Children and adolescents experiencing family transitions following divorce are protected from the negative effects of stress by positive events. The adjustment of children in 86 step-families and 171 single-parent families was studied. The study documented the number of positive and negative events in children’s lives; it examined whether positive events mitigated the relation between negative events and maladjustment for children and adolescents undergoing transitions from parental divorce and remarriage. The study used checklists of positive and negative events and found significant effects of positive experiences. Positive events included such things as a stepfather complimenting a child or offering to help his mother with chores or bills. Negative events included a dad ignoring his child’s attempts to contact him or a step-sibling being mean to them or to their mom.
Results showed that positive events appeared to reduce acting-out behaviors and levels of anxiety and depression. The relationship between negative events and mothers’ reports of acting-out behavior was stronger for children reporting fewer positive events than those reporting more positive events. This is the first study to show that positive events in the lives of children during family transition can decrease the effect of negative events on the child’s mental health and adjustment. Positive events can have a protective effect on a child or adolescent during times of family stress. Parents and other adults can make a significant difference in the lives of children and adolescents by providing resources that increase the likelihood of positive events in their lives.
“Positive Events as a Stress Buffer for Children and Adolescents in Families in Transition,” Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, Volume 32, Number 4, December 2003, pp. 536-545.
Published in ERN December 2003/January 2004 Volume 17 Number 1