The ability to experience, express, and maintain positive emotions and reduce negative emotions during stress has been cited as a marker of resilience, yet much needs to be learned regarding what mechanisms underlie this ability in youth. The current study assesses relations between coping strategies and observed emotion expression and maintenance in offspring of depressed mothers as possible mechanisms to promote resilience.
Mothers with a history of depression (N = 160) and their children (M age = 11.38) participated in two video-recorded interactions about a recent pleasant activity and a recent stressful experience in the family. Observed positive mood, anxiety, hostility, and sadness in youth were measured via a macro-level coding system and adolescents completed a self-report measure regarding how they cope with family stress.
Secondary control coping (e.g., cognitive restructuring, acceptance) was significantly related to higher positive mood and lower hostility during the stressful task when controlling for mothers’ depressive symptoms, emotions during the pleasant activity task, primary control and disengagement coping, and child gender. Secondary control coping was not related to observed anxiety or sadness.
Results highlight a link between coping and emotion expression and maintenance in the context of family stress and suggest that coping strategies differ in their effectiveness of managing distinct emotions. Secondary control coping in particular may foster resilience by promoting higher levels of positive mood and lower levels of hostility in children exposed to parental depression. Implications, study limitations, and future directions are discussed.