Psychology: The Basics of Family

In psychology a family consists of at least two people related by blood, marriage, or adoption. It seems like families have changed quite a bit over the last 20 years, including increasing numbers of single-parent families, gay marriages, and blended families of divorce. A lot of marriages end in divorce, so children are learning to manage two sets of parents, half-siblings, and split holidays

The McMaster model of family functioning breaks down seven major components of, you guessed it, family functioning:

  • Problem solving: The family’s ability to resolve issues and maintain family functioning.

  • Communication: The clarity and directness of information exchange in a family. You knew this one was coming.

  • Roles: The different behaviors and responsibilities of each family member in terms of meeting basic needs, performing household tasks, and providing emotional support and nurturance.

  • Affective responsiveness: Each family member’s ability to express and experience a range, intensity, and quality of emotions.

  • Affective involvement: The family as a whole’s interest in the values, activities, and interests of others.

  • Behavior control: The rules and standards of conduct.

  • Overall family functioning: A family’s ability to accomplish its daily tasks across the other six areas. If you had to give your family a grade, what would it be?

Three ways to parent

Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist, took on the task of trying to boil down parenting into something a little more manageable. She came up with three main parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive:

  • Authoritarian: These parents are rigid and dictatorial. Some kids feel like prisoners in their own families; parents are overly strict and don’t listen to what the children have to say. They’re like the drill sergeants of parenting. What they say goes, and there’s no discussion about it. Unfortunately, all that toughness tends to backfire.

    Authoritarian parents tend to have children that are either overly passive or excessively rebellious and sometimes hostile. These parents can learn a lot from the next style of parenting.

  • Authoritative: These folks tend to approach parenting with a more democratic style. Parents from previous generations often criticize how “today’s” parents try to reason with their children too much. “What that kid needs is a good spanking!”

    Authoritative parents listen to their children and allow them to have input, while maintaining parental authority and control. Children seem to thrive in this environment, and they tend to act more sociable, feel more capable, and be more well-adjusted in general as they grow up.

  • Permissive: There are two types of permissive parents:

    • Indulgent: Indulgent parents are involved with their children but shy away from control, authority, and discipline. They sometimes even enable their children to engage in questionable behavior because they don’t want to alienate their kids.

    • Indifferent: These parents are neglectful due to a range of possible factors, including career obsession, drug abuse, or self-centeredness. Whatever the reason some people adopt this style, permissive parents tend to have children who report feeling ill-equipped to deal with the demands of growing up.

Sibling rivalries

Siblings have a powerful effect on a person’s development. They create a family environment that would be very different without them. Siblings are also good sources of friendship, companionship, and affection. Sometimes they can even be role models. Here are three other distinct functions that siblings provide for each other:

  • Mutual regulation: Acting as sounding boards and testing grounds for new behavior, like practicing a break-up speech before delivering it to an unsuspecting sweetheart

  • Direct services: Easing household burdens and sometimes providing practical support, such as rides, help with homework, or fashion advice

  • Support: Helping each other in times of need by forming alliances and sticking together

Many people are familiar with sibling rivalry and discord. Research shows that the most common negative qualities associated with siblings are antagonism and quarreling. Some people think that the fighting goes away as people grow older, but the truth is that the basic emotional character of sibling relationships remains pretty stable over time. Interactions can change, but the feelings remain much the same.

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