Theories That Help Us Understand Families

Image of a family of 5 lies on the grass with their hands holding their faces. They are making funny faces and smiling.

Learning Objectives

  • 2.1:  Contrast five theories that help us to understand families.
  • 2.2:  Explain how theories provide understanding of family dynamics.
  • 2.3:  Analyze how a theoretical framework of families influences the reciprocal relationships between schools and/or communities and families.


We examine theories about families in order to gain perspective about how they grow and develop. Our examinations include an analysis of how families engage, collaborate, influence, and interact with children, schools, and communities.  In this chapter, we will look at five theories that help us to understand families:

  1. Bioecological systems theory,
  2. Family systems theory,
  3. Functionalism,
  4. Conflict theory, and
  5. Symbolic interaction.

Each theory presents a distinct and different perspective regarding the role of family in society. We will identify areas of theoretical and practical overlap that inform our work with children, families, schools, and communities.

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