Daily Poverty-Related Stress and Coping

Poverty and systemic racism are associated with disproportionate exposure to stress and trauma, including everyday hassles like transportation problems, household chaos, and racial microaggressions, as well as major events such as residential moves, neighborhood violence, and race-based trauma. Cumulative exposure to such events takes a toll on physiological systems that respond to stress, with implications for children’s cognitive, social-emotional, and physical health functioning. Yet the experience of poverty and racism differs across communities and individuals, and some children who face considerable adversity show remarkable resilience.

The present study, led by Dr. Ellie Brown, of West Chester University, uses daily interview methodology to examine daily processes by which experiences of adversity can “get under the skin,” and to illuminate mechanisms through which caregivers might offer children protection. The project aims to illuminate family and community strengths that might be leveraged to support children’s flourishing en route to long-term goals of ending poverty and racism.

Example study on daily poverty-related stress and coping:

In a study published in Family Relations (Brown et al., 2016), Dr. Brown and her students and colleagues examined daily poverty-related stress and parents’ efforts to help children cope with stress in relation to learned helplessness for young children attending a Head Start preschool.

A total of 750 telephone interviews were conducted with 75 parents concerning their daily stressors and strategies they used to help children cope. A behavioral protocol measured child learned helplessness.

Multilevel modeling showed a positive within-persons relationship between daily stress and coping, and a positive between-persons relationship between daily stress and child learned helplessness. In other words, parents demonstrated remarkable strengths in the face of adversity, bolstering their efforts to help children cope on days with greater stress.

Multilevel modeling also showed a positive statistical relation between stressors and learned helplessness, suggesting that daily poverty-related stressors may undermine young children’s developing sense of control. There was some evidence that parents’ efforts to cope might buffer this effect, suggesting the importance of further research on how parent coping might promote positive outcomes in the face of adversity.

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