Parent’s coping style affects stress levels

By Justin W. Peer, PhD
University of Michigan - Dearborn

Research shows that parents of individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) experience significantly more stress in comparison to parents of individuals without disabilities. Various factors are related to stress for these parents. However, the majority of past research has focused on direct relationships between causes of stress (stressors) and stress perception for parents and little research has focused on factors that may explain, or account for, these relationships.

What did you do in your research?
We studied coping style as a way to mediate or account for the relationship between known stressors and the experience of stress for the parents. We analyzed two different coping styles: problem-focused (doing something to stop the potential for stress in the future) and emotion-focused (doing something to stop the negative feelings linked with stress in the present). We wanted to see if these styles would explain the relationship between stressors (amount of social support, severity of their child's disability, amount of optimism), and perceived stress for parents of individuals with ID.

What did you find out?
Coping style partially explained the relationship between social support and stress perception for parents in the study. In other words, if parents use mostly emotion-focused coping style they will experience more stress regardless of the nature, strength, and/or stability of their support system. Also, having an emotion-focused coping style may require more support to assist the parent in the development of problem-focused coping ways to manage stress.

What are the take-home messages?
This study highlights the importance of effective coping for parents of individuals with ID. It is vital that professionals and practitioners working with these parents teach effective coping strategies so that parents can avoid the potential damaging effects of stress associated with caring for their child. This is key to the long-term health and well-being for both the parent and the child.

To learn more about these findings contact Justin W. Peer.

Full Journal Article
Peer, J., & Hillman, S. (2012). The mediating impact of coping style on stress perception for parents of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 16(1) 45–59.