“Mother Knows Best” for Youths Coping with Stress

Adolescents cope with stressful situations in a variety of ways, often taking cues from others. But a new study conducted by Jamie L. Abaied of the University of Vermont and Karen D. Rudolph of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, suggests that a mother’s encouragement to put effort into engaging and addressing the stressful triggers may help children develop healthier coping skills. “Effortful engagement includes responses such as attempts to resolve problems, regulate one’s emotions, rethink problems in a more positive light, or seek support from others,” said Abaied. Abaied is clear to distinguish between conscious effortful engagement and involuntary engagement, which involves experiencing negative emotions, emotional excitement or rumination. The team said, “Generally, effortful engagement is thought to be an effective approach to resolving stressful conditions or emotions and thus preventing subsequent adjustment difficulties.”

The researchers examined how youths managed stress from peer relationships, and what influence a mother’s input had on the way they coped. Poor coping mechanisms can lead to behavior problems such as internalizing and aggression. “When parents engage in socialization of coping, they provide cognitive, affective, and behavioral strategies that either reinforce or redirect youths’ typical coping behaviors. According to the psychological resource principle, parents’ influence upon youth development is strongest under conditions of stress or challenge, when youths’ resources are most strained,” said the researchers.

The team interviewed 144 youths and their mothers at two different points over one year. They questioned them about the maternal input, the type of stress, and their coping strategies. The results indicated that the adolescents responded more positively to stressful situations when their mothers offered engagement tips. However, when the stress was minor, the suggestions of the mothers had little influence on coping strategies. “By encouraging purposeful engagement, mothers convey the belief that directing attention toward stressors is safe and that youths are capable of doing so.” The team added, “Training parents to effectively support adaptive coping will be particularly important for youths exposed to chronic stressful environments.”

Abaied, J. L., & Rudolph, K. D. (2011, September 12). Maternal Influences on Youth Responses to Peer Stress. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025439

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Adrianna


    September 20th, 2011 at 3:21 PM

    As a mother you learn a lot about a child perhaps more than they know about themselves. Mothers can use this knowledge to their advantage when helping their children to cope with stress. The are a head of the game compared to a therapist who has to learn as much as they can about a child in order to decide how to best help them cope. Sometimes experience trumps education and this is one of those cases.

    I remember when I used to pull me hair out over something my mom always best ways to cheer me up. She could relate it to whatever I was interested in at the time to make me really make a connection. There is no better therapy than this.

  • dot


    September 20th, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    How about just the input from the primary caregiver? No matter whether it is the mom or the dad?

  • melinda


    September 21st, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    a lil pep talk from a parent always goes a long way this I have always believed.and its also the reason why I encourage my teenage children to talk about any problem that they may have.i always try and get a solution to the problem rather than questioning them back in a tough situation for them.doing that will only depress them and they will never ask for help from you again.

  • Hugh


    September 21st, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    And who is going to determine who gets this training and how do we get it to the parents and children who are most in need of this intervention?

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