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Family Dynamics and Education

“A man should never neglect his family for business.” –Walt Disney

In 2016, this quote does not only apply to men, but also women. The effect of family structure is extremely important to any child because parents and caregivers are essential to the well-being of a family. Three broad fundamental theories explain the critical parental impact to children….

According to the national data from the White House (2014), the income of employed married women comprised 44 percent of their family’s income in 2013. On the other hand, in 2008, 60 percent of fathers in dual-earner couples reported work-family conflict, compared to 35 percent in 1977. It is clear that many families are now dual-earner couples, in which both parents are breadwinners and caregivers in the family. Both roles are significant in a family, not to mention the different levels of stress in terms of working and nursing. How do parents' work-family conflicts affect their children’s behavior? What are the things that working parents should pay attention to?

Researchers Greenhaus and Powell (2006) defined work family conflict as the competing responsibilities and demands associated with participation in multiple and salient roles. These conflicts may exhaust one’s limited amount of time and energy, undermine one’s physical and psychological well-being, and diminish one’s quality of life within the competing roles. On the other hand, work family enrichment is when experiences in one life role improves the quality of performance and experiences in another life role, either directly or indirectly through its influence on positive affect. In a recent study by Vieira, Matias, Ferreira, Lopez, and Matos (2016), researchers found the parents’ positive (enrichment) and negative (conflict) experiences of work and family are linked to preschool children’s problem behavior.

By examining 317 dual-earners couples with preschool children between 3 to 6 year old, Vieira et al., (2016) administered the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire based on parent and teacher report of children’s emotional problems, peer problems, behavioral problems, hyperactivity, and prosocial behavior. These behaviors are categorized as “internalizing”—unhappy, downhearted, or tearful; and “externalizing”—easily distracted, wandering concentrations, overactivity, or inability to stay still for long.

The results indicated that mothers’ work-family conflict contributed to children’s externalization difficulties through its detrimental association with their own and with their partners’ parent-child relationship equality. Moreover, fathers’ work-family conflict is associated with children’s internalization and externalization difficulties. It is certain that stressful conditions, feelings of pressure, and overworking can be linked to lower parental involvement and greater parental withdrawal in interactions with children. More specifically, the way parents balance their work and family roles is associated with the quality of their parent-child relationships, which in turn is linked to their children’s internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors. Especially with young children who require more parental time and energy, their parents’ time and strain difficulties in balancing work and family demands play a central role in influencing their family experiences.

Another study from University of California, Berkeley also examined preschool children in terms of peer relationships and their family dynamics. McHale, Johnson, and Sinclair (1999) recruited 43 preschool children in two-parent homes and analyzed their depictions of family interaction through doll play. Children were asked to create their own spontaneous stories about happy, sad, mad, and worried families, while maneuvering a family of dolls around a magnetic board.

It was found that parents who are more sensitive and supportive, who show more positive affect during interactions with their children, encourage children’s expression of emotions, and refrain from using harsh and extremely punitive disciplinary measures tend to have children who adapt well to early peer relationships outside the home. In addition, the affective climate of “mother-father-child” (McHale et al., 1999) interactions and the degree of mutual support and involvement by the coparents are indeed associated with children’s early social interaction among peers. In sum, family dynamics do play a significant role in shaping young children’s peer relationships.

What should I do?

Balancing work and family can be stressful, but it is crucial to be aware of our own emotions especially when we are interacting with our children…

After a long day at work, try these

  1. 5 or 10 minutes to cool off

Take a couple of minutes to meditate or cool down before entering home. Also, appreciate yourself for having a productive day. (SEE Mindful Awareness Practice)

  1. Quality vs. quantity

Spend some quality time with children. Ideally, spending an hour of quality play time with children is always better than an entire mindless evening being distracted by phones, emails, texts, or tweets, etc. Be engaged and listen to them. (SEE Spending Time with Children)

  1. Role modeling

Children pick up adults’ habits and attitude regardless of whether they are good or bad. Remember, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” (SEE Role Modeling)


Greenhaus, J., & Powell, G. (2006). When work and family are allies: A theory of work-family enrichment. The Academy of Management Re- view, 31, 72–92.

McHale, J. P., Johnson, D., & Sinclair, R. (1999). Family Dynamics, Preschoolers' Family Representations, and Preschool Peer Relationships. Early Education & Development, 10(3), 373-401. doi:10.1207/s15566935eed1003_8

Vieira, J. M., Matias, M., Ferreira, T., Lopez, F. G., & Matos, P. M. (2016). Parents’ work-family experiences and children’s problem behaviors: The mediating role of the parent–child relationship. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(4), 419-430. doi:10.1037/fam0000189


Cindy H. Lee is a graduate student at UCLA, concentrating on Human Development and Psychology. She is currently working on her master’s thesis and looking at English language learners (ELLs) and their oral language anxiety by using LEGO® as an educational tool to aid ELL students orally narrate stories. Cindy also had 3+ years of experience working with children with autism, Down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities.

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