Emotion, Controllability and Orientation Towards Stress as Correlates of Children’s Coping with Interpersonal Stress

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Motivation and Emotion

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Guided by the motivational theory of coping (Skinner and Zimmer-Gembeck in Ann Rev Psychol 58:119–144. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085705, 2007), we investigated children’s anticipated coping with three different stressful events (bullying, parental argument, parent–child verbal conflict), and examined whether their reliance on challenge coping responses versus threat coping responses could be accounted for by emotional reactions (including feelings of sadness, anger and fear), perceived controllability, and orientation or interest in the stressor. In addition, we examined parents’ reports of their children’s temperamental traits as correlates of coping. In random order followed by a positive stimulus, children (N = 206, age 8–12 years) watched each of the three stressful events, and reported their emotions, perceived control, orientation and coping after each one. As anticipated, results indicated that controllability was associated with more challenge coping (a composite of adaptive/approach coping responses such as problem solving and support seeking) and less threat coping (a composite of maladaptive/withdrawal coping responses such as helplessness and escape). In general, feelings of sadness were more strongly associated with challenge coping, whereas fear and anger especially related to more threat coping. Greater orientation towards the stressor was particularly predictive of more challenge coping, but also was associated with more threat coping in response to parent stressors. These associations were significant, even after controlling for temperament (negative reactivity, task persistence, withdrawal, and activity), which was generally unrelated to children’s coping. Other combinations of coping responses were also examined.



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