From family deficit to family strength: viewing families' contributions to children's learning from a family resilience perspective.
Home and school
Parent-student counselor relationships (Research)
Resilience (Personality trait) (Research)
Education (Parent participation)
Amatea, Ellen S.
|Publication:||Name: Professional School Counseling Publisher: American School Counselor Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409|
|Issue:||Date: Feb, 2006 Source Volume: 9 Source Issue: 3|
|Topic:||Event Code: 310 Science & research|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
This article presents an overview of a research-informed family
resilience framework, developed as a conceptual map to guide school
counselors' preventive and interventive efforts with students and
their families. Key processes that characterize children's and
families' resilience are outlined along with recommendations for
how school counselors might apply this family resilience framework in
Over the past two decades, the relationship between families and schools has been debated in the field of education. This ongoing debate has begun to refocus attention from looking for family deficits to looking for family strengths contributing to children's learning. Moreover, educators have shifted their attention to finding ways to actively support families' efforts to prepare their children for school success instead of interacting with families only when children are experiencing school difficulties. This change in thinking about the family-school relationship refocuses a long-standing overemphasis on pathology and an outdated assumption that the family causes a child's educational and/or mental health problems.
From this family resilience perspective, the family-school relationship becomes a collaborative one in which the educator recognizes that successful interventions to enhance children's learning depend more on tapping into a family's resources than on specific change techniques. As a result, assessment and intervention efforts are redirected from looking at how children's learning problems are caused to looking for family strengths, or resiliencies, that can be employed to resolve a child's problem. From this positive, future-oriented stance, educators and family members work together to find new possibilities for growth and to overcome impasses to children's learning and development.
A family resilience perspective considers each interaction between home and school as an opportunity to strengthen a family's capacity to overcome adversity and successfully rear its children (Walsh, 1998, 2003). Two basic premises guide this resilience theory approach. The first premise is that while stressful crises and persistent economic, physical, and social challenges influence the whole family and its capacity to successfully rear its children, key family processes mediate the impact of these crises and the development of resilience in individual members and in the family unit as a whole. A second premise is that while family processes mediate how children are prepared to participate in school, these key family processes can be strengthened by the way the school responds to families. As the family becomes more resourceful, its ability to rear its children is enhanced. As a result, each family-school intervention also can be a preventive measure.
There is now a considerable volume of research describing the key processes that families display in rearing children who are educationally successful. The purpose of this article is to present a family resilience framework based upon an overview of this research. Our main question is, "What do families do to prepare children to be academically successful?" This information is of value to school counselors for several reasons. First, it can counter many of the stereotyped descriptions of family structures, lifestyles, and customs depicted in the mass media. Second, it can help counselors understand how families teach children to be successful in school. Third, it can help counselors design interventions that foster families' capacities to prepare academically successful children.
CHANGING RESEARCH PERSPECTIVES
Prior to 1980, researchers (Hetherington, Featherman, & Camara, 1982; Jencks et al., 1972) examining the family's influence on children's learning typically employed a deficit-based lens. These researchers, who took a family structure perspective, believed that only one type of family structure--the two-parent intact family with a stay-at-home mother--was "normal" and had a positive effect on children. These researchers assumed that the major source of youths' needs and academic problems was their location in particular family groups with one or more of the following structural characteristics: (a) divorced parents, (b) a working mother, (c) a missing or absent father, (d) a young mother, (c) a poorly educated mother, (f) recently migrated to an American city, (g) racial or ethnic minority, (h) living on a limited income, or (i) residing in a depressed, inner-city neighborhood. Illustrative of this approach have been studies examining the effect of the presence or absence of fathers from the family on children's school performance (Herzog & Sudia, 1973; Kriesberg, 1967; Moynihan, 1965).
Though this research is voluminous, efforts to predict students' academic achievement based on family socioeconomic status or family structure configuration have been only moderately successful. Analyzing 101 different studies of this kind, White (1982) reported that only 25% of the variance in student school achievement could be accounted for by family socioeconomic status or family structure configuration. Despite this modest success, research on family socioeconomic status and structure has been used to confirm many of the stereotypes and misconceptions appearing in the popular media about the negative influence on children of being in low-income, non-White, or single-parent family structures.
In the 1980s, a number of social scientists (Clark, 1983; Dornbush, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleigh, 1987) began to challenge this perspective. Noting that little attention had been paid to studying what actually happened in the daily lives of low-status families, or considering how the surface characteristics of family structure or status (e.g., two-parent or one-parent) might be shaping the actual behaviors and daily lives of family members, these researchers noted that family structure researchers had no means to explain the differences in student achievement within a social group. This criticism was eloquently expressed by Clark: "Of the many studies that have shown a statistical correlation between background, life chances, and life achievement, few seem to explain adequately the fact that many youngsters with disadvantaged backgrounds perform very well in school and in later life" (p. 18).
