Family Relationship Building

The literature is quite clear that poor family relationships lead to increased incidence rates of youth psychopathology. Conflict is inevitable in close relationships, and the way in which it is resolved determines the course of a relationship. A parent’s emotional reactivity is one of the best predictors of poor resolution of conflict (Forgatch, 1989). The coercion model is one way to understand problematic family relationship dynamics (Patterson et al., 1992). Coercive parenting practices have been linked to the development and maintenance of nearly all common disorders of youth (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). The coercive-parenting model continues to guide several parenting interventions for a variety of youth disorders and is supported by several cross-sectional and longitudinal studies (see Campbell & Patterson, 1995, for a review). The first step a parent takes in the coercion cycle is to react emotionally to the behavior of the child. When a behavior upsets parents, they may react in a variety of ways: they may completely avoid discussing the situation and be angry, do something to hurt the youth (e.g., yelling, hitting, name calling), or make requests or demands that are unclear, blaming, or unrealistic and that lead to more conflict. In turn, the child’s behavior continues or even escalates, depending on parents’ reactions. When parents take a mindful approach, they may be able to disrupt the destructive cycle of negativity and disengagement that at times becomes automatic for some parent- child dyads (Dishion, Burraston, & Li, 2003). Ongoing involvement in coercive interactions segues to poorer quality parent-child relationships, and the youth can develop clinical-l evel problem behaviors or maintain those behaviors that are already reinforcing the cycle of coercion in the family (Patterson et al., 1992).

Conflict can be inherent in the coercion cycle. Familial conflict has been implicated in the development of unipolar and bipolar depression (e.g., Du Rocher Schudlich, Youngstrom, Calabrese, & Findling, 2008; Geller et al., 2002; Sheeber, Hops, Alpert, Davis, & Andrews, 1997; Sheeber & Sorenson, 1998), substance use (e.g., Repetti, Taylor, & Seeman, 2002), schizophrenia (Asarnow & Kernan, 2008), borderline personality disorder (e.g., Weaver & Clum, 1993), and conduct problems (e.g., Bank, Burraston, & Snyder, 2004; Garcia, Shaw, Winslow, & Yaggi, 2000; Rubin, Burgess, Dwyer, & Hastings, 2003). Conflict reciprocally influences the other elements of mindful parenting; for example, parents in conflict-filled relationships with their youth may be more likely to disengage, which can contribute to less parental monitoring and greater risk for youth conduct or substance use problems (Dishion, Nelson, & Bullock, 2004). Similarly, conflict contributes to poorer relationships between youth and caregivers, which inhibits caregivers’ ability to effectively set healthy limits. Barnes, Brown, Krusemark, Campbell, and Rogge (2007) found that more mindful individuals were more likely to respond constructively to stress in interpersonal relationships. Increased use of problem-solving skills in the presence of stress and conflict can disrupt the coercion cycle and result in better outcomes for the child and the family. These findings suggest that increasing parents’ capacity for mindful parenting is likely to be a key in the treatment of youth psychopathology when conflict, poor relationships, and a lack of positive behavior support pervade the family system.

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