Date of Award

Spring 1980

Document Type



Sociology & Anthropology

First Advisor

Rev. James McCarthy

Second Advisor

John Downs

Third Advisor

Margaret Stuart


The major focus of this paper is to discuss the emotional stresses faced by children and adolescents. It is not my assumption that all emotions and all problems faced by children are necessarily harmful and detrimental to the developing personality. Rather, I feel the day-today process of living and growing constantly presents the child with new and varied problems, (i.e., conditions which do not meet the child's criteria for satisfaction, and which thus cause the child to feel "unhappy." The child reacts to this condition emotionally, and it is this emotion which provides the necessary motivation to implement some type of coping mechanism in attempting to return the individual to a homeostatic condition—happiness I The abnormality of any particular emotion/behavior sequence exists to the extent that effective reaction is blocked, or the individual consistently employs ineffective or self-deafeating coping methods is dealing with existing problems. Each person has the choice of several possible reactions to any new situation. Most of the time these choices are unconscious, particularly in children, since they have not yet developed the ability to consciously reason out problems and solutions. For example, the newborn infant may not know that her basic needs are for comfort, security, and nourishment, yet she does know instinctively that she is unhappy, and reactions emotionally, (i.e., by crying out her anger and frustration). Even though she knows nothing conditioned reinforcement or behavior modification techniques, she quickly learns that the crying mechanism is effective if it brings about the desired response. If happiness is not restored quickly enough to suit her, she may employ other methods of coping such as sucking her fist or flailing her arms and legs about in frustration. The particular coping strategy she uses may or may not be effective in a given instance, but as we shall see later, the responses she receives from her environment will affect her future choices of coping strategies. Coping strategy by definition does not mean it must be effective, (i.e., produce the desired result). There are countless numbers of adults who are capable of resolving their problems yet who continually let emotional reactions determine their behavior rather than logically reasoning through alternatives, even if these impulsive coping mechanisms continue to be ineffective—at least from a healthy perspective. However, there are many cases in which a coping mechanism would "appear" to be ineffective for an individual, when in fact it is producing that individual's desired result. If such an effect were not considered a healthy one (from a professional viewpoint), we would say this person's coping choices were either self defeating or destructive to another — in either case a maladaptive situation. Part V of this thesis on Stress and Coping is the real foundation upon which this entire paper was based. It contains a general overview of the biological, psychological and social forces which constantly interact in the process of each individual's attempt to cope with the emotional stresses of life. The reason for including the first four sections dealing with the process of normal child development is an effort to enumerate crucial development patterns of childhood coping strategies. In this way, we can examine the multiple causal factors which combine to preclude the science of human behavior from pinpointing a simple cause/effect answer to the question of why human beings differ so uniquely in their behavior patterns.