In the past decade, a family resilience perspective has begun to characterize the view of many family process researchers studying families' contributions to their children's school success (Bugental, Blue, & Cruzcosa, 1989; Edin & Lein, 1997; Furstenberg, Cook, Eccles, Elder, & Sameroff; 1999; Murry et al., 2002). Believing that no one model of optimal family functioning fits all families or family circumstances, these researchers believed that a family's functioning should be assessed in context, relative to the family's values, structures, resources, and life challenges. Many of these researchers have now explored how families demonstrate resilience and competence in raising successful children despite being challenged by severe economic strains. For example, Edin and Lein, in their interviews with 379 low-income single mothers, identified families living in extreme poverty and deprivation who demonstrated surprising resilience and creativity in building strategies to help their children overcome poor life conditions. Even with low incomes and the struggles of getting and keeping public assistance, a high proportion of these economically disadvantaged families were able to keep their children in school, live in their own homes, and engage their children in developmentally appropriate activities (Furstenberg et al.).
Researchers and practitioners from a variety of disciplines have made a concerted effort to define and understand family resilience (Conger & Conger, 2002; McCubbin, Bailing, Possin, Frierdich, & Bryne, 2002; Queiro-Tajalli & Campbell, 2002; Walsh, 1998, 2003). McCubbin and McCubbin (1996), for example, developed a Resiliency Model of Family Stress, Adjustment and Adaptation, in which they depicted the protective role that particular family characteristics play in facilitating a family's recovery from stressful life experiences. In contrast, Conger and Conger conceptualized family resilience in terms of specific processes--such as the development of close and supportive family ties--that evolve over time in response to a family's specific context and stage of development. Similarly, Seccombe (2002) identified resilient families as having clear-cut expectations for their children, creating routines and celebrations, and sharing core values. Synthesizing this literature on family resilience, Walsh (1998, 2003) identified nine key family processes contributing to family resilience within three domains of family functioning: the family's belief systems, organizational patterns, and communication processes.
As a result, a volume of research using either the family process or the family resilience perspective has now been conducted generating a rich picture of how families of varying social backgrounds influence their children's school lives (Bempechat, 1998; Clark, 1983; Crouter, McDermid, McHale, & Perry-Jenkins, 1990; Dornbush & Ritter, 1992; Eccles & Harold, 1996; Kellaghan, Sloane, Alvarez, & Bloom, 1993; Lam, 1997; Snow, Barnes, Chandler, Goodman, & Hemphill, 1991). We now know that the particular ways that family members interact with their children are much more powerful predictors of children's school achievement than family status variables (e.g., income, parental educational level) or family structure variables (e.g., intact or divorced family) alone. Walberg (1984), for example, found that while only 25% of the variance in student reading achievement was explained by social class or family structure configuration (e.g., intact or divorced family), 60% of the variance in reading achievement was explained by the particular interactions that family members engaged in with their children.
KEY FAMILY RESILIENCE PROCESSES
A consistent picture is now emerging that reveals how the families of high-achieving students interact with their children to prepare them to be successful in school. These families demonstrate remarkably similar processes of family life contributing to children's academic success, which we have organized into four domains: (a) the family's beliefs and expectations, (b) the family's emotional connectedness, (c) the family's organizational style, and (d) the quality of family learning opportunities. These family processes, outlined in detail in Table 1, appear to operate in a synergistic fashion; one alone is not sufficient to positively influence student learning. A thorough description of these key processes follows.
Family Beliefs and Expectations
Across socioeconomic levels, family members of" high-achieving students demonstrate a distinctive pattern of beliefs and expectations characterized by (a) a strong sense of purpose, (b) a positive outlook, and (c) a high level of personal efficacy (Bugental et al., 1989; Clark, 1983; Edin & Lein, 1997; Jackson, 2000; Murry et al., 2002).
Sense of purpose. Researchers report that the parents/caregivers of high achievers have a strong sense of purpose and demonstrate in their own lives the necessity of setting goals, committing themselves to meet these goals, and persisting at difficult tasks (Clark, 1983; Edin & Lein, 1997; Furstenberg et al., 1999; Jackson, 2000). Parents also expect their children to set goals for themselves and to work hard to achieve these goals (Clark; Coleman et al., 1966; Crosnoe, Mistry, & Elder, 2002; Eccles & Harold, 1996; Marjoribanks, 1979; Snow et al., 1991). This expectation for purposeful action is delivered several ways. First, parents frequently talk with their children about future life goals and the necessary steps to getting there. They encourage their children to dream, to make plans for the future, and to seek "a better life." Second, they frequently use themselves as reference points, repeatedly emphasizing that their children should try to do better in educational and occupational attainment (Eccles & Harold). Third, these parents teach their children how to set goals and act purposefully by systematically stressing that their children commit themselves to purposeful schooling. A number of studies have confirmed this relationship between parental expectations and students' school achievement (Clark; Coleman et al.; Crosnoe et al.; Eccles & Harold; Marjoribanks; Snow et al.).
Positive outlook. Families of high achievers think optimistically about their life circumstances, and they teach their children to think optimistically--viewing adverse circumstances as providing an opportunity to learn. For example, low-income mothers with optimistic outlooks use more supportive and involved parenting practices (Edin & Lein, 1997; Furstenberg et al., 1999). Despite severe financial pressures, mothers who are optimistic about the future and have a greater sense of perceived control report fewer psychological and physical symptoms and engage in more effective parenting practices including consistent discipline, monitoring, problem-solving, and inductive reasoning (Bugental et al., 1989; Murry et al., 2002). Other researchers also have reported that when optimism and collective efficacy are present in low-income families, children perform much better in school and are much more likely to go on to college and improve their life opportunities (Crosnoe et al., 2002).
