Preadolescents’ Coping Goals and Strategies in Response to Postdivorce Interparental Conflict

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Researchers have focused on preadolescents’ appraisals, coping, and adjustment in the context of postdivorce interparental conflict, but have yet to assess their goals in these events. Fifty 9- to 12-year-old (52% female) preadolescents were interviewed to assess their goals for the coping strategies that they reported using in response to interparental conflict at home. The patterns observed were consistent with goal-oriented research in the peer conflict literature. Preadolescents reported goal orientations that matched (i.e., were functionally similar to) their respective behaviorally-based coping strategies, multiple goals for the same type of coping strategy, and multiple coping strategies for the same goal orientation. Relative to other coping strategies, preadolescents were more likely to choose a matching coping strategy to obtain social support, maintain self-boundary, and distraction goals. Relative to other goals, preadolescents’ matching goal-strategy pairs occurred more frequently than did nonmatching pairs, but these pairings accounted for about only 1/3 of the goals reported for a given strategy. Emotion regulation goal orientations were reported more often than any other goal, which highlighted their importance in preadolescents coping with parental conflict. Finally, preadolescents’ coping efforts were chosen for objectives beyond traditional category systems of coping, such as the personal characteristics of family members and others, helping others, and threats to self and others. Thus, the assessment of preadolescents’ goals may improve our understanding of the motivations underlying their appraisals and coping strategies as they seek to adapt to interparental conflict environments.

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