Transformative group work - Discussing family role changes


This is an exercise from a book to be released in early 2019 - Generative Fathering: Engaging fathers into family based programs - Andrew King, Dr Joseph Fleming and Mohamed Dukuly.

Below is an excellent exercise to facilitate with large groups of refugee men from different nationalities. It is assumed that each cultural group would have an interpreter, so the concepts need to be clear and simple. The use of the chairs throughout this discussion is a multi-sensory tool that deepens the men’s engagement to the topic. The purpose of the exercise is to discuss the challenges of developing a teamwork parenting approach with their partner. It explores how the fathering role had changed throughout their flight as a refugee family.

This exercise uses three chairs to represent children and two other chairs to represent the father and the mother. It works brilliantly in making the ideas clear while discussing the problems of authoritarian parenting vs teamwork parenting. A sixth chair can be used to represent who could provide help or other family members involved. The chairs provide a concrete representation of all the key ideas and made the job so much easier for the interpreters. It was a 45-minute talk that went for 60-minutes, however it could easily go for 2 hours.


Place five chairs in the centre of a large U shape area where the men are seated. The facilitator sits in the end chair (filled dot). From this position, discuss how fathering in Australia has changed in the last fifty years. Highlight that, often as similar to their own country of origin, this was a common family structure in the 1950’s where the man was the head of the house. Comment on how this has changed and how it had a lot of negative impacts on the men, women and children.

Today, the family structure is primarily different. Ask the men in pairs to discuss in their own language how fathering has changed from their own country to here in Australia. Using the interpreters for feedback, discuss comments in the large group. Discuss the challenge of redefining the word ‘respect’. Historically it has been synonymous with the word fear. This needs to change! Respect has nothing to do with fear in all relationships.

Move the chair out the front to the new position. The facilitator sits in this new position (filled dot). Comment that a lot of men in Australia today say that they ‘want to father differently to how they were fathered’. Highlight that this position is about teamwork parenting. Discuss with the group its benefits and challenges.Turn the two adult chairs (at the front) inwards and emphasise that it requires the adults to take time to talk together and have a common plan on how to the children. Discuss the challenges of negotiating this plan, rather than assuming that everyone will behave in a certain way. Emphasize that parents are the most important teachers in their children’s lives and as the father, he plays a critical role! Emphasize again what respect means today in relationships and in parenting children.

Discuss with the men what happens when the parents are emotionally apart due to lack of communication, past expectations or working patterns. Discuss the challenges with this and how the children often take control and may act out in their behaviour or spend a lot of time inside watching TV. Discuss healthy parenting and how the parents can come together to have teamwork parenting discussions. Discuss who in their community can support this.

Sometimes children, especially in refugee families, have an elevated sense of power. The children can act as if they are in charge since they are at school, exposed to new ideas, have a voice and often speak better English than the parents. Discuss with the men the challenge of maintaining the importance of the parents being in charge. Emphasise the problems with using smacking and yelling to control children’s behaviour and how the behaviours just get worse and violence is used by the parents. Emphasise how domestic violence and love are completely opposite. Discuss some alternative parenting strategies that enable the parents to be in charge without using violence.

The facilitator sits in this new position (filled dot) to represent one of the children. Imagine that the three children are aged 4, 9, 14 years and systematically move across the chairs discussing in the group challenges and opportunities for a child of that age in Australia. Try to ensure a balanced view is discussed where the men have greater empathy in how to talk and respond to a child of that age.

In a similar way, the facilitator sits in this new position (filled dot) to represent the mother and their partner. Discuss where experience in Australia. Discuss what is importance for her and the importance of supporting her choices. This is an important and challenging discussion. Issues around domestic violence can be discussed exploring the problem of men assuming how she should act and how this is controlling. Also how overt or covert force is used that is abusive.

Discuss the challenges of family separation that could occur especially if domestic violence occurs in the family. Identify what supports are needed when separation occurs and how his vital role continues even if it changes.

Ask the men in pairs to discuss in their own language how teamwork parenting could occur with their partner. Using the interpreters for feedback, discuss comments in the large group. Discuss who are other family members who may live in the house and their roles. How is that family role respected while maintaining a teamwork parenting approach with the partner.

  Summarise the key points and learning that has occurred from the discussion. Emphasise the important values they bring to parenting and how these values can be passed onto the next generation.

Groupwork Solutions, 2018


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