The Effects of Family Conflict Resolution…’ by Dykeman

The Dykeman Article investigates the change in behavior patterns of fifteen children who were the victims of parental discord and divorce. Through the system of family intervention and conducting sample tests, it was observed that within six months there was considerable improvement in communication skills and reduction of verbal aggression. These children gradually came to conduct themselves ably in the classrooms. The only aspect, which went relatively unmodified, was their receptivity to physical violence. The overall achievement of the intervention scheme was to reduce and resolve family conflicts and thereby try to provide the children with a stable family environment. (Dykeman, 2003)

Modern American society, riddled as it is by marital conflicts and the ever-increasing problem of divorce is hardly the ideal place for the upbringing of children. The family, which is the nurturing ground and basic component part of society somehow turns into a hotbed of crisis and anxiety for children when their parents are involved in bitter acrimony and fail to live up to the sanctimony of the relationship. As such, the crumbling family unit makes the child feel insecure and the trauma thereby endured may manifest itself in unsocial behavior, incompetence at school and alienation from the peer group. Somehow, the age of the child during the separation of the parents is directly proportional to the amount of psychological pressure endured and consistently poor academic performances. Surely, such a child is direly in need of help, underachievement in school is a classic symbol of such distressed children.

Divorce, in itself, can be a social disaster for children, who sometimes respond to the crisis, not only of the present situation but also to the tension of the times preceding and succeeding the divorce. Thus, the conflict between the parents, their open fights before the children, lack of self-control, irrational temperament and violent mood swings leave the children frightened and on tenterhooks. The family unit, which should provide comfort in times of crisis, itself becomes malignant, repels, and shrivels the development of the child’s healthy psyche. (Lamb, 2004)

Circumstances, where the child reacts favorably to parental divorce are rare indeed. However, such a phenomenon may be made possible in instances where the parents make it a point to work out the separation through amicable agreement and ensure that they never voice their difference of opinions in the presence of the child. As such, a thoroughly professional business-like understanding between the parents with the avowed aim of the healthy development of the child is required. Neither parent should criticize the other, as it confuses the child. The child must also be protected from the problems assailing the family and provided with a secure environment for hisher development.

Parental divorce is often found to influence children negatively and make them indisposed to form lasting relationships. Self-esteem and sense of security and well-being become outdated. Their experience of divorce makes them vulnerable to stress, depression and anxiety, they have to carry the crucible of guilt well into their adult life, and then they generally make a mess of all emotional entanglements. (Barsky, 2000)

According to James and Gilliand, the behavioral maladjustments in children suffering under the throes of parental disharmony may be treated through “primary, secondary and tertiary intervention” methods. (James & Gilliland, 2001) The method of primary intervention helps the child to rationalize the fact that divorce is a common enough practice in the USA, while secondary intervention provides support to psychologically shattered children and tertiary intervention seeks to redress aggressive behavior or behavioral malfunctions due to parental divorce.

The actual lookout of the counselors was to identify the troubled children in school, look into their backgrounds for data on recent parental divorce and then implement the tertiary intervention method in order to stop aggressive behavior. It is also the duty of the counselor to connect instances of misconduct in school with crises at home. It depends entirely on the counselor to identify similar situations of provocation, analyze the implication of family conflict on the child, and try to work out a solution with the help of the peer group. Such treatment, while necessary, must be conducted with the utmost delicacy, as the child is already a victim of crisis and may not be comfortable with the concept of any kind of therapy. However, the counselors make it a point to begin treatment from cognitive levels and aspects of behavior within the family unit, which is the single most important factor in the psychological growth of the child. Generally, the counselors focus on instances of misbehavior, which follow or precede parental discord and underline strategies through which the custodial parents may seek to redress the problem of the errant child.

Typically, the custodial parents are asked to meet the counselor at least once a week to consult the behavioral problems of their child, and then the treatment begins. According to the Dykeman report, such treatment was notably successful in a cross-section of Hispanics, Afro-Americans and Caucasians. The Conflict Tactics Scale was used to measure the degree of conflict faced by the child at home. However, this Scale, with all its variations of subscales and such paraphernalia, makes one wonder whether it is always possible to report verbatim the verbal exchange during a conflict situation. This scale, as much as it is dependent on the data from the children and parents, may not be able to furnish true answers if the parent or child ever decides to conceal certain facts. Thus, personally, I believe that, instead of relying too much on the scale to measure out dry facts of progression or regression, the counselor must keep hisher eyes open to the minutest fluctuations in behavior pattern and be perceptive and intuitive enough to redress the ailments of the suffering child. However, the CTS, used by Fisher and Corcoran, was able to validate the positive influences of the intervention program. Usually, the practice is to let the students record their observations of parental conflict at the beginning of a school semester and again record the effects of the treatment at the end of the term. As such, it was perceived that the child usually progresses for the better, with a marked reduction in verbal aggression and classroom misconduct and exhibits improved communication skills and ability to adjust with the peer group. (Fischer & Corcoran, 1994)

Dykeman, in his analysis, seeks to establish the fact that good counseling and timely intervention methods can be effective to schools that seek to help students who are victims of parental discord and divorce. In such cases, active counseling may avert the rift between the parents and the child and subsequent psychological alienation of the child. The obvious limitation of this theory is that it takes for granted that the conflicting parents should, at least for a limited time, bury the hatchet and be ready to be counseled by the school counselor for the betterment of the child. Such cases, ideal as they are, are actually rare in real life, where the conflicting parents can seldom agree with each or even each other’s company after divorce. Dykeman’s theory can also be challenged because it assumes that all the data provided by the children and the parents will be accurate. As such, many times it has been found that parents often try to obfuscate the truth to evade guilt or imply the supposed irresponsibility of the other partner. Again, the tenure of the intervention is formatted to suit the beginning and end of an academic year. So, the students who may undergo a crisis back at home, a crisis so crucial that it calls for immediate intervention, what is heshe to do? Wait for the beginning of the next academic year and diligently record his responses? I think we are dealing with living breathing individuals, and life, as lived by one, cannot be equated with a static set of rules. Thus, while Dykeman’s principle may function in ideal circumstances, I do not believe that it is capable of handling emergencies. For the intervention program to function smoothly it is essential for the parents to identify their own internal conflict and fathom its effect on the child; conversely, the child also has to understand the different facets of parental love and rationalize the fact that each parent, even after separation is concerned about the child’s welfare.

References:

Barsky, A; (2000); Conflict resolution for the helping professions; Belmont, CA: Brooks/ Cole.

Dykeman, Bruce F; March 2003; The effects of family conflict resolution on children’s classroom behavior; Journal of Instructional Psychology.

Fischer, J. & Corcoran, K; (1994); Measures for clinical practice (2nd ed.); New York: The Free Press.

James, R. & Gilliland, B; (2001); Crisis intervention strategies; Belmont, CA: Brooks/ Cole.

Lamb, D; (2004); Cult to Culture: The Development of Civilization; Wellington: National Book Trust.