Recent research exploring how parents teach children to be optimistic and how optimism correlates with psychological resilience confirms the power of families to instill psychological resilience (Aspinwall, Richter, & Hoffinan, 2001; Seligman, 1991, 1996). Seligman (1991), for example, introduced the concept of "learned optimism" to depict the process by which people learn how to resist the potentially harmful effects of stressful experiences. In summary, families of high-achieving children teach their children firsthand about the personal roadblocks one may confront and strategies for circumventing these roadblocks through encouraging pep talks about education and by providing clear suggestions that children invest time and energy in school-related tasks (Clark, 1983; Furstenberg et al., 1999; Jackson, 2000; Orthner, Sampei, & Williamson, 2004).
Sense of personal efficacy. Families of high-achieving students demonstrate a proactive stance toward life tasks and challenges (Bugental et al., 1989; Eccles & Harold, 1996; Furstenberg et al., 1999; Jackson, 2000; Machida, Taylor, & Kim, 2002; Sigel, McGillicuddy-Delisi, & Goodnow, 1992). Rather than become discouraged and immobilized by stresses and difficult life challenges, family members "rise to the challenge." They are confident about their ability to succeed. This "can do" attitude shows itself in several ways. First, parents have positive expectations about their relations with teachers and other members of the community (Eccles & Harold). Rather than believe that the school has all the responsibility for educating children, these parents believe that they should actively work alongside the school in developing their children's talents (Clark, 1983; Furstenberg et al.). Hence they engage in home learning activities to help their children gain a general fund of knowledge and they assist them in developing literacy skills needed for school. In addition, these parents visit the school and routinely monitor (and are emotionally supportive of) their children's involvement in school assignments and other literacy-producing activities.
Second, parents attempt to develop their child's sense of personal efficacy by actively encouraging the child's persistence and performance in the face of difficulty or challenge (Clark, 1983; Eccles & Harold, 1996; Scheiler & Carver, 1992). This is done in three identifiable ways. First, parents frequently enjoin their children to take charge of their life by conveying an attitude that their child should "get up and do something for yourself." Second, parents actively bolster their child's feelings of self-competence and sense of hope when facing difficult circumstances. Third, parents in these families routinely take time to teach their children how to persevere in the face of difficulty and how to evaluate their personal responsibility for their own circumstances. They often emphasize how to appraise what is possible to change and what is not. When students fail in a task or goal pursuit, parents offer reassurance and consolation. They try to teach the students to place failure in the appropriate context so that self-blame is avoided. Parents routinely reaffirm their children's self-regard and sense of adequacy (ability) by verbally stressing their self-worth and importance to the family and repeatedly telling them they are deeply cared for (Clark; Furstenberg et al., 1999; Jackson, 2000; Orthner et al., 2004).
Bempechat's (1998) research underscores this pivotal role that parents play in encouraging children's persistence and performance in the face of difficulty and challenge. Investigating parents' influence on low-income fifth and sixth graders' attributions for success and failure in mathematics, Bempechat discovered that not only were poor, minority parents involved in their children's education, but high-achieving students, regardless of their ethnic background, credited success to their innate ability and effort and tended not to blame failure on lack of ability. Hence we can conclude that parents' motivational support for children's learning is crucially important, particularly the subtle messages that parents convey about children's ability to persevere, in the face of stress or failure, in learning and mastering new skills.
Family Emotional Connectedness
The families of academically successful students view their family as a source of mutual emotional support and connectedness. Family members value spending time with each other both to celebrate good times and to provide emotional support, approval, and reassurance in bad times (Orthner et al., 2004; Wiley, Warren, & Montanelli, 2002), and they engage in open, emotional sharing (Conger & Conger, 2002), clear communication, and collaborative problem-solving (Cox & Davis, 1999). As a result, children in these families are taught how to express themselves emotionally, how to calm themselves when stressed, how to resolve conflicts and engage in collaborative problem-solving, and how to take responsibility for their own feelings and behavior rather than blame others when experiencing personally demanding situations.
Emotional warmth and belonging. Families of successful students demonstrate high levels of warmth, affection, and emotional support for one another. These families sustain emotional connections with each other through promotion of shared family rituals, family celebrations, spiritual connections, and traditions (Clark, 1983; Crosnoe et al., 2002; McCubbin & McCubbin, 1996; Orthner et al., 2004). Clark, for example, described how the simple family rituals of hair grooming and styling, nail cutting and polishing, bathing and massaging, dancing and singing, storytelling, television watching, grocery shopping and cooking favorite foods, serving and eating meals, and joking sessions as well as family celebrations served as vehicles for family members to share affection and "good times." These also were excellent situations for (a) verbally validating the child's importance as a person; (b) expressing to the child that he or she is loved, appreciated, and understood; and (c) soothing, reassuring, guiding, and protecting the child (Wigfield, Eccles, & Rodriguez, 1998; Wiley et al., 2002). In addition, family members regularly offer practical and emotional support during crisis periods and provide a reliable support network. Researchers (Garmezy, 1981; Snow et al., 1991) have determined that the emotional climate of the home, particularly adult approval of the child and the child's training in independence skills, strongly contributed to the development of children's self:esteem as well as to their achievement motivation.
