The Development of Academic Coping in Children and Youth: A Comprehensive Review and Critique

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Developmental Review

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Using a developmental motivational framework, this review synthesized findings from 66 studies focusing on the academic coping of children and youth from 2nd to 12th grade. After reviewing 22 measures of academic coping and recoding the ways of coping assessed in each, we used four main questions to organize study findings: (1) Does coping play a role in students’ academic functioning and success, and does this role differ for children and youth of different ages/grades? (2) What strategies do students use to cope with academic stressors, and does this pattern change as children and youth develop? What kinds of (3) personal and (4) interpersonal factors contribute to coping, and do these differ for children and youth of different ages/grades? Although findings were sometimes thin or inconsistent, in general, study results indicated that multiple ways of academic coping predict educational performance and functioning, especially motivationally relevant outcomes. Process studies suggested several pathways through which coping can contribute to academic success: by promoting persistence, by mediating the effects of personal or interpersonal resources, and by buffering students’ performance from academic risks. In terms of developmental trends, findings from 15 studies indicated that children generally show high and steady levels of adaptive coping during elementary school, with some improvements, particularly in Problem-solving; maladaptive coping remains low, and may decrease further toward the end middle childhood. Starting in early adolescence, however, adaptive coping begins to decline and reliance on maladaptive coping increases. By mid adolescence, declines generally cease, and some adaptive ways of coping even begin to recover. At every age, adaptive coping was more likely for students who experienced higher levels of personal and interpersonal assets, whereas maladaptive coping was higher in students with elevated levels of personal vulnerabilities and lower levels of interpersonal supports. Differences in developmental trends and correlational patterns were found amongst families of coping, suggesting that a few strategies may potentially act as double-edged swords. This work was critiqued as a whole, and suggestions were made to guide future developmental research, including improvements in measures, scoring, and research designs; expansion of theories to incorporate insights from related areas; and integration of coping into interventions designed to promote students’ educational resilience and success.


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