Family Systems Theory
This theory describes the family as a system that consists of interdependent members who interact and respond to each other. Within this system are the influences of the quality of the relationships between parent and child, sibling and sibling, parent and parent, parent and families of origin, grandparents and grandchildren, and parents and coworkers and friends. Within the family system, members are trying to maintain relationships, be supportive, and accommodate needs. When an event occurs to one family member, there will be a ripple effect to other members. This causes stress within the family.
Hill, (1949), uses the ABC-X model to describe the process that occurs when families respond to a change in the family or an external, stressful event. A stressor event occurs (represented by letter A). The level of stress the family experiences (X) is dependent upon the family’s resources (B) for coping with the event and the family’s perceptions (C) of that event. So the level of stress (X) that is triggered by a stressor event (A) varies from family to family depending on the B and C factors.
Parental resources (B) include parents’ abilities and strengths and the resources and strengths of the extended family and community. When these resources are positive, parents are better able to cope with stress, but when these resources are negative or lacking, then families are vulnerable and find coping difficult or impossible, and the family’s functioning decreases. The two most important resources in families are the parents’ marital relationship and support from extended family and the community. When these resources are positive assets, families can cope with any stress as we shall see in subsequent lessons, and when they are absent or negative, families have increased stress. Resources are potential sources of help or hindrance until they are drawn upon. Many families have identical levels of resources, but one family uses them, and another family does not (Brooks, 2013).
Parents’ perceptions (C) of stressor events play a large role in determining parents’ level of stress, especially when it comes to dealing with children’s behaviors. Parents’ perceptions, rooted in their past experiences, their cultural traditions, and family and community expectations, play an especially powerful role in determining the meaning or significance of their children’s behaviors. For example, Asian parents have a favorable view of their child’s shyness, seeing it as a sign of the child’s sensitivity and cautiousness, and so they are positive and supportive of their shy children whereas North American parents view their child’s shyness negatively as it does not meet the culture’s expectation of independence and social outgoingness so they are critical and sometimes rejecting. The children’s behavior is the same, but the parents’ view of it changes its significance (Brooks, 2013).
Cultural traditions, past experiences, and family expectations can also influence the parents’ perceptions of the level of severity of the stressful event. The same event can have different stress levels on two different families depending on those influences. To cope with stress, families have the coping strategies to change the event, change their perception of the event and how to deal with it, or manage their feelings by seeking support emotionally.
Peterson, Hennon, and Knox (2000) use the family systems theory views on stress to understand the stress that parents experience.
They highlight the following three types of stress that parents experience in the process of parenting:
As identified in family stress theory, the most important resources for parents to cope with stress include a secure marital relationship and family and community support. Parents who do not have these supports or choose not to use them will have increased stress. Cultural traditions and family and community expectations affect a parent’s perception of the severity of the stress. Parents cope with stress by direct action to change the situation, using their supports to help manage their feelings and sometimes reframe the stressors to view them as challenges and opportunities to pursue parent education programs.
· Major theories that emphasize both internal and external influences include the following:
Top of Form
o Erikson’s Lifespan of Development
o Piaget’s Constructivist Theory
o Freud’s Divisions of Human Personality
Bottom of Form
“Relations between Physiological and Cognitive Regulatory Systems: Infant Sleep Regulation and Subsequent Executive Functioning,” Child Development 81 (2010): 1739–1752.
Brooks, J. (2013) The process of parenting, 9th Edition. McGraw-Hill Learning Solutions.
Hill, R. (1949). Families under Stress. New York, Harper and Row.
Huttenlocher, P.R. (2002). Neural plasticity: The effects of environment on the development of the cerebral cortex. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lerner, C., & Ciervo, L. (n.d.). Parenting Young Children Today: What the Research Tells Us, Zero to Three (J), 2010-Mar. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ915260
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Peterson, G.W., Hennon, C.B. and Knox, T. (2000). Conceptualizing parenting stress with Family Stress Theory. In McKenry, P. C., & Price, S. J. (Eds). Families & change: Coping with stressful events and transitions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Pollock, L. A. (1983, 1993). Forgotten children: Parent-child relations from 1500 to 1900. Cambridge: University Press.
Smith, A. (2015, April 1). A Portrait of SmartPhone Ownership. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/
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