Open, emotional sharing. Families of successful students have frequent nurturing conversations in which children receive affirming messages about their strengths and uniqueness (Conger & Conger, 2002). In addition, family members show empathy for each other and make themselves available for emotional support during crisis times (Conger & Conger; Conger & Elder, 1994). Moreover, family members view each other as capable, competent, and basically healthy in mind, body, and spirit (Orthner et al., 2004; Wiley et al., 2002). Parents recognize and respect the individual strengths of each child and convey positive verbal and nonverbal (symbolic) evaluations about the child (Clark, 1983; Edin & Lein, 1997; Seccombe, 2002). The sum of these family evaluations forms a self-image that the child perceives, internalizes, and ultimately identifies with.
Clear communication. These families use clear communication in their interactions with each other. There is consistency between what is said and what is done. In addition, they discuss personal fears, stresses, criticisms, complaints, and other feelings with each other rather than censoring such topics from conversation. Moreover, adults attempt to clarity, ambiguous situations to children, explaining their own expectations or feelings in terms that children can understand, and encouraging children to express their own fears and feelings and to have a voice in family decision-making and problem-solving (Conger & Conger, 2002).
Collaborative problem-solving. A spirit of family togetherness and support is nurtured in the families of successful students through positive communication and shared problem-solving and conflict management (Clark, 1990; Conger & Conger, 2002; Cox & Davis, 1999). Family relationships are not highly conflictual. Instead, parents keep a degree of control and maintain a reasonably cooperative, consensus-based relationship with their children by encouraging a generally pleasant mood in the home and not allowing the parent-child affectional bond to deteriorate into irreparable discord and hate (Clark). This is accomplished by engaging the child in regular communication rituals and traditions that involve verbal comforting, praising, hugging, kissing, smiling, showing, helping, instructing, questioning, and responsive behaviors. Researchers (Edin & Lein, 1997; Orthner et al., 2004; Seccombe, 2002) have consistently observed that, even when facing difficult financial circumstances, resilient families exhibit confidence in their ability to problem-solve, and to pull together and depend on each other.
Family Organizational Patterns
Academically successful children tend to come from families that are clearly organized, and in which role relationships of family members are appropriate and well defined. Parents assume an active leadership role in forging a strong caregiver alliance within the family, in developing cooperative relationships with and between their children, and in developing a strong social support network with extended family and community members (Conger & Conger, 2002; Edin & Lein, 1997; Furstenberg et al., 1999).
Strong leadership and clear expectations. There are distinctly different role expectations and power differentials for parents and for children in the families of successful students (Clark, 1983; Conger & Conger, 2002; Edin & Lein, 1997; Furstenberg et al., 1999). Parents define themselves as having the primary right and responsibility to guide and protect their children's academic and social development. In addition, there is a strong alliance among those family members making up the caregiver alliance defining who is in charge and with what responsibilities. Adults in the family and community communicate regularly and consistently about their expectations concerning children's behavior (McCubbin & McCubbin, 1996). There is a low level of conflict between caregivers and between children and caregivers. Instead, children accept their caregivers' decision-making authority across a diverse array of activity contexts.
Firm but friendly parenting style. One of the most striking features in the families of high achievers is the parenting style demonstrated. Parents know where their children are and take a strong hand in structuring the child's time. They set deft nite and consistent time and space limits on children's behavior while in school and outside of school (Clark, 1983; Crouter et al., 1990; Steinberg, Lamborn, Dornbush, & Darling, 1992). Children have a routine daily and weekly schedule--which includes certain before-school activities, after-school activities, evening activities, and weekend activities--through the childhood and teenage years. Parents carefully set rules defining "socially acceptable" out-of-home environments and activities for their children based on their perceptions of the quality of the out-of-home environment and their assessment of the child's level of development or maturity. Yet they also attempt to make these expectations reasonable to their children rather than merely announce them and demand obedience (Clark; Dornbush & Ritter, 1992).
This style of parenting, labeled authoritative by many researchers, has been reported to be strongly associated with high levels of social and academic achievement in children by a variety of different researchers (Baumrind, 1973, 1991; Dornbush & Ritter, 1992; Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, Mounts, & Dornbush, 1994). For example, using data collected from 7,836 students ages 14 to 17 and 2,996 parents, Dornbush and his associates explored how student academic performance was related to particular parenting styles differing in terms of parental warmth and demandingness (i.e., authoritarian parents were high in demandingness and low in warmth, authoritative parents were high on both dimensions, permissive parents were high in warmth and low in demandingness, and neglectful parents were low on both). They discovered that low grades were associated with authoritarian and, to a lesser extent, permissive and neglectful parenting styles, while authoritative parenting was associated with higher grades. Although there were some differences in the strength of these patterns across ethnic groups, these patterns were consistent across diverse family structure (i.e., for biological two-parent, single-parent, or stepfamily structure), student age, and family social class for African-American and non-Hispanic White males and females, and for Hispanic females. In contrast, Asian students of both sexes reported their families to be higher in the index of authoritarian parenting and lower in the index of authoritative parenting. For these students, while authoritarian parenting was strongly associated with lower grades, the correlations of grades with both the authoritative and the permissive parenting styles were near zero. Moreover, for Hispanic males, authoritarian parenting showed almost no relation to grades.
