Original Paper

Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 411-417

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Mother Positivity and Family Adjustment in Households with Children with a Serious Disability

  • Barry TruteAffiliated withFaculty of Social Work, University of ManitobaFaculty of Social Work, University of Calgary Email author 
  • , Karen M. BenziesAffiliated withFaculty of Nursing, University of Calgary
  • , Catherine WorthingtonAffiliated withSchool of Public Health and Social Policy, University of Victoria


Only limited attention has been given to parent coping resources in the positive adjustment of families of children with a disability. This study is the first to explore maternal positivity as a psychological coping resource related to family adjustment in these families. Consistent with broaden-and-build theory and prior positivity research, positivity was operationalized through a ratio of positive to negative affect scores. We employed longitudinal tracking over a 1 year interval. Children’s diagnostic categories included developmental conditions or impairments, mental health disorders, complex health conditions, physical/motor conditions or impairments, sensory impairments, and provisionally diagnosed conditions or impairments. We used a computer assisted telephone survey to gather psychological, family, and demographic information from 152 mothers in Alberta, Canada. Hierarchical regression analysis indicated mothers’ level of positivity and age, when controlled for family adjustment at Time 1, accounted for 46% of the variance in family adjustment at Time 2. That is, older mothers with higher positivity scores were found to live in households with higher levels of family adjustment after 1 year. These findings provide promising support for broaden-and-build theory, which posits that positive experienced emotions can offset and diminish the negative health and relationship impacts of chronic stress. Study findings support the salience of mothers’ positivity as a psychological coping resource, which is related to enhanced family adjustment in situations of childhood disability.


Family adjustment Child disability Mother coping Positivity Longitudinal study