Parents Key to Helping Kids Cope with Violence

The right approach eases stress in tough neighborhoods, study finds

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WEDNESDAY, May 31, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Parents who live in neighborhoods where violence is common can play an important role in helping their children cope with what they witness and experience, new research shows.

"Children living in environments where they are exposed to high levels of community violence face unique coping challenges. Witnessing or experiencing violence is linked with a range of problems in youth, including symptoms of depression and anxiety, aggressive and unlawful behavior, and starting to use drugs or increasing drug use," study lead author Wendy Kliewer, associate professor in the department of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a prepared statement.

"What children or youth do to cope with the violence they witness or experience predicts whether they fare well or poorly. Parents or caregivers can help children in developing strategies to cope with these stressors," she said.

The study included about 100 children, ages 9 to 13, and their mothers or female caregivers living in high violence areas of Richmond, Va. The researchers conducted two interviews, six months apart, with both the children and their parent/caregiver.

The parents/caregivers in the study were asked to discuss family life, how they coped with violence, and how they discussed violence with their children. The parents suggested a variety of approaches to help their children cope with violence in the community, such as active coping, proactive coping, resignation, seeking emotional support, thinking about their coping decisions, and aggression.

Examples of an active approach include making efforts to solve a problem directly, seeking help from others (typically adults) to solve a problem, or leaving the situation. Proactive coping refers to a child taking actions to avoid a potential problem.

The study found that, in the six months between interviews, children who took an active approach in response to violence showed improvements in grades, self-esteem, post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression and anxiety. Children who coped most adaptively had parents who suggested active and proactive coping, used active coping themselves, and had a good relationship with their children.

The study was published in the May/June issue of the journal Child Development.

More information

The U.S. Center for Mental Health has more about child and adolescent mental health.

SOURCE: Virginia Commonwealth University, news release, May 19, 2006

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