'Every day I worry about something': A qualitative exploration of children's experiences of stress and coping.
Most research investigating children's experiences of stress and coping has utilized a quantitative approach. This study aimed to examine children's experiences of stress by conducting interviews with children and their parents.
Dyadic child-parent interviews, embedded within a multiphase design.
Thirty-eight children (22 boys) aged 7-11 years and 38 parents (34 mothers) completed in-depth dyadic interviews about stressful life events, adversity, and coping, analysed using inductive thematic analysis with a phenomenological lens.
Four themes emerged: (1) navigating the social minefield; (2) pressure to thrive in the modern world; (3) fear of the unknown; and (4) learning life's lessons. The first suggested that social relationships are a major feature of children's stress experiences; however, social support was also found to be a beneficial coping mechanism. The second theme highlighted multiple sources of pressure on young children (including school, extracurricular activities, pressure from self and others); the impact of such pressure was dependent upon children's coping resources. The third theme emphasized the difficulty of coping with novel stressors, and how awareness can help reduce this fear. The final theme highlighted important lessons that children can learn from stressful experiences and how to cope with stress.
This study addresses the importance of the person and context-dependent nature of stress and coping in order for children to survive and thrive following stressful experiences. These findings contribute to existing knowledge that could be used to develop a toolkit for coping with stress, designed specifically for children, parents, schools, and services. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject? Stress experienced in childhood can have a significant impact on psychological and physiological outcomes across the life course. It is known that individual differences are vital for understanding the effects of stress on health, for children as well as adults. Qualitative methods enable deeper understanding of children's experiences of stress and coping. What does the study add? Depth and breadth to understanding children's experiences of stressful events. An individual differences focus on the early stress experience that is frequently overlooked. Support for the use of a dyadic interview approach for assessing children's stress experiences.
Br J Health Psychol. 2019 Aug 26. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12387. [Epub ahead of print]