These research findings reveal that we do not fully understand the relationships between parenting styles and academic achievement in certain ethnic groups. However, one pattern that appears to have broad applicability is that authoritative parents--who exercise their authority over their children by clearly and regularly delineating their standards and rules for their child's conduct, yet also attempt to make these standards reasonable to their children--tend to raise children who are successful in school. Perhaps this is because children who understand what to do at home find it easier to understand and follow the instructions and requirements of adults at school.
Strong social network. The parents of high-achieving students intentionally develop relationships with staff at their children's school and show great concern about the school's effectiveness/success in educating their children (Eccles & Harold, 1996). They visit the school, even when not invited by the school, ostensibly to check on their child's progress. They actively advocate for assessment of their children's needs and provision of necessary educational opportunities for their child. These families also work to build strong social support networks in their extended family and in their community to help them in rearing their children. In these social networks, other siblings, neighbors, and friends are actively solicited by parents to keep an eye out for their child (Barber & Eccles, 1992; Ensminger & Slusarcick, 1992). Obviously, the effectiveness of this strategy depends on clear, consistent communication between the parents and these surrogate authority figures (Salem, Zimmerman, & Notaro, 1998). Yet these perceptions of community social support appear to be a powerful source of strength for low-income families. When the interpersonal connections in a neighborhood are strong, parents are more likely to get their children into organized programs and, in general, to feel safe about being part of the community (Conger & Conger, 2002; Furstenberg et al., 1999). Moreover, this sense of safety and belonging significantly enhanced parents' perceptions of efficacy and, in turn, their parenting practices (Jackson, 2000).
Family Learning Opportunities
The influence of family functioning on academic achievement is most apparent in looking at how families develop particular in-home routines to support their children's learning. Not only do parents engage in frequent conversations with their children about their current school performance and monitor their children's performance, parents also organize and delegate tasks and duties in the home to teach specific academic and interpersonal skills (Clark, 1983, 1990; Eccles & Harold, 1996; Sui-Chu & Williams, 1996; Wigfield et al., 1998). These activities may range from parents' deliberate instruction of their children through games, to monitoring homework and their child's use of free time, to reading and storytelling or other literacy-enhancing activities. In addition, these parents often engage their children in household maintenance and leisure-time activities from which the children learn diligence, independence, and commitment. In each of these types of home learning activities, parents create a positive affective experience for their children by providing them with frequent, verbal support and praise and giving them regular, explicit feedback.
Development of family routines that support achievement. The families of high-achieving students expect to be actively involved in their children's learning (Eccles & Harold, 1996; Sui-Chu & Williams; 1996; Wigfield et al., 1998). With younger children, parents often use learning activities that involve sensory simulation, learning by rote, sorting, classifying, and memorizing. During the child's older years, parents instead try to discover the child's interest, encourage learning by doing, and systematically help their children to draw upon their past experience to solve current problems (Clark, 1983; Eccles & Harold). In addition, in these families, caregivers often offer explicit social skills training by grooming their children to handle themselves in socially complicated situations. Finally, in the families of high-achieving students, homework and study are regularly performed, almost ritualistically, and are generally done in the early evening hours (Clark; Snow et al., 1991). In these families, the student is expected to accept responsibility for completing homework assignments and to devote sufficient time and energy to successfully complete school assignments. Yet the parents believe that it is their responsibility to see that homework gets done and to guide their children's study efforts until they see that the children can operate self-sufficiently.
Explicit skill instruction. Parents of high-achieving students are very conscious of how they design learning opportunities for their children by the way they delegate tasks and duties in the home (Taylor & Dorsey-Gaines, 1988). Such home activities might be divided into two general categories: (a) those deliberate activities believed to lead to specific information, knowledge, or academic skills; and (b) those activities that family members engage in for enjoyment yet are an occasion for indirect educational instruction. Home tasks are also occasions in which parents teach their children leadership skills, time management, money management and budgeting techniques, reading skills, and skills in troubleshooting and problem-solving. For example, prior to asking a child to assume a leadership role, a parent might carefully organize and clearly explain the children's roles and functions for particular activities in ways that the child perceived as legitimate. This type of routine leadership role enactment enables the child to develop greater skill in accepting and meeting adult expectations, while learning to adjust to a more expansive variety of role responsibilities (Clark, 1983; Conger & Conger, 2002; Crosnoe et al., 2002).
COUNSELORS' APPLICATIONS OF A FAMILY RESILIENCE PERSPECTIVE
For school counselors, a critical first step in applying a family resilience perspective is to become conscious of the biases and expectations we bring to understanding how families influence children and how counselors and other school staff can influence families. Often educators have been guilty of making sweeping generalizations about family functioning based upon family structure or status explanations. For example, a strong line of research depicts how teachers differentially explain children's classroom behavior or academic performance based upon whether they live in a single-parent or two-parent family (Santrock & Tracy, 1978). If counselors can help their colleagues move beyond explaining children's school success based on a structural status that is unalterable (such as being poor, or belonging to a stepfamily or a single-parent family), and instead look at the particular family beliefs and interaction patterns that contribute to student success, counselors and other staff might be more motivated to help families develop these success-enhancing beliefs and patterns.
