What is the Strengthening Families Program?

The Strengthening Families Program (SFP) was developed in 1982 by Dr. Karol Kumpfer, Ph.D., and associates, with funding from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. It is an evidence-based parenting program designed to help parents and kids develop happier family relationships, improve mental health outcomes, and help decrease youth alcohol and drug use, violence, and delinquent behavior.

SFP consists of a 10- to 14-week*, two-hour skills course with separate parent, teen and child lessons held during the first hour, followed by a family practice session during the second hour. SFP skills are for all families; they are not special skills for deficient families. (In SFP, a “family” is defined as one or more adults responsible for one or more children; a “parent” is an adult with that responsibility.)

It has been updated in recent years and proven effective by families in all 50 states and 38 foreign countries. The following results were found in randomized control trials:


  • Increased family unity
  • Increased positive communication
  • Increased positive parenting skills
  • Improved family management and organization
  • Improved parent/child relationship
  • Decreased family conflict


  • Increased social skills, cooperation and pro-social friends
  • Improved school performance
  • Reduced misconduct and aggression
  • Reduced depression and anxiety
  • Dramatically reduced tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse use

SFP is successful because the lessons are skill-based; and when parents and youth are taught and practice prosocial skill-based lessons together, it changes their brain wiring for the good and improves family dynamics.

An updated SFP version for parents with children from ages 7–17 was created in 2012, with video-clips from the SFP Home-Use DVD. The SFP 7–17 lessons include the following skills:

  1. Daily looking for and complimenting the good; eliminating harsh criticism
  2. Using communication and fun family meetings
  3. Problem solving, win-win negotiation, and pre-problem solving to stay out of trouble
  4. Limit setting and establishing mild, fair, pre-determined consequences
  5. Making family rules and setting up a reward system for good behavior
  1. Reducing stress and using good anger management skills
  2. Setting goals and using contracts for change
  3. Learning how alcohol and drugs hijack the teen brain
  4. Choosing good friends and monitoring kids’ activities
  5. Creating fun family traditions, learning pro-social values, and engaging in service

* Depending on risk factors for the families.

To reduce costs and increase fidelity, a low-cost ($5) SFP 7–17 Years Home-Use DVD was created. It was tested and found effective in homes, schools, clinics, detention centers, and behavioral health home visits (Kumpfer, et al., in review). The low-cost SFP 7–17 Years Home-Use video version features an introduction lesson on how the brain develops, with a mindfulness component to increase emotional regulation, and eleven 30-minute, skill-based lessons with built-in “pause and practice” segments. It includes free downloadable handouts and tracking sheets. It has audio tracks in both English and Spanish. The SFP DVD has been used by families at home and as an adjunct to family classes in schools, family services agencies, homeless shelters, refugee communities, and juvenile courts with very favorable outcomes.

Introduction Lesson (SFP 7–17)

Happy Family – Healthy Brain Connection

Risk and protective factors addressed: family attachment and increased social skills



Parents learn how SFP lessons teach the skills of bonding, boundaries, and monitoring to help families develop happy relationships and keep kids alcohol and drug free; how the brain develops and can be influenced by learning and practice; and the importance of nutritious family dinners to create good brain health and family bonding. Skills include giving positive attention to children during 10–15 minutes of one-on-one play time daily (called “My Time”) and recognizing and replacing Automatic Negative Thoughts.  The skill of mindfulness is also introduced during the dinner portion of SFP—with an optional short dinner-time lesson on mindfulness included in each weekly lesson. Practicing mindfulness exercises has been shown to increase emotional regulation.


These lessons focus on the power kids have to direct the development of their own brains by what they think, say, do, or listen to; eating brain-healthy food and recognizing and replacing Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) to create a healthier brain; and the importance of contributing to happy family relationships. Kids also brainstorm ideas for “My Time.”


Parents and youth join together for the last hour to brainstorm ideas for “My Time,” and each family decides times for holding it. Families decorate a Family Conversation Jar to use during their family dinners and insert question slips from the Conversation Jar handout.  They review the ANTs handout (Automatic Negative Thoughts) to use at home, if needed. Family practice sessions close by all linking arms to form a family circle and repeating the SFP family motto: “We are strong and loving families who take time to bond, set boundaries, and monitor so we become our highest and best selves.”