Family processes affect a child's development.

How Do Family Processes Affect Child Development?

by Sandra L. Campbell

Let's be honest. When you're raising a preschooler or toddler, it doesn't come with a “how-to” book, and even if it did, every family unit is unique. A stable, strong family is crucial to the development of a healthy child. Parents who create safe home environments make it possible for a child to develop positive, emotional bonds with adults and sustain a strong sense of self. But, what happens when the family unit breaks down? Not every family can solve their issues in 30-minute increments, like some of our favorite iconic sitcoms. When family processes such as mental illness, poverty and poor parenting skills do occur, they undercut family stability and a child's development.

Maternal Depression

Mothers work hard, both in and outside the home. Taking care of children can be overwhelming, especially when you are mothering young toddlers and preschoolers. Sometimes when the pressure is too much, women can experience depression, which can impact the normal development of a young child. In fact, according to a 2009 article, “Maternal Depression and its Relation to Children's Development and Adjustment,” young children of depressed mothers are two to three times more likely to develop a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar and experience difficulty functioning. A mother struggling with depression may not be as attentive to her toddler as she would be under normal conditions. In a child this young, inattentiveness can cause fussiness, less responsiveness to the environment, and increased stress hormones. As a result, the child may encounter a host of developmental issues such as lack of focus, impulse control, and problems with learning as they enter preschool. A good way to combat the impact of depression on your preschooler or toddler is to offer guidance and counseling, not only for mother and child, but for the entire family.

Low Socio-Economic Status and Poverty

Money issues can strain any hard-working family. When parents are hit with financial insecurity, children experience the stress, too. This can impact your toddler or preschooler's development in so many ways. A young child can experience feelings of isolation and loneliness as she watches a parent struggle to make ends meet. Additionally, parents dealing with money issues or extreme poverty may lack the resources needed to purchase basic staples for their children, such as clothes, health care and after-school activities. This is hard on everyone in the family and can create a sense of resentment and anxiety in the child, not to mention feelings of hopelessness. Additionally, financial stress can also impact a child's coping capabilities. However, if a toddler or preschooler has a stable family, such as positive parental relationships and good mental health, the outcome for a child's development is much better, even if there are financial difficulties in the home.

Parental Conflict

What couple doesn't fight? Well, when moms and dads fight, it can affect a child's development. Arguments and long-term dissension can make a difference in a young child's well-being. At this crucial age, a preschool child exposed to conflict in the family on a regular basis may be at risk of developing mood and anxiety disorders in the future, along with experiencing problems with cognition and poor academic performance in secondary school. Parental conflict can also cause a child to “act out” through disobedience and aggression because the child has no outlet in which to address his feelings, such as temper tantrums and fights with other kids. Family therapy usually works best in this situation because the parents and child can discuss issues in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

Poor Parenting Skills

Parents do the best they can to love and support their children. But, in some situations, parents may lack the skills to give their young preschool children what they need to develop appropriately. Children who experience early neglect and trauma as a result of poor parenting skills have significant problems in development. For example, physical and sexual abuse can produce extreme trauma in a child. In a University of Michigan study reported on in August 2012, children aged 4 to 6 who experienced domestic violence had higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. If this kind of trauma or neglect occurs during the preschool years, when a child is developing her personality traits, it can lead to developmental delays in learning and inappropriate behavioral issues like aggression and sexual behavior. Parents without proper child-rearing skills or social supports may not be able to address child traumas in a timely manner, and because of this, a young preschooler or toddler may be at risk for developing attachment disorders. What is an attachment disorder, you ask? Well, attachment disorders occur when a child is unable to form safe, emotional bonds with the parent or guardian. There is a silver lining though: if a parent receives the right support, counseling and skills training, a child can avoid developmental issues like conduct disorder, poor socialization and mental illnesses.

About the Author

Sandra Campbell is a writer, actor and corporate language trainer. She has taught ESL courses for adults and children and was honored with language trainer of the year in 2006. Campbell self-published “A Practical Guide to Learning American English” in 2010. She also writes screenplays, articles and poetry and has performed in film and theater productions.

Photo Credits

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