How Young Refugees Cope with Conﬂict in Culturally and
Linguistically Diverse Urban Schools
and Alun Jackson
Geelong Grammar School, The Institute of Positive Education,
Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, and
Behavioural Health, Heart Research Centre, Hong Kong University
Objective: This study compared how young people from diverse migration backgrounds (refugee, immigrant, and local) cope with interper-
sonal conﬂicts with an aim to understand how practitioners can most effectively support young people of different backgrounds. Productive,
non-productive, and reference to other coping styles were expected to differ according to students’ age, exposure to trauma, and migration
Methods: Mixed methods were used to explore the meaning of conﬂict within culturally and linguistically diverse school settings, and investi-
gate how social factors inﬂuenced students’ preferred coping styles in relation to conﬂict. Eighty students attending mainstream and special-
ist language schools in Melbourne completed measures regarding their exposure to traumatic events and preferred coping styles when
dealing with conﬂicts.
Results: Signiﬁcant positive correlations were found between exposure to trauma and age, as well as exposure to trauma and the use of
non-productive coping across the sample. Analyses on traumatic event items revealed that young refugees, compared to immigrant or locals,
were more likely to have been exposed to events such as sudden death of a person, ﬁre, or war zones.
Conclusions: Findings suggested practitioners must consider how multiple factors such trauma, social environment, and everyday stressors
inﬂuence how young people cope with conﬂict. Universal interventions with a problem-solving and coping framework are likely to be beneﬁ-
cial to those students exposed to trauma and whole school communities.
Key words: adolescents; conﬂict; coping; refugees; schools; trauma.
What is already known on this topic
• Young people who experience multiple risk factors such as
exposure to war and trauma, forced migration, resettlement
stresses, and problems at school are more likely to use non-
productive coping strategies in response to stressors and
develop mental health problems.
• The majority of young refugees cope well with resettlement as
demonstrated by the relatively low prevalence of mental health
problems found for this population.
• Practitioners need to consider culturally appropriate and valid
ways of assessing the presence of risk and protective factors
for young refugees in order to optimise prevention and inter-
vention strategies within diverse school contexts.
What this paper adds
• Quantitative and qualitative assessments of students’ coping in
relation to interpersonal conﬂicts revealed that avoidance, usu-
ally considered as a “less” productive strategy may be a more
adaptive response to conﬂict in a school context perceived as
• Students appeared more likely to prefer non-productive coping
when faced with conﬂict if they are a girl, older in age, have
experienced trauma, transitioned from language to mainstream
school, and have been in Australia longer than a year.
• Universal conﬂict resolution education programs conceptualise
conﬂict within a problem-solving and coping framework that
would be beneﬁcial to those students exposed to trauma and
the whole school communities.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
reports that there are currently over 59.5 million people
experiencing dislocation and displacement, half of whom are
children (UNHCR, 2015). This is the highest ﬁgure ever
recorded, highlighting how the displacement of people across
the globe is a large-scale and escalating issue for human devel-
opment, health, and education. Experiences of young refugees
Correspondence: Georgiana Cameron, Geelong Grammar School, The
Institute of Positive Education, 50 Biddlecombe Ave, Corio VIC 3214,
Accepted for publication 12 July 2016
Australian Psychologist 53 (2018) 171–180
© 2016 The Australian Psychological Society