Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Navigating the unknown: understanding and managing parental anxiety when a child is ill


Background Parents are often confronted with a difficult decision when their child falls ill: should they go to the general practitioner (GP) or not? This study aims to describe this process comprehensively in order to allow clinicians to assess the extent to which parents can recognise clinical warning signs and act accordingly. The purpose of this study is to describe parents’ decision-making processes when deciding whether or not to consult a GP for their sick child.

Methods We used a qualitative study design based on semistructured interviews to investigate the decision-making process of 25 parents. Four case scenarios describing a developing illness in a child were presented.

Results Parents’ reasons for seeking medical attention could be divided into two main categories. First, non-specific fears lead parents to consult a doctor. Parents were alarmed by the persistence and progression of symptoms, the combination of symptoms or changes in their child’s behaviour or they needed reassurance. Second, several specific fears were identified. Sometimes, parents fear a specific disease, while at other times, they are concerned about warning signs. Some parents, however, would not seek medical attention at any decision point even though their child could be in a potentially life-threatening situation.

Conclusions Although parents make carefully considered decisions on whether or not to consult a doctor, many appear to miss red flags, including more experienced parents. Conversely, some become overly concerned with certain specific symptoms such as fever, and few parents are familiar with self-management strategies.

  • Child Health
  • Health services research
  • Child Welfare
  • Emergency Care
  • Paediatric Emergency Medicine

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.