Background and aims When the child is admitted to hospital, parents are faced with a crisis generated by the traumatic events of disease and hospitalisation. This questionnaire-based survey aims to explore the emotional responses of parents to their children’s hospitalisation and associate them to health-care professionals’ behaviour.
Methods Parents (80 mothers, 75 fathers) of 155 children aged 2–12 years, hospitalised at least 4 days, completed the questionnaire and engaged in private structured interviews. The questionnaire contained demographic data (age, sex, and educational background), questions about parent’s psychological characteristics in general and their specific emotions during the pre-admission and in-hospital phase.
Results Participants were 10% affluent, 65% from middle-class social groups and 25% of relatively deprived minority status. Two – thirds of parents regard themselves as overprotective and highly anxious, 32% present responsible and caring and 1% tend to be indifferent. 19% of parents initially refused admission. The major pre-admission emotions are self- blame, anger and fear, positively associated to previous hospital stays. Stress and discomfort dominate through the in-hospital phase, during which 23% of parents experienced psychosomatic symptoms. Negative emotions become reversed when the need for information by doctors and nurses is satisfied. Fathers expressed less effectively both positive and negative emotions.
Limitations Parents of children with chronic diseases were excluded from the study.
Conclusions Children’s sickness and hospitalisation disorganizes the family, resulting in parental emotional disturbance, confusion and uncertainty. Stress-related emotions are better coped with, when parents feel they are respectfully treated and adequately fed-back by the hospital personnel.