Professor Peggy Vaughan
Defining and Studying Families
� Welcome and overview of class
� Expectations and your role in the class: health and safety
� Preview of syllabus and attendance/participation.
� Discussion of overarching concepts, questions and approaches.
� Reliance on the case study approach for thinking of children in
the family context
� Role of course theory and vocabulary: Family as a system and
family concepts (structure, processes, themes, rituals, tasks,
boundaries, resilience, etc.).
� Family worksheet: Defining family and families;
� Family structure and equations
§ Actively listen
§ Focus on health and safety
§ Bring your voice and ideas into the “room”
§ Ask questions
§ Engage with others in breakout groups
§ Share perspectives and experiences
§ Develop ideas; deepen and expand your vocabulary
§ Be skeptical; write and think critically
§ Analyze cases, interventions, theories and research
§ Review theories, models and, research and family programs
§ Consider all viewpoints
§ Share and discuss current events and stories that resonate with Family and
§ Recommended Class Text: E-Book is on Reserve via Healey
§ F. Walsh, Ed. (2015). Normal Family Processes: Growing
Diversity and Complexity. Some chapters will be required, but
you can access via Healey or the class Blackboard.
§ Note a supplemental text will be referred to in class.
§ Handbook of Family Theories: A Content-Based Approach. M.A. Fine,
M.A. Fine & F.M. Fincham, Eds.(2013). This is an e-book on reserve
via Healey Library
§ Other required and recommended articles, book chapters,
and readings will be posted and available on the class
� Your definition of family and your family themes
� Review of course theory, models, and key vocabulary in the study
� The concept of family well being
� The continuously “new normal” for families and family processes
� The realities of Covid-19 and systemic and other forms of
racism, oppression and marginalization.
� Ecological theory and ecocultural theory: the child in context;
neurobiology and family processes.
� Family Research: Studying families/family psychology in the
context of diversity and will full representation of lived the the
broader field of psychology.
� Research trends: family structure
� Theory: A set of hypotheses or assumptions about behavior or
development. In research these help to define, describe and
predict behavior. In the study of children and families, areas of
focus can be:
� Child and family interactions and processes
� Influences on development
Why will we
theories as well
as the growing
� Overarching Theories or Models: Presenting a set of diverse
� Ecological and Ecocultural/Sociocultural Theories
� Ethnotheories and the Developmental Niche
� Indigenous theories
� Sociohistorical views
� Psychodynamic views
� Theories assists with analyzing, discussing and developing
deeper understandings of family life and family processes.
§ What is family well-being?
§ What are we learning in real time about family life and the
capacity to adapt in 2022 and going forward?
§ How important are safety and survival?
§ Who are the helpers and who has given support to families?
§ How are children being impacted both short and long term?
§ A framework for understanding how various aspects of a culture
guide the developmental process by focusing in on the child as the
unit of analysis within his or her unique sociocultural context.
§ The social construction of family normality or the
typical functional family: A broad spectrum
§ Varied conceptions based on culture,
subjective/personal experience and/or professional
or research focus.
§ “Normal” families from a set of perspectives;
§ Normal as problem-free (asymptomatic)
§ Normal as average
§ Normal as healthy
§ Normal in relation to basic transactional processes in the family
§ Psychologists and providers can provide education and
guidance to couples and families, reassurance that there are
multiple “right” ways to raise children (and some wrong ways
too) and assistance in finding a workable balance for their
particular family given their specific environmental
§ Psychologists and providers who work with postmodern
diverse families may also increase their client’s comfort and
trust with simple vocabulary substitutions that replace terms
like “normal” or “pathological” with “functional” or
§ As a result of unprecedented social changes fueled by rapid
technological advances, the increasing diversity and
complexity of families represent a new “normal,” whereby the
contemporary American family is a “locus not of residence, but
of meaning and relationship” (Walsh, 2012, 2015).
§ The magnitude of the sociocultural changes in recent decades,
however, seem to require a more extensive paradigm shift that
considers multiple levels of the family system and
acknowledges that healthy functioning will depend
fundamentally on what works in the context of larger societal
and cultural systems the family lives in.
§ How relevant are the models and theories? Are some aspects of
� Varied family forms
� Varied gender roles and relationships
� Growing cultural diversity; multicultural society
� Increasing socioeconomic disparity, even prior to the pandemic
� Refugee and immigrant families – addressing trauma and supporting
� Varying work and parenting roles
� Varying and expanded family life course
� Varying experiences in terms of bias and discrimination
� Protective and safety measures as a focus
§ Within a family-systems framework, families are defined as
complex structures consisting of an interdependent group of
individuals who (1) have a shared sense of history; (2) share
emotional ties to one another; and (3) devise strategies for
meeting the needs of individual family members and the group
as a whole.
(Anderson and Sabatelli, 2011, p.3)
� Themes are those elements of family experience that become the
organizing principles of family life, including both conscious and
unconscious elements as well as intellectual (attitudes, beliefs,
values) and emotional aspects.
� Themes are linked to identity tasks as well as family and ethnic
� They are also linked to expectations of how family members are
supposed to interact with each other.
� Defining families, family life and family diversity
� Family structure; family processes; the family as a system
� Well-being of children in the family context; role of
prevention and intervention
� Developmental stages of family including childhood
periods and the stages of parenting
� Family life cycle; processes over time: Focus on change,
transition, stress, adaptation, resilience
� Family intergenerational themes
� Family case histories, issues, and special topics
� What types of family difficulties, strengths, and
questions might one study in the field of family
psychology and family science?
