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Dr. Stephen Bavolek

Dr. Stephen Bavolek spoke about his Nurturing Parenting curriculum at several Bay Area events last week.

NORTH BEND — Other people’s family problems may be costing you money.

If you run a business, some of your employees are spending their work time worrying about their abusive relationships, their children’s drug problems, or their impending court dates.

As a measure of just part of the problem, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that domestic violence causes a loss of 7.9 million paid work days every year in the United States. The lost productivity is valued at $727.8 million.

Family dysfunction also might be causing some of our nation’s expensive bad health, says the CDC. The 1995-1997 Adverse Childhood Experiences Study in San Diego linked childhood abuse and neglect with physical health problems later in life.

So what could you do in your business to improve the lives of children and their families?

The Nurturing Community Coalition is a local consortium of schools, agencies and individuals trying to improve the quality of family life on the South Coast. The group brought Dr. Stephen Bavolek, an expert in family psychology, to address the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Bavolek described the principles of “Nurturing Parenting,” his curriculum that has been adopted by numerous agencies and the U.S. military to help families change their lives.

Abuse and neglect can be taken for granted by children, parents and society. Though commonplace, they aren’t natural, Bavolek said.

People are born with empathy, the ability to understand other people’s feelings and form nurturing attachments. It’s only through abuse and neglect that children develop their own ability to abuse and neglect other people.

From repeated mistreatment, children learn behaviors that help them survive. But outside of the abusive situation, the behaviors manifest as misbehavior, crime and self-destruction.

That’s why, when parents are at risk of losing their children, a brief parenting class won’t help them. Instead, people who have difficulty parenting need to be “re-parented,” Bavolek said.

Young parents often say, “I know I don’t want to do to my kids what my parents did to me,” but they don’t know what to do instead.

“I can’t tell you what to do, but I can give you some new experiences,” Bavolek said.

Bavolek hopes to surround families with “a culture of nurturing.”

“It’s not something you do, it’s who you are,” he said.

Some of the elements of a nurturing culture would be:

- Allowing children to form healthy attachments, not shuttling them through a series of caregivers.

- Teaching children not just to “say no to drugs,” but to “say yes” to positive influences.

- Finding alternatives to corporal punishment.

- Having appropriate expectations of children — not requiring them to parent their parents.

- Not squelching children’s expressions of power and independence. “How can you say no to drugs if you can’t say no to Mom and Dad?” Bavolek asked.

- Not supporting undesirable behaviors such as addiction and hyperactivity.

- Continuing to educate teens with difficult behaviors rather than allowing them to fall out of the system.

Bavolek’s Nurturing Parenting curriculum is already in wide use with at-risk families. But Bavolek would like to see entire communities adopt the principles so that nurturing principles are supported everywhere children go.

That’s why, when the Nurturing Community Coalition agreed to champion that idea on the South Coast, Bavolek agreed to supply the curriculum materials for free.

Businesses might get involved by adopting family-friendly personnel policies and benefit plans; by donating to community events that encourage nurturing family life; even by introducing products and services that families need, such as child care, health care, education and recreational facilities.

Bavolek didn’t bring a list of action items to Wednesday’s chamber meeting.

“No one’s telling anyone what to do,” he said later.

Instead, he said, the NCC wants to get people thinking, “What can I do in my own sphere of influence?”

Business editor Gail Elber can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 234, at gail.elber@theworldlink.com, or on Twitter at @gailtheworld.

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