The demands of caring for chronically ill children can create additional parental stress that affect the entire family, says a systematic review by researchers at Case Western Reserve University. The review investigated the child care factors that contribute the most to the strain. The study was published as the article: “Parenting Stress Among Caregivers of Children With Chronic Illness: A Systematic Review” in the August, 2013, " the Journal of Pediatric Psychology" and was announced on September 18, 2013.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 15 percent of U.S. families have chronically ill children with special needs. Case Western Reserve researchers found that demands of caring for chronically ill children created more stress than the length or severity of their children’s illness. The researchers analyzed studies that involved parents with children up to the age of 21 who had cancer, asthma, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, diabetes, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and/or sickle cell disease.
While many studies have examined the parental stress associated with specific illnesses, this study is among the first to integrate those findings into a single report to provide a broad view of the issue and potential interventions, said Melissa Cