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Enhancing Family Functioning

Lau et al. (2012) showed that, for Hong Kong Chinese families, when more frequent family leisure activities (including home-based activities, out-of-home activities, gathering with friends/ relatives) was associated with better family functioning and mental health; but also were associated with greater pressure when organising such activities.

Family cohesion and family flexibility are crucial for effective family functioning (Olson, 2000). The study suggests that balanced levels of cohesion (separated and connected types) and flexibility (structured and flexible types) make for optimal family functioning across the life-cycle (Olson, 2000).  Family communication is a “facilitating dimension” (Olson, 2000, p.149). Through examining the model, we can gain insights into how to enhance family functioning.

 

Family Cohesion (Olson, 2000, pp.145-147)

Family Cohesion means ‘the emotional bonding that family members have towards one another’ (Olson, 2000,p.145). It focuses on the balance between the separateness of the family members and the togetherness. This can be reflected in following dimensions:

 (i) Emotional bonding; (ii) Boundaries; (iii) Coalitions; (iv) Time ; (v) Space; (vi) Friends;  (vii) Decision-making; (viii) Interests  and (ix) Recreation

Level of

Cohesion

Disengaged Separated Connected Enmeshed
Emotional closeness Little Low-moderate Moderate-high Very high
Loyalty Little Some High Very high

Independence/

dependence

Highly independent

Interdependent

(independent > dependence)

Interdependent

(dependence > independence)

Highly dependent

Source: adopted from Olson, 2000, p. 148

In a separated relationship, time apart is more important, with some time being together. Decision-making sometimes are joint, with marital support. Generally, activities and interests are separate but a few are shared. (Olson, 2000, p. 147)

In a connected relationship, time together is more important, with emphasising togetherness. There are both separate and shared friends. Shared interests are common and some activities are separate.  (Olson, 2000, p. 147)

Other related resources:

HKSAR, Family Council, Happy Family Info Hub -- Family Cohesion Test: http://www.familycouncil.gov.hk/tc_chi/relax/relax_q2.html

香港中文大學, 社會工作學系家庭及小組實務研究中心– 家庭健康 (家庭凝聚力):

http://web.swk.cuhk.edu.hk/uploads/research/EP003_Family%20pamphlet_low.pdf

 

Family Flexibility (Olson, 2000, pp. 147-149)

Family Flexibility is “the amount of change in its leadership, role relationship and relationship rules”(Olson, 2000,pp.147). It focuses on how systems balance stability and change. Specific concepts include:

(i) Leadership (Control, discipline); (ii) Negotiation styles; (iii) Role relationships; (iv) Relationship rules.

Level of Family Flexibility

Chaotic Flexible Structured Rigid
Leadership Lack Shared Sometimes Authoritarian
Discipline Erratic Democratic Somewhat Democratic Strict
Role of family members Dramatic shifts, unclear Role-sharing change Stable Seldom change
Change Too much When necessary When demanded Too little

Source: Olson, 2000, p. 148

In a structured relationship, leadership is somehow democratic, with some negotiations including children and some sharing of roles. Rules are seldom changed and are firmly enforced (Olson, 2000, p. 149)

 In a flexible relationship, leadership is egalitarian with democratic decision-making. Negotiations are open, actively including the children. Roles are shared and can be changed when necessary. Rules are age-appropriate and can be changed. (Olson, 2000, p. 149)

 

Family communication (Olson, 2000, pp. 149-150)

Good family Communication enhances family cohesion and family flexibility. This includes:

  •   Listening skills (empathy and attentive listening);
  • Speaking skills (speaking for oneself);
  • Self-disclosure (sharing feelings about self and the relationship);
  • Clarity;
  • Continuity tracking (staying on topic);
  • Respect and regard (affective aspects of communication and problem-solving skills in couples and families)

 

Family Functioning in Hong Kong Chinese Families

Studies indicate that “Chinese parents and their children regarded the absence of conflict, interpersonal harmony, mutuality, connectedness, and positive parent-child relationships as the major attributes of a happy family” (Shek & Chan, 1998; Shek, 2001, cited in Siu and Shek 2005).                                     

Siu (2002, cited in Siu and Shek 2005) develops the Chinese Family Assessment Instrument (C-FAI) to assess of family functioning in Chinese population, including five dimensions:

  • Mutuality;
  • Communication and Cohesiveness;
  • Conflict and Harmony;
  • Parental Concern;
  • Parental Control.

In C-FAI, the dimension s of Mutuality, Communication and Parental Concern are related to cohesion and communication while Parental Control could be regarded as “a subset of family flexibility” (Siu and Shek, 2005, pp.818-819). Conflict and Harmony was “a distinct dimension of family functioning in Hong Kong Chinese families”, this dimension reflecting the “absence of conflict” as a major attribute (Siu and Shek, 2005, p. 819).

 

 

References:

Lau, Y. K., Ma, J. L. C., Wan, P.S., Wong, T.K.Y., Lai, L.Y. (2012). Work-family conflicts, family leisure activities, and family functioning in Hong Kong. International Employment Relations Review, 18( 1), pp. 82-100

Siu, A. M. H., Shek, D. T. L. (2005).  Psychometric Properties of the Chinese Family Assessment Instrument in Chinese Adolescents in Hong Kong. Adolescence (San Diego): an international quarterly devoted to the physiological, psychological, psychiatric, sociological, and educational aspects of the second decade of human life, 40(160), pp.817-830

Shek, D. T. L. (2002). Assessment of family functioning Chinese adolescents: The Chinese Family Assessment Instrument. In N. N. Singh, T. OUendick, & A. N. Singh (Eds.), International perspectives on child and adolescent mental health Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier, pp. 297-316

Olson, D.H. (2000). Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems. Journal of Family Therapy, 22, pp.144-167

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