Given the importance of understanding and addressing the larger social environment, I also offer family counseling. Although some clients choose to enter family therapy as the first choice of treatment, at other times family work is incorporated after a period of individual, child, or couples therapy. I can assist families, large or small, in addressing issues that have previously caused conflict between family members.
Family balance is synonymous with family harmony. In the course of our lives as individuals, we aspire to stay in balance, and we make the needed adjustments as we try to achieve this goal. Families are much the same, though the family is a much more complex system to balance, as adults (as individuals/partners/parents) and children (as individuals/siblings) really need to work together. Whether as individuals or as a family, getting to a balance point is challenging, as competing needs and priorities fluctuate over time. A build up of stress and exasperation can result, creating problems in communication, and a chaotic or detached family structure. As support and empathy wane, one or more family members can develop emotional or behavioral problems that signal the distress of all.
If this sounds like your family, you are not alone.
Many families experience similar challenges, and come to an impasse where therapeutic help is needed. In my experience, the “good news” in all this is that working with the struggling family itself has proven to be a very effective, powerful means of reducing symptoms, restoring strength, and redefining balance. Combining family therapy with individual therapy can enhance results considerably. This approach maximizes the processes of interpersonal and individual growth, as well as the acquisition of new skills that are helpful in re-orienting the family, building mutual respect, and empowering each of its members.
Each family and situation is different, so family work will be based on the needs of each client. Through family therapy, my clients have learned:
- How to develop a defined yet flexible family model, providing both choices and limits to children and teens, while parent roles remain both supportive and strong
- Communication skills that increase understanding, empathy, and motivation for change
- Conflict Resolution skills that defuse negative interactions while constructively encouraging the child or teen to meet goals and expectations [top]
Empathic Parenting, Family Stress Management & Loving Structure
Often, preceding the onset of child’s difficulties, family and parenting bonds were healthy and strong, and a sense of harmony and joy was strongly present despite the struggles and stresses of daily life. For the most part, things worked: parents had the answers; children and parents drew together to resolve problems; the family was able to cope with stressors. Over time, and with the emergence of significant psychological, behavioral, or functional problems, once-effective coping skills fall short and personal resources can become exhausted. Hopes, dreams, and joy are replaced by frustration, exasperation, and thwarted expectations. Harmful blaming, heated conflict, and intense stress can become both chronic and acute.
Unfortunately, parents and children can develop cycles of reactivity that can damage bonding, reduce trust, lead to perpetual crises, and ultimately cause a serious relational divide. This kind of tragic fallout often accompanies the emotional and behavioral disorders that I see in my practice, and often becomes part of the problem that has been a hidden obstacle to finding solutions and much-needed relief.
My treatment goals always include helping parents and their children bridge relational gaps, and to restore communication, flexibility, warmth, closeness, and strong attachment. It is also crucial to rebuild a sense of competence, empathy, and pride for parents as well as for children.
When necessary, I work separately with parents to build self-awareness and positive parental self-esteem; to replace reactive, stress-bound behaviors with those that are empathetic and nurturing; and develop new, individualized concepts of appropriate role and developmental expectations, both for themselves and for their child. I have found that this combination of support and skill-building has frequently helped parents remember why they used to so enjoy being parents and how to get back to that place once again. Instead of coming from a place of futility, they find their way to a sense of renewed energy and hope, and can see the positive qualities of their child. I help parents to nurture and fulfill their child’s need for trust, empathy, and affection, while providing a lifelong foundation for healthy, enduring relationships.
Even without a prominent emotional disturbance, ordinary developmental changes and transitions can lead to disharmony, distancing, and conflict. Everyone is out-of-sync and feeling like they are strangers to each other; what used to work well is either ineffective or just makes things worse. This can be due to what is known as a Family Life-Cycle Transition. Typically, this occurs when children and/or parents move into or out-of various developmental phases, such as adolescence or middle-age, or can accompany significant changes in family or school/work roles; changes in location, health, or financial status; or the onset of bereavement issues following the loss of a pet, friend, or family member. It is ideal to address these issues preventatively when possible, or as they are beginning to manifest in response to circumstances. Sometimes, if not addressed sufficiently or promptly enough, these issues can evolve into more substantial psychological, behavioral, and/or addiction problems. I try to help families build awareness to these kinds of instances, phases, and cycles, and to achieve the adaptive shifts in knowledge, roles, and parenting skills that are called for. [top]
My Approach to Helping Families
My approach and practice focuses on helping families break cycles of stress, and provides tools that resolve conflicts and strengthens parent-child relationships by:
- Helping parents shift from a reactive parenting approach to one that is based on respect, empathy, and appropriate flexibility
- Identifying stressors that trigger familial cycles of conflict
- Teaching parents how to establish and communicate realistic and developmentally-appropriate expectations, choices, and limits
- Creating the conditions for children and parents to experience success
Meeting with children individually gives them an opportunity to present their difficulties-as well as the family’s challenges-from their perspective. Children, though, usually do not choose to begin therapy; most often, it is parents, relatives, teachers, clergy, etc., that have identified a need for therapy. The child’s motivation and interest is created through the development of the therapeutic relationship: rapport, trust, and safety are crucial, necessary elements for progress, growth, and healing. The challenge is engaging children so that therapy is not a boring, uncomfortable chore, but rather, can become a place of comfort and acceptance; or, a place where exciting and vital adventures in self-discovery can happen. [top]
Common Family Issues
Common issues addressed for family therapy include:
- Collaborating parenting philosophies
- Parent-child conflict
- Parenting adopted or step children
- Family communicaton problems
- Defiant, angry or isolated children
- Mourning and issues of loss
- Caring for aging family members [top]
Challenges for Siblings and Parents
I have found that attending to the balance of the whole family system is crucial to the child’s progress and improvement. Children and adolescents cannot be expected to make behavioral and emotional changes in a vacuum. Naturally, when considerable energy, resources, and time become focused on the child in distress, the needs of other family members are often overlooked.