Specific ways that school counselors can help their staff rethink and reorganize their ways of engaging parents by emphasizing family strengths fall into three primary categories: consultation with teachers and other school personnel, school-wide preventive programs, and direct service to specific children and families.
We believe that a family resilience perspective is an essential tool for helping teachers and administrators to think more positively about the role that families play in their children's schooling and, as a result, to redesign their usual family-school practices so that the strengths of families are recognized and optimized. However, redesigning family-school practices to be more responsive to families' strengths is not without its challenges. Schools have not had a history of soliciting families' involvement in positive ways. Instead, the school has contacted parents only when their child was experiencing difficulty. As a result, parents across the socioeconomic spectrum expect that any invitation from the school will be "bad news" about their child. Moreover, parents often view the school problems their children experience as negative reflections on their parenting skills or as signs of future difficulty for their children over which they have little or no control. Parents also may be experiencing stress in other areas of their fife, and already feel like a failure, to which their child's difficulty in school represents yet another failure. In addition, some parents may have had bad school experiences themselves and may have mixed feelings about interactions with school officials. As a result, parents often are reluctant to come to school or to seek special services out of the belief that they will be judged as disturbed or deficient and blamed for their child's problems (Carlson, Hickman, & Horton, 1992; Comer, 1984; Leitch & Tangri, 1988).
Research has shown that those parents who do become actively involved in their children's education do so because of their own personal beliefs about what they are supposed to do to help their children succeed in school and their sense of efficacy for doing so rather than because of specific invitations or demands made by the school (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler, 1997). Not surprisingly, parents with greater financial resources and education are more likely to report being actively involved in their children's education (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1997) than those with limited resources. The challenge for school counselors, therefore, is to help their staff rethink their ways of engaging parents in their children's education and schooling.
School-wide preventive programs focus on changing existing patterns of family-school interaction as well as of intrafamily interaction. Most schools typically have engaged either in large-scale, formalized contacts with parents such as "back-to-school night" or brief; problem-focused parent-teacher conferences or special education placement conferences. Neither of these modes of interaction offers an opportunity for authentic dialogue or trust building between school staff and students' families or recognizes the strengths that families bring to their children's educational process. In recent years, several schools (Amatea, Daniels, Bringman, & Vandiver, 2004; Delgado-Gaitan, 1991; Weiss & Edwards, 1992) have redesigned these common family-school routines so as to both recognize families' contribution to their children's learning and increase families' opportunities to foster such learning. In these schools, rather than simply trying to "get parents involved," school staff used the family-school relationship to meet specific educational goals, solve problems, and celebrate their children and their achievements.
These school staffs actively searched for opportunities for parents, students, and staff to interact with one another in ways that emphasized the family's involvement in children's planning, decision-making, problem-solving, and learning. They did this by embedding a collaborative focus into a variety of different school events (e.g., orientations, classroom instruction, homework routines, celebrations, presentations of new curricula, transitions to new grade levels and programs, and procedures for home-school communication and for resolving difficulties). For example, in one such event, the studentled parent conference, students share their school progress (academic and behavioral) and develop a plan together with their parents for how they can move forward. These conferences are designed to supplant the traditional parent-teacher conference in which the teacher is central and the student is usually not in attendance. This new format demonstrates an approach to cooperative planning and problem-solving in which students and parents are encouraged to communicate in a respectful and cooperative manner (Amatea et al., 2004).
School-wide preventive programs also can aid in the identification of those families who are in need of more intensive assistance. School counselors also can use a family resilience perspective when providing direct services to families whose children are struggling in school or are dealing with other problems that negatively impact their child's learning. Bemak and Cornely (2002) have described families who are difficult for schools to reach as marginalized and those who are comfortable with schools as integrated. Marginalized families are not likely to participate fully in school-wide preventive programs, and when they do, problems may arise. Therefore, school staffs need different approaches to reach out to marginalized families. Solution-focused, strengths-based family counseling and consultation methods offer an important tool for work with these families (Amatea, 1989; Bemak & Comely; Kraus, 1998). Strengths-based approaches are focused toward (a) identifying assets, resources, and abilities and then directing these resources toward change; and also (b) developing assets, resources, and abilities in an effort to bring about solutions (Lyons, Uziel-Miller, Reyes, & Sokol, 2000). For example, Echevarria-Doan (2001) and Doerries and Foster (2001) have proposed strengths-based models of consultation with families.
The following sections describe specific strength-based counseling strategies that counselors and other school staff can use to enhance family resilience processes, particularly in marginalized families.
Family Beliefs and Expectations
Rather than judge some families effective and others flawed and deficient in their manner of parenting their children, it may be more useful to attempt to understand families in terms of the stressful life conditions they operate in, the style of parenting and of family-school interaction that they have learned from their own family, and the ways of handling stress that they develop. Family members need to be viewed as intending to do their best for one another and as doing the best they know how to do. Parents also need to be viewed as experts on their children. Nicoll (1997) recommended that in order to avoid making parents feel as if they are summoned to the school to be told what they are doing wrong, counselors should shift the tone of parent-school interaction by emphasizing a systemic perspective in which "no one is to blame but everyone is responsible."
