Prehospital and Disaster Medicine

Special Report

Issues in the Assessment of Children's Coping in the Context of Mass Trauma

Betty Pfefferbauma1a2 c1, Mary A. Noffsingera2a3 and Leslie H. Winda4

a1 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, College of Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma USA

a2 Terrorism and Disaster Center, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma USA

a3 Courtroom Sciences, Inc., Irving, Texas USA

a4 School of Social Work, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California USA


Exposure to mass trauma has contributed to increasing concern about the well-being of children, families, and communities. In spite of global awareness of the dramatic impact of mass trauma on youth, little is known about how children and adolescents cope with and adapt to disasters and terrorism. While coping has yet to be fully conceptualized as a unified construct, the process of responding to stress includes recognized cognitive, emotional, and behavioral components. Unfortunately, research on the complex process of adaptation in the aftermath of mass trauma is a relatively recent focus. Further study is needed to build consensus in terminology, theory, methods, and assessment techniques to assist researchers and clinicians in measuring children's coping, both generally and within the context of mass trauma. Advancements are needed in the area of coping assessment to identify internal and external factors affecting children's stress responses. Additionally, enhanced understanding of children's disaster coping can inform the development of prevention and intervention programs to promote resilience in the aftermath of traumatic events. This article examines the theoretical and practical issues in assessing coping in children exposed to mass trauma, and includes recommendations to guide assessment and research of children's coping within this specialized context.

Pfefferbaum B, Noffsinger MA, Wind LH. Issues in the assessment of children's coping in the context of mass trauma. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2012;27(3):1-8.

(Received January 10 2012)

(Accepted April 15 2012)

(Online publication June 13 2012)


c1 Correspondence: Betty Pfefferbaum, MD, JD Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences College of Medicine University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center P.O. Box 26901-WP 3470 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73126-0901 USA E-mail


Funding: This work was funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Nursing Research, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (5 R25 MH070569 and 1 U79 SM57278).