Siblings’ needs, roles, and identities can also be greatly affected when one child’s struggles absorb the family’s energy and focus. As a result of these imbalances, siblings can sometimes drift into unhealthy patterns of attention-seeking, caretaking, withdrawal, self-sacrifice, or acting-out. Part of my work in restoring the family balance involves helping parents to remain connected to each of their other children as individuals.
I encourage parents to:
- Create and maintain a regular check-in to give siblings time and opportunity to express their feelings, discuss daily events, plan for their activities, get help with homework, etc.
- Acknowledge and praise their strengths as a means to bolster self-esteem and emphasize their unique value
- Develop awareness of harmful behavior patterns that siblings display, and to replace these with more positive, adaptive coping skills
Parents give so much to the child in need that they often forget to nurture themselves and their partner; or worse, find they are more frequently feeling depleted, despairing or at odds with one another. Change can become harder to achieve when parents’ strengths are drained away by negativity and conflict. I believe parents also need ongoing support, guidance, and encouragement to rebuild and maintain their own sense of hope and self-worth.
I have helped many parents to:
- Eliminate guilt, hopelessness, and other self-defeating thoughts that contribute to stress, fatigue, and detachment
- Stop counterproductive relational and child-rearing patterns and learn new, effective skills that promote attachment, confidence, and positive self-esteem
- Learn to identify and acknowledge “small wins” that can positively alter the family’s course and become the building blocks for more profound, sustained change [top]
Don’t You Wish Parenting Came with a Handbook?
Every parent struggles with parenting at some point in time. I offer parent education classes as well as individual consultations to address parenting concerns such as:
- Differences in parenting styles
- Sibling rivalry
- Getting children to complete homework
- What is normal behavior for different ages and when should I seek help?
- Children or adolescents who won’t talk
- Inability to find a balance between parenting, work and relationships
- Children who are unorganized
- Finding effective discipline
- Being unable to let go as your child enters late adolescence
- Children who consistently act out, push buttons and test limits
- Drugs, alcohol and cigarette use in children and teens
- Poor self-esteem
- Problems with setting limits
For parents in any stage of divorce, (before, during and after) Daniele & Associates offers parent education classes as well as individual sessions to address the following issues:
- Parental conflict
- Parental alienation
- Understanding how divorce affects children based on their age and stage of development
- How parental behavior affects children both during and after divorce
- Single parenting
- How to help your child through a divorce
- Children being put in the middle
- Maintaining a positive relationship with your child
- How being the custodial or non-custodial parent affects your relationship with your child
- Children transitioning between two homes
- Blended families [top]
The Parenting Factor
One of the most common causes of conflict in marriages is conflict over different parenting styles. Debra wants to send Bobby to the church preschool, Mark wants him to go to the preschool at the end of the block. George thinks Megan should be grounded for coming home late, Barbara believes it won’t happen again and grounding is too harsh. Laura was raised in a home that encouraged autonomy and independence. Luke was raised with strict rules and parents that demanded to know the who, what, where and why at all times. Constant arguing over these issues have led to frequent arguments, tension and children that try to play on their parent’s differences to get what they want.
What are parents to do? First and foremost, it is important to remember that there is no one right way to parent. When you had your first child, you weren’t given a handbook. You brought your baby home armed with the knowledge of what you knew from your own parents growing up – what you liked and what you grew up determined to do differently. You know what to do from watching other parents and you know what your own beliefs are. Remember that if your spouse has different beliefs, these beliefs are not right or wrong, good or bad. Just different. [top]
How do parents resolve these differences?
Through the two big C’s: Communication and Compromise. It is vitally important to talk with your spouse often regarding parenting issues. It is important for both parents to know issues that are going on with children and to have discussion on how, as parents, you will handle those situations. Sometimes there are no negative situations to discuss and it is refreshing to talk about the good things that are happening in your children’s lives. Often, it also helps to go over the weekly schedule to ensure that transportation is covered and both parents are on the same page in regards to where children need to be and when. Sometimes finding time to talk is extremely difficult in today’s busy households. The key is that you have to schedule time, just as you schedule meetings at work and play dates for the kids. Sometimes this means getting up a half hour early or going to bed a few minutes later in order to achieve this. For divorced parents, it is often helpful to schedule monthly or bi-monthly meetings in a neutral location to cover parenting issues and schedules.
The more spouses communicate, the more able they are to compromise on any parenting dispute. When you know and understand where your partner is coming from, and the reasons behind their actions, it is much easier to meet them halfway and be able to develop compromises. When you and your spouse find that you are running into continuous conflict surrounding the same issue over and over again, it is helpful to sit down with a parenting expert to help the two of you work it out. [top]