One way that parents' sense of efficacy in rearing their children can be fostered is by developing a set of shared beliefs that help family members make sense out of stressful, challenging situations involving their child or their larger life context. To eliminate helplessness around these stressful events and to build mutual support and empathy, school staff should first encourage families to share these stories of adversity openly and without judgment. To facilitate a positive outlook and provide a sense of purpose or value, counselors can reframe these difficult situations as shared challenges that are comprehensible, manageable, and adaptable. For example, when a family is experiencing divorce, children may act out at school. The custodial parent may be unsure how to manage his or her child's emotional reactions and behavior and be ashamed of the divorce. Often it is helpful, before discussing ways to respond to the child's increased emotionality, to hear what the parent is experiencing and affirm the parent's concerns and commitment to his or her child.
Contextualizing family members' distress as natural or understandable in a crisis or stressful situation can soften family members' reactions and reduce blame, shame, and guilt. Drawing out and affirming family strengths in the midst of difficulties helps to counter a sense of helplessness, failure, and despair and reinforces pride, confidence, and a "can do" spirit. In evaluating family strengths, educators may find parents' ideas and theories about child management of particular interest. Examining parents' beliefs allows us to understand the motivation underlying their behavior. These ongoing conversations may reveal whether a parent believes that he or she is an important and capable facilitator for the school success of the child. By ascertaining the parent's beliefs about parenting efficacy, counselors and teachers can redirect or highlight parenting behaviors that promote children learning at home. If parents report low parenting efficacy, school staff can identify strengths unseen by parents and suggest ways that parents already help their children.
Counselors also can help teachers bolster families' efforts to persevere in their efforts to overcome barriers and to focus their efforts on setting goals and accepting that which is beyond their control. Central to this issue is how an educator can build parents' self-efficacy. Seefeldt, Denton, Galper, and Younoszai (1998) reported that parents' beliefs about perceived control over their child's learning were an important mediator between participating in Head Start transition demonstration projects and parents' involvement during the kindergarten year. In this ethnically diverse sample, parental beliefs about perceived control were more strongly correlated with increases in parents' active involvement in their children's classrooms than participation in a transition program.
Family Emotional Connectedness
How might schools create opportunities for enhancing the emotional connections among students and their families? At first glance, this level of family intervention is usually not considered the domain of the school. However, effective family communication and problem-solving is a goal that can be enhanced through existing school-wide prevention programs that model effective communication and problem-solving, provide opportunities for students and parents to work together toward educational goals for the child, and encourage parents to share their hopes and Sears concerning their children's education. Prevention programs such as programs to educate parents about how to approach and discuss difficult topics (e.g., sexual activity or tobacco, drugs, and alcohol use) with their children give parents opportunities to be involved and share their own personal views, hopes, and desires with their children. Student-led conferences are another means for promoting such family connectedness and communication if they are approached as opportunities for caregivers and children to share feelings toward schooling, engage in joint decision-making, and set clear goals and priorities for achieving their goals.
Exploration of the feelings that parents have for their children's education might be one of the greatest untapped resources of school counseling. School counselors and other school personnel can "join" with parents--helping them to share their dreams with their children, and then helping them garner the resources needed to meet their educational expectations. Specific questions that address these family strengths include the following: "What are some of the most successful experiences your family has had in school?" "Does your family talk about [your child's] future?" "How do you get through difficulties in [your child's] schooling?" "What would you like your family to be like in 5 years or 10 years?" (Echeverria-Doan, 2001). Walsh (1998) emphasized the need to examine what families do well, what works for them, and what their "healthy intentions" are. When parents are given an opportunity to explore their connections to their children and positive expectations for their future, a valuable resource emerges for intervening with them.
Family Organizational Patterns
Often parents establish personal role constructions and styles of parenting that are passed down from one generation of the family to the next. Parents may unthinkingly use a style of parenting with their own children to which they were subjected as children. For example, many parents use an authoritarian style--characterized by a high level of demandingness and a low level of warmth--because that is what their parents used with them. To help parents alter their style of parenting toward a more authoritative one, school personnel must approach parents in a respectful manner. To change toward a more authoritative parenting style may entail coaching parents to utilize both high levels of warmth and high levels of demandingness. One way of doing this is to acknowledge that authoritarian parents already have strengths in terms of the degree of demandingness they demonstrate in their current style while also encouraging them to strengthen the warmth aspect of their parenting. This suggested change might be framed as a need to shift gears to fit changing circumstances (e.g., children demonstrating different temperaments in different stages of development, or facing different environmental challenges).
In addition, by means of helping parents to develop more flexible family structures, share leadership, and foster mutual support and teamwork, school counselors can assist parents in navigating many challenges, including structural changes as with the loss of a parent or with post-divorce and stepfamily reconfiguration. Myths of the ideal family can compound families' sense of deficiency and make their transition more difficult. When families experience instability, these disorienting changes can be counterbalanced with stability by having the school counselor, or other school staff, coach parents in developing organizational strategies and behaviors that reflect strong leadership, security, and dependability. Such organizational strategies can reassure children when the family is undergoing change.