� Is it possible to study “the family” and the child in the
family context without bringing a bias to that
� What is reflected in the idea that in U.S. society and
many other societies and cultures have broadened
and extended the acceptance of partner identities
and roles for coupling, marriage and parenting?
� What do we mean by family processes? How do we
measure and conduct research about these processes?
� What do we mean when we say that we are defining and
redefining family in terms of function and/or in terms of
� Why do family psychology students, psychologists,
providers, and broader communities care about families?
� How can we mindfully think about culture and diversity in
families and family life?
§ Child Perspectives – the daily life of a child in the family
§ Care-receiving, guidance, protection, learning rituals, and rules,
and family beliefs, etc.
§ Caregiver Perspectives – the daily life of the family
§ Caregiving, guiding, providing protection, and monitoring
� Can children experience stress?
§ Support from neuroscience research
§ providing supportive and positive conditions for early
childhood development is more effective and less
costly than attempting to address the consequences of
early adversity later.
§ Effective policies and programs…
§ identify and support children and families who are
most at risk for early intervention
§ reduce or avoid the need for more costly and less
effective remediation and support programs down the
§ Source: Center on the Developing Child: Harvard University
n Learning how to cope with adversity is an important part of
healthy child development.
n When we are threatened, our bodies activate a variety of
n increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones such
n Chronic stress can be toxic to developing brains
n When strong, frequent, or prolonged adverse experiences such as
extreme poverty or repeated abuse are experienced without adult
support, stress becomes toxic.
§ Science shows that providing stable, responsive, nurturing
relationships in the earliest years of life can prevent or even
reverse the damaging effects of early life stress, with lifelong
benefits for learning, behavior, and health.
Dr. Jack Shonkoff: Center for the Developing Child
§ Critical importance of early care and intervention as needed
for healthy development and positive outcomes.
§ Impact of stress on the child: neurologically and
§ Family processes are influenced by our physiology and
our neurobiology: the areas that we focus on are the
body, the brain, relationships, and context.
§ Essentially, neuroscience, specifically “interpersonal
neurobiology” shows that we are wired for relationships
§ Social rejection, loneliness, stress and trauma impact the
brain and the immune system.
§ Emotion and cognition are essential to understand
others and the human experience.
§ Resonance, empathy and attachment are influenced by
hormones such as oxytocin.
§ The science of behavior and the mind.
§ Behavior: observable actions of a person or an animal.
§ Mind: individual’s sensations, perceptions, memories, thoughts,
dreams, motives, emotional feelings and other subjective
§ Science: all attempts to study and answer through the systematic
collection and logical analysis of objectively observable data.
§ A field or discipline
§ As a field of research, psychology is primarily interested in the
study of normal behavior.
§ As a practice or profession psychology requires specialized
training linked to understanding behavior and treating or
helping those in need.
§ Developmental and family psychology: focused on the
behavior and needs of children and families
§ Child as part of a developing system
§ Family Psychology: Division 45 of the American Psychological
§ The Society for Family Psychology is an APA division that provides a
home for psychologists interested in families in their many forms.
Clinical, scientific, educational, and public policy perspectives are
well represented. (Source: apa.org)
§ Family Psychology Students
§ learn methods for how to care for and treat families as well as the
children and individuals within the family context; focus on safety
and well-being in the context of family life.
§ acquire skills and knowledge about theories and topic areas such
as family rituals and parenting, family and couples therapy, and
family conflict and violence.
§ In the United States, it is now possible for a person
eighteen years of age, female as well as male, to
graduate from high school, college, or university
without ever having cared for, or even held, a baby;
without ever having comforted or assisted another
human being who really needed help. . . . No society
can long sustain itself unless its members have
learned the sensitivities, motivations, and skills
involved in assisting and caring for other human
§ Micro: Family, child care and school settings
§ Meso: The Child’s neighborhoods and communities;
recreational and other settings such as religious, medical,
social service settings
§ Exo: Encompasses media, government, industry, and the
§ Macro: Included the dominant societal policies and ideologies
that impact home and community
§ Chrono: Includes the environmental events and transitions that
occur throughout a child’s life, including any sociohistorical
§ Child-centered theories; family theories
§ Family also has a developmental pathway
§ Intergenerational and mutigenerational
§ Ecological view has the child at center influenced by
systems at various levels.
§ Micro, Exo, Meso, Macro, Chrono
§ Bioecological Model: Adaptation of Bronfenbrenner’s
original model: a theoretical model of gene–
environment interactions in human development.
(Proposed by Urie Bronfenbrenner and Stephen J.
� Parents/caregivers use caregiving practices that evolve from
their cultural heritage and beliefs.
� Caregivers adapt to changing social practices and economic
demands that push into the family from the outside
� Children gain social and other competencies by participating
in daily routines structured by adults within the home.
(Super & Harkness, 2002; Weisner, 2005).
§ Parent-child relationships: through infancy, early and middle
childhood and into adolescence
§ Sibling relationships and family life
§ Attachments in the family system context
§ Discussion of essential concepts and family vocabulary for the first
§ Family research methods and strategies
§ Family theories and models
§ Discussion of overarching family theories; role of intergenerational
transmission, societal ideas on families; and parental and child
§ Note: we will review formats for brief clinical and other case study