While family distress is unique to each family, every family with young children encounters power struggles and conflict to some degree in the morning routine, mealtime, homework time, bedtime, behavior in public spaces like restaurants and grocery stores. Tantrums (for younger children) and rule breaking around electronic use, social media boundaries, chores, sibling conflict, school problems are common. These are the struggles and stresses that, if not managed, can start to define negatively our relationships and affect our children in their years of rapid development.
Family and child counseling are very similar in many ways not the least of which is that, from the parents’ perspective, a child is usually the focus of concern. We use family relationships and parents’ positive influence to provide a necessary foundation for change and support the child of concern and help them learn via social consequences and relationship feedback. In parallel, we are helping everyone in the room understand the problem, collaborate, and make changes for the sake of family harmony and happiness. The vast majority of family counseling includes the child of focus and parent(s) in the room collaborating with the counselor. Sometimes a sibling will participate as well.
Some problems are particularly relationally focused and clearly require a family approach. These include sibling conflict, troubling behavior, and emotional problems affecting daily family life. But we include family, at least the parent(s), in every child counseling process because family relationships are profoundly powerful agents for change.
To appreciate this, imagine the difference a one-on-one counseling relationship can make in a child’s life in two or four meetings a month, 50-55 minutes at a time. Contrast that to the impact a change in the parent/child or sibling relationship can make given the many hours a day, every day of the week the child is engaged in those relationships. It is exponentially more powerful in most circumstances.
Every effective counselor is grappling with how clients can take the insight, emotions, and decisions in the counseling office and integrate them into daily life. The meetings are very instrumental, but daily life is where most of the change occurs. Change in daily life is the entire point of the counseling process. So working with the family gives many more possibilities for sustained change.