Topical Review: Families Coping With Child Trauma: A Naturalistic Observation Methodology

J Pediatr Psychol. Jan-Feb 2016;41(1):117-27. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsv016. Epub 2015 Mar 21.


Objective: To introduce a novel, naturalistic observational methodology (the Electronically Activated Recorder; EAR) as an opportunity to better understand the central role of the family environment in children's recovery from trauma.

Methods: Discussion of current research methods and a systematic literature review of EAR studies on health and well-being.

Results: Surveys, experience sampling, and the EAR method each provide different opportunities and challenges for studying family interactions. We identified 17 articles describing relevant EAR studies. These investigated questions of emotional well-being, communicative behaviors, and interpersonal relationships, predominantly in adults. 5 articles reported innovative research in children, triangulating EAR-observed behavioral data (e.g., on child conflict at home) with neuroendocrine assay, sociodemographic information, and parent report. Finally, we discussed psychometric, practical, and ethical considerations for conducting EAR research with children and families.

Conclusions: Naturalistic observation methods such as the EAR have potential for pediatric psychology studies regarding trauma and the family environment.

Keywords: accidents and injuries; family functioning; posttraumatic stress; research design and methods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Family Relations / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Observational Studies as Topic / methods*
  • Psychology, Child
  • Psychometrics
  • Research Design*
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology*