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Stress, maternal distress, and child adjustment following immigration : exploring the buffering role of social support Short, Kathryn Helen


Immigration is typically deemed a stressful life event. For adults, the experience of uprooting and settling in a new country has been associated with elevated rates of psychological distress. Basic North American parenting models would predict that immigrant children are also at risk for developing adjustment problems; both as a direct function of immigration stress, and indirectly through the influence of parent distress and disrupted parenting behavior. Although some empirical studies support this contention, many researchers have described lower or equivalent rates of problems in immigrant, relative to nonimmigrant, children. In the present study, in an attempt to understand why it is that some children develop problems following migration whereas others remain resilient, a model that highlights the role of potential protective variables was empirically tested. New immigrant mothers from Hong Kong completed a series of questionnaires regarding extrafamilial stress, personal distress, social support, and child behavior. Another adult familiar with the child’s adjustment also completed a child behavior questionnaire. Consistent with the Basic Model, results of Moderated Multiple Regression analyses revealed that extrafamilial stress and maternal distress were significant predictors of child behavior problems. However, no support was found for the Moderator Model. When the sample was split along gender lines and the analysis was conducted for boys only, findings were consistent with the Moderator Model in that the relationship between extrafamilial stress and child behavior problems was weaker in the presence of higher levels of social support. At the same time, however, it was determined that the relationship between maternal distress and boys’ behavior was stronger at higher levels of support. There were no significant interaction effects when the analysis was conducted exclusively with families of girls. Support for the Moderator Model was more straightforward at the level of adult fi.rnctioning. In keeping with findings in the North American literature, the relationship between stress and maternal distress was moderated by social support in this immigrant sample. Cultural explanations for these findings were discussed. An integrative model that follows from the results of this study was presented as a heuristic to guide future study in this area.

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