Family and Systemic Influences on Children

A variety of environments interact to promote children's emotional and behavioural development. Family networks are crucial to those contexts in early life; as children grow, their social worlds extend to include daycare and school settings and ties with friends and classmates. Each of these systems and their interactions inside and among themselves impacts children's developing competencies.

Each is also enmeshed in and influenced by more significant social and cultural factors and differences in access to social and material resources. Ecological development theories emphasise the interaction of these many levels of influence, some closer to the kid and others farther away.

Family Relationships and Parenting

Family connections are complicated because each dyadic interaction is influenced by other relationships in the family system, and children influence and are influenced by those around them. Even very young babies influence the character of interactions with caretakers, and differences in children's temperamental types continue to elicit varying reactions from carers.

Variations of this type indicate inherited features in offspring; in fact, many aspects of family connections and functioning that were initially assumed to be exclusively 'environmental' in origin are now acknowledged to reflect parts of 'nature' and 'nurture'. Children actively shape their settings; their genetic makeup also determines individual differences in susceptibility to environmental effects, contributing to resistance and vulnerability to stress.

Families have physiologically and culturally evolved to foster the development of children. Some of the earliest phases in those processes, such as prenatal and postnatal impacts on neurobiological control and early attachment connections, are covered in depth in other chapters. However, family relationships and parenting have long been linked to the development of children's behavioural control and the management of their attentional, arousal, and emotional systems.

Furthermore, parents contribute to their children's cognitive development, socialise them into culturally acceptable patterns of conduct, support their knowledge of moral principles and the development of their abilities, and choose and ensure their children's access to crucial resources outside the family system.

Successful parenting necessitates a wide range of abilities and talents, which vary according to the child's age, culture, and social situation. Most parenting models emphasise two central dimensions: parental involvement and responsiveness (warmth, availability, positive engagement, and support). The other centred on 'demandingness' or behavioural control, which includes monitoring, expectations, and behaviour management. Combinations of these dimensions have been used to characterise four general parenting styles−

  • Indulgent (responsive but not demanding) − parents are non-traditional and tolerant, allowing for significant self-regulation and avoiding confrontation.

  • Authoritarian (demanding yet unresponsive) − parents are concerned with obedience and status and want instructions to be followed without explanation.

  • Authoritarian (demanding and responsive) − parents exert themselves but are neither invasive nor restricting. Disciplinary procedures are intended to be helpful rather than punishing. Children are supposed to be forceful, socially responsible, and self-regulated while cooperating.

  • Uninvolved (unresponsive and undemanding) Parenting − most of this form of parenting is within the normal range, but it may include both rejecting-neglecting and neglectful parenting under challenging situations.

Parent and Family Characteristics

Some parent and family factors have also been linked to children's likelihood of emotional and behavioural issues. One of the most significant of these is the parents' mental health. These connections may represent heritable influences in part. However, they also appear to be the result of the consequences of parents' mental health problems on marital relationships and parenting in part.

Depressed mothers, for example, are known to be less sensitive and receptive to their newborns and attend to and respond poorly to older children. Parental alcohol and drug misuse and significant mental problems may disrupt parenting in various ways; when parents are antisocial, impacts may also be mediated through the reinforcement of antisocial attitudes and social learning.

Changing Family Patterns

In many Western nations, family formation and stability patterns have changed dramatically in recent decades. Families are being created later and smaller than in the past; fewer parents marry, divorce, and many more women return to work outside the house while their children are still young. As a result, more children today receive out-of-home and other nonparental care in early childhood. Many face family transitions: parental separation and divorce are frequently followed by periods in single-parent households and the formation of new step-families.

Single Parents and Step-Families 

Children in single-parent and step-family households have more significant emotional and behavioural issues than those in stable two-parent homes. However, these benefits are generally moderate, and there is significant diversity within and between family types; connections between the quality of mother-child relationships and children's adjustment are consistent across family situations. Single-parent and reconstructed families may suffer economic challenges and lack social and familial support; moms may also be under more stress. Once these variances are considered, family type demonstrates few consistent associations with children's adjustment.

Parental Separation and Divorce 

When parents’ divorce, most children have short-term behavioural or emotional problems; generally, these disruptions are rarely severe. School performance and motivation may also be impacted, and long-term effects on young people's patterns of relationship formation and stability later in life have been seen. According to research, these responses are not "one-time" impacts of parental separation; many children suffer parental disagreement before their parents separate, and a cascade of additional changes frequently follows divorce. Problematic parent-child relationships may persist, and parents themselves may be upset.

Childcare and Schooling

UK mothers returned to full- or part-time employment before their children became one year old. As a result, grandparents play an increasingly important role in the lives of many young children, and there is considerable interest in the influence of non-maternal care on children's development. According to research, several aspects of early childcare must be considered when measuring its consequences.

Higher quality childcare (containing, for example, differences in sensitive and responsive parenting and cognitive and linguistic stimulation) is linked to advantages in cognitive and language domains, better early academic skills, more prosocial behaviours, and fewer adjustment challenges.

A more significant amount of childcare (in terms of hours per week in nonmaternal care), particularly in the first year of life, is connected with elevated risks of behaviour issues and disobedience. Individual children's sensitivity to non-maternal care will vary, just as it does in family settings; for confident at-risk young children, out-of-home care has been proven to have favourable impacts on behavioural development.


Family and systemic influences on children significantly impact their emotional and behavioural development. Family relationships and parenting are linked to children's behavioural control, cognitive development, and access to resources outside the family system. Parenting styles, mental health, and changing family patterns have been linked to children's emotional and behavioural issues.

Indulgent, authoritarian, and uninvolved parenting have all been linked to children's emotional and behavioural issues. The family type has few consistent associations with children's adjustment, but parental separation and divorce can have long-term effects. Non-maternal care has been linked to advantages in cognitive and language domains, better academic skills, more prosocial behaviours, and fewer adjustment challenges.

Updated on: 09-May-2023


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