Aims Parenting a child with a chronic health condition can be difficult. Parent wellbeing is important in its own right, and also for the sake of the child. Parents who become, albeit understandably, anxious, over-protective or detached from their ill children may not provide them with ideal support. Where a child’s illness improves, parental stress is likely to decrease. However, there are a range of conditions where a child’s underlying health remains problematic. We aimed to establish whether parent resilience could be improved in the face of ongoing symptoms, in this case, in a population of adolescents undergoing treatment for chronic pain.
Methods 92 parents accompanied their child (adolescent, ages 11–18) for a course of residential treatment for non-malignant chronic pain. The adolescents had disabling idiopathic pain requiring treatment at a tertiary national specialist service. Parents accompanied their children through most of the three week programme, participating in exercise and psychology sessions, as well as having three hours of dedicated parent intervention. We examined (1) parental catastrophising about pain, (2) parenting behaviour and (3) parent stress up to a three month follow up.
Results Adolescents going through the programme showed no change in their underlying pain intensity, which remained high (7.7/10). They did make functional improvements. Despite ongoing adolescent pain, parents at the three month follow up period (n – 72, 76% data completion) showed significantly decreased catastrophizing about their child’s pain, less protective parenting behaviour, and reduced parenting stress. Parents showed a decrease in defensive responding around their child, and did not show any increase in their tendency to ‘minimise’ their child’s ongoing pain.
Conclusions Parents can increase their resilience and show increasingly adaptive parenting, even in cases where their child’s underlying condition does not improve. Here, parents were exposed to a programme of intensive psychological and physical rehabilitation with some dedicated sessions targeted at parent resilience. Their children’s pain did not change, but their approach to it did. However, the intervention studied was targeted both at child and parent; research is needed to establish whether parent-only interventions can improve resilience.
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