortunately, in some cases of divorce, fathers sometimes become less involved in their children’s lives. The Co-Parenting for Resilience Program helps show both parents how important it is for them both to stay involved.

Scott, a father of two young boys, said he appreciates the information he received in the co-parenting class.

“I think this class has really been beneficial to me and it’s important to follow the guidelines we’re learning,” Scott said. “Despite all of the circumstances, it’s important for our children to have a good relationship with me and my co-parent.”

Clay, who shares equal custody of their teenaged daughter and elementary school-aged son with his co-parent, said he definitely sees the point of taking this class.

“I’ve really gotten some good pointers regarding things I hadn’t thought of before,” he said. “Even if I learn just one thing, I still walk away with something more than I had before now.”

Rauh said she gets positive feedback about the class itself, as well as the F.R.E.D program.

“Feedback from class participants indicates F.R.E.D. has helped dads improve relationships with their children and become more involved in their education,” Rauh said. “It’s good to know we’re making a difference.”

Regardless of the reason for a divorce, co-parents must always remember their children need both parents.

“I hope when they leave this class, the parents realize the impact of their actions has a direct effect on their children,” Rauh said. “Hopefully what they’ve learned will help make the transition to co-parents much smoother.”

In 2015, 425 Co-Parenting for Resilience classes were taught in 58 of the 77 counties across the state. Nearly 2,500 co-parents attended the in-person classes, with another 322 completing the online class. For more information about the Co-Parenting for Resilience Program, contact your local OSU Cooperative Extension county office.