Families can become more resourceful when interventions shift from crisis-reactive to proactive stance-anticipating and preparing for the future. Efforts that are future-focused, and that help families "bounce forward" (Walsh, 1998), help families learn how to be proactive, to envision a better future, and to take concrete steps toward their hopes and dreams. Helping families to maximize their control over the amount, timing, and methods of support, resources, and services can be an important first step in reaching their goals. It is always useful to include families in decisions versus making decisions for them. Some families are capable of "struggling well," that is, even when faced with difficult choices and decisions, they find a way to success (Walsh). One of the goals of counseling intervention is to help families identify what their resources are and how they currently use them. While some families do this naturally and effectively without intervention, many families can adapt and begin to "struggle well" and become more able to recognize and capitalize on their available resources through counseling intervention.
Family Learning Opportunities
Creating family learning opportunities may be one of the most time-consuming tasks for some parents and, thus, represents a challenge for school counselors. However, this is also the family process that is the most structured and task-oriented. School staff can provide families with information about what they can do at home to foster their children's academic development. These may be ideas about how to help their child successfully complete homework and avoid procrastination, how to help their child resolve conflict, how to help their child effectively make the transition into middle school or high school, or how to help their child make post-high school career and educational plans and locate financial aid. However, the way such information is flamed is crucial to its utilization. These suggestions should not be intended to make the home a replica of the school. For example, in many low-income families, if parents are working long hours, it may be difficult for them to spend a lot of time supervising the homework activities of their children. However, from a resilience approach, limited time for homework activities is not necessarily a liability. Each family can structure activities according to its own strengths and resources. In addition, families must not only be recognized and responded to as experts on their own children but also as a source of knowledge about strategies and resources for helping their children. Developing parent information networks that capitalize on what other families know, formally acknowledging the expertise of families, and soliciting feedback from families about their reactions to school events are important conditions for building a family's capacity to develop learning opportunities for its children.
In summary, we need to search for ways to build on family strengths versus focusing on the flaws. Just about all families want she best: for their children. Epstein (1998) referred to school programs as "family friendly," meaning that they take into account the needs and realities of family life--they are feasible to conduct, and they are equitable toward all families. The benefit of using a family resilience approach in school counseling is that these family processes that have been shown to increase academic performance are available to all families regardless of their economic and social resources. It is also consistent with a family resilience model of intervention to acknowledge that different families have varying resources to contribute to the types of activities that promote their children's academic success.
However, one of the challenges to creating school counseling programs that address family resilience is the already-burdened school counselor's view that these efforts constitute "something else to do." Rather than burden the school counselor with a host of additional responsibilities, we believe that the counselor's main goal should be to develop a working alliance with other school staff around creating an atmosphere that joins the school with families in the critical process of educating their children. Part of the effort to infuse a family resilience approach into school counseling programs is (a) to believe in and articulate its value to all constituents of the school system, and (b) to make it seem simple. As Epstein (1995) asserted, "When parents, teachers, students, and others view one another as partners in education, a caring community forms around students and begins its work" (p. 1).
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Ellen S. Amatea, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Counselor Education at the University of Florida, Gainesville. E-mail: email@example.com
Sondra Smith-Adcock, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the same department.
Elizabeth Villares, Ph.D., is the Director of Guidance at Vero Beach High School in Vero Beach, FL.
Table 1. Key Family Processes Contributing to Children's Academic Success I. Family Beliefs and Expectations A. Sense of purpose * Focus on setting goals, taking concrete steps, building on successes and learning from failures * Demonstrate sense of purpose through commitment to family life and parenting role * Encourage children to lead purposive lives B. Positive outlook * Hopeful, optimistic view, confidence in overcoming odds * Courage and encouragement; focus on strengths and potential * Master the possible; accept what cannot be changed C. Sense of efficacy * Active initiative and perseverance ("can do" spirit) * Confidence in one's ability, to learn, persevere, and overcome odds * Appraisal of adversity as normal and an opportunity to learn II. Family Emotional Connectedness A. Emotional warmth and belonging * Provide emotional warmth and caring * Demonstrate mutual support, collaboration, and commitment * Respect individual needs, differences, and boundaries of family members * Enjoy each other; have pleasurable, humor-filled interactions B. Open, emotional sharing * Share range of feelings rather than repress or avoid expressing feelings * Demonstrate empathy for each other * Take responsibility for own feelings and behavior rather than blame others C. Clear communication * Have consistency in words and actions * Clarify meanings and intentions if information is ambiguous D. Collaborative problem-solving * Share decision-making and conflict resolution * Focus on mutuality, fairness, and reciprocity III. Family Organizational Patterns A. Strong leadership and clear expectations * Clear leadership hierarchy of roles and responsibilities * Strong caregiver leadership alliance * Set clear and realistic guidelines and expectations for children's behavior B. Firm but friendly management style * Actively monitor children's activities and performance at home and at school * Maintain dependable family routines and responsibilities * Adapt and reorganize to fit changing needs and circumstances of children C. Developed social network * Mobilize extended kin and social support * Find and develop community resources * Initiate home-school contacts IV. Family Learning Opportunities A. Development of family routines that support achievement * Monitor homework and children's school performance * Engage in enriching learning activities * Engage in frequent parent-child conversations about current school performance and long-term goals B. Explicit skill instruction * Seek knowledge of children's current school performance and strengths and weaknesses in learning * Orient children to both academic and social skills learning opportunities * Give regular, explicit feedback to children about their performance in learning activities * Demonstrate positive affect about learning activities
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