Behavior problems in children are not uncommon. Although they have always existed in one form or another, they are receiving much more attention in recent years. There is a diagnostic label for many behavior problems that used to be seen as merely unruly, defiant, disobedient, or overactive behavior. Although the majority of these are rooted in evidentiary science and all warrant attention, the causes of these behavioral disturbances have yet to be fully explored. One theory suggests that a child’s behavior is partly influenced by their family environment. In an effort to understand this relationship better, Kristin M. Lindahl of the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami recently led a study that asked three specific questions:
Do family disruptions and family alliance imbalances lead to maladjusted behavior in children?
Do these imbalances vary in severity for girls and boys?
How do girls and boys react to these imbalances?
Lindahl assessed 270 dual-parent households and grouped them into three types of family alliances, including balanced, disengaged, or parent-child focused (dyadic). She found that all of the children were indirectly affected by imbalances in the family alliances. Youth behavioral and maladjustment issues were higher among the children who came from families with unclear boundaries. The disengaged and dyadic families produced children with the highest levels of maladaptive behavior, implying that parents who are uninvolved or dismissive may be neglecting the emotional needs of their children. The children from highly dyadic family structures may feel stress or guilt over being forced to ally with one parent more than the other or may be emotionally overwhelmed at having to be the strong shoulder for one or both of their parents.
When looking at gender differences, Lindahl found that boys responded more with externalizing behaviors such as anger and hostility, while girls reacted to family imbalance with internalizing behaviors and sadness. She believes that clinicians who specialize in childhood behavior issues should look closely at the family alliance as a contributing factor for such problems. “The findings help target goals for intervention and indicate that worthwhile objectives may include realigning family subsystem boundaries, changing family communication patterns, and improving affective coping skills for youth,” said Lindahl. These coping skills should include stress management, emotional regulation, and adaptation to conflict within the family unit.
Lindahl, Kristin M., Hallie R. Bregman, and Neena M. Malik. Family boundary structures and child adjustment: The indirect role of emotional reactivity. Journal of Family Psychology 26.6 (2012): 839-47. Print.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.