The role of coping strategies in the pathway between child maltreatment and internalizing and externalizing behaviors.


Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, United States. Electronic address: [Email]


BACKGROUND : Child maltreatment has been repeatedly linked to internalizing and externalizing disorders, though few studies have examined the mechanisms of this pathway. Furthermore, children cope with difficult demands from their environments in a variety of ways, using emotion-focused (e.g., crying and verbal aggression), avoidant (e.g., disengaging), or problem-focused (e.g., seeking help from an adult) strategies.
OBJECTIVE : The current investigation examined if the coping strategies children employ when faced with everyday environmental stresses are a potential mechanism in the pathway between child maltreatment and internalizing and externalizing symptoms.
METHODS : Participants included 198 maltreated and 222 non-maltreated children ages 4-12 who attended a day summer camp for 2 consecutive years.
METHODS : The study utilized a longitudinal design by following the children at two time points to determine if coping at Time 1 mediated the pathway between maltreatment and internalizing and externalizing symptoms at Time 2 (measured one year later).
RESULTS : Results from path analyses showed that maltreatment was associated with increased emotion-focused (b = .20, SE = .05, p < .001) and decreased problem-focused coping (b = -.25, SE = .05, p < .001). Results also indicated that emotion-focused coping represents a mechanism by which maltreated children are at increased risk for externalizing behaviors (with an indirect effect estimate of 0.023, SE = 0.053; CI: 0.004, 0.23).
CONCLUSIONS : The results highlight the impact maltreatment can have on coping strategies and that these strategies can play an important role in the development of psychopathology. This has important implications for clinicians, who could integrate reducing emotion-focused coping into intervention efforts for maltreated children.


Child maltreatment,Coping strategies,Externalizing symptoms,Internalizing symptoms,Psychopathology,

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