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UVM Theses and Dissertations

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Format:
Print
Author:
Stanger, Sarah Budney
Dept./Program:
DEPARTMENT HERE
Year:
2019
Degree:
PhD
Abstract:
This study applied a contemporary dynamic systems methodology (state space grids) to examine how the structure of parent-child coping interactions, above and beyond the content of such interactions, influences adjustment (i.e., internalizing problems, externalizing problems, and coping efficacy) over time in middle childhood. A community sample of children (N = 65) completed a stressful laboratory task with a parent present, during which parent and child behavior were observed. Parent behavior during the task was coded using a socialization of coping framework. Parents’ verbal suggestions to their child about how to cope with the stressful task were coded as primary control engagement suggestions (i.e., suggestions encouraging the child to directly address and attempt to change the stressor or the child’s associated emotions), secondary control engagement suggestions (i.e., suggestions encouraging the child to change their own reaction to their stressor), or disengagement suggestions (i.e., suggestions encouraging the child to take their attention away from the stressor). Child coping verbalizations and behavior during the task was coded as either engaging with the stressor or disengaging from the stressor. The structure of the parent-child coping interaction was measured in two ways: (a) dyadic flexibility, defined as the dispersion of parent and child behavior across all possible behaviors and the number of transitions between different parent or child behaviors during the task, and (b) attractor (i.e., parent-focused, child-focused, or dyad-focused interaction pattern) strength, defined as the number of visits, duration per visit, and return time to that interaction pattern. Child adjustment outcomes were measured using parent-report (internalizing and externalizing problems) and child-report (coping efficacy) at baseline and a 6-month follow-up. Linear regression analyses were conducted examining dyadic flexibility and the proposed attractors as predictors of child adjustment, while accounting for demographic variables, attractor content, and adjustment at baseline. Findings suggested that dyadic flexibility in the parent-child coping interaction was largely adaptive for child adjustment, whereas attractor strength demonstrated a more complex relationship with child adjustment outcomes. This study demonstrates the utility of applying state-space grids to examine the structure of parent-child coping interactions, in addition to content, as predictors of child adjustment. Furthermore, this study offers novel, detailed information about coping interactions in families with children in middle childhood. Clinical implications, limitations, and future directions are discussed.