A longitudinal investigation of the role of parental responses in predicting children's post-traumatic distress

Rachel M. Hiller, Richard Meiser-Stedman, Sarah Lobo, Cathy Creswell, Pasco Fearon, Anke Ehlers, Lynne Murray, Sarah L. Halligan

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Background: While parental post-trauma support is considered theoretically important for child adjustment, empirical evidence concerning the specific aspects of parental responding that influence child post-traumatic distress, or the processes via which any such impacts occur, is extremely limited. We conducted a longitudinal examination of whether parental post-trauma appraisals, trauma-specific support style and general parenting style predicted child post-traumatic stress symptom severity (PTSS) following trauma; and whether such influences operated via the child's own appraisals and coping style.

Method: We recruited 132 parent–child pairs following children's experience of acute trauma. We examined whether parental responses assessed at 1-month post-trauma, predicted child PTSS at 6-month follow-up. Parental trauma-specific appraisals and responses, and general parenting style, were assessed via both self-report and direct observations. Child-report questionnaires were used to assess PTSS and potential mediators.

Results: Initial parent negative appraisals and encouragement of avoidant coping were associated with higher child-reported PTSS at 6-month follow-up. Predictive effects were maintained even when controlling for initial child symptom levels. Observational assessments broadly supported conclusions from self-report. There was evidence that parental influences may operate, in part, by influencing the child's own appraisals and coping responses. In contrast, there was no evidence for an influence of more “adaptive” support or general parenting style on child PTSS.

Conclusions: Findings provide important insight into how elements of social support may influence child post-trauma outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)781-789
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number7
Early online date2 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


  • Longitudinal
  • child
  • adolescent
  • posttraumatic stress disorder
  • parenting
  • cognitive-behavioural

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