The following is a summary of an interview with Lorena Rodriguez, a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern at the Delano Child Guidance Clinic. Rodriguez was born and raised in Delano and joined the Child Guidance Clinic team in 2012 as a member of the Student Assistance Program. Today, she is a part of the Clinic’s outpatient Medi-Cal program and works closely with the children and families of Northern Kern County.

Family dynamics are the patterns of interaction between family members. While each family and its dynamics are unique, there are some common patterns that occur. The Child Guidance Clinic works primarily with children, but children are just one part of the larger family system. Providing treatment to the entire family, identifying helpful and unhelpful dynamics within the family system, and developing new patterns of interaction are important to a child’s success in treatment.

The family system is fundamental to the social development and behaviors of children. Communication, socialization, emotional coping, and conflict resolution are examples of learned skills developed by children that are heavily influenced by family dynamics. It is important that caregivers understand that children’s behavior is learned through their relationships and interactions and that participation from the entire family system is necessary in treatment. Early in treatment, caregivers learn to recognize family dynamics which result in negative and positive behaviors. We ask parents to identify the last time their child displayed positive behaviors , and we ask questions to pinpoint the difference between that event and an event where the child displayed negative behavior; what was the activity, what was the parent’s interaction with the child like, and who was the child interacting with? If a child has a more positive response to one parent, or a grandparent, then parents should identify that dynamic and use it to improve their own interactions with their child.

Families with multiple children often feel one child is having more difficulties than his or her siblings. We try to identify the difference in the relationship between parents and siblings and stress the importance of love and affection. While a parent may believe their child knows that they are loved, it is important for children to hear and feel that parents love them regularly. It is also important that parents understand what makes each child feel loved, one child may feel loved from a high-five or a hug, others may need to be told that they are loved. Creating a pattern of behavior between parent and child that makes the child feel loved is crucial to that child developing positive social skills, communication skills, and self- esteem.

Other family dynamics should be the same for every child in a family system. Rules, discipline, rewards, and recognition of positive behavior should be implemented uniformly by parents, grandparents, and other adults who interact with the child. Just as parents may assume children know they are loved, parents often assume children know and understand house rules and expectations. It is important that rules are expressed clearly, discipline is the same between siblings, and that the entire family system is operating within the same guidelines. We encourage extended family, such as grandparents, to participate in treatment. Families should also communicate with their child’s teachers to learn what is working or not working while the child is at school. If a child is on a behavior chart at home, a teacher can report positive behaviors to parents to create consistency across as many relationships in that child’s life as possible.

Many times family dynamics have been passed down from generation to generation, and what may have worked in one family system does not in another. It is important that parents understand that problem behaviors are symptoms and often distract families from larger issues. Changing family dynamics can feel uncomfortable because it requires effort and dedication, but the results are positive and lasting.

The Henrietta Weill Memorial Child Guidance Clinic offers weekly support groups, Parent Project, and Loving Solutions courses for parents through out Kern County. Many schools also provide similar courses at no charge. If you would like to learn more about the services provided by the Child Guidance Clinic or other resources available in your area, contact the Clinic at (661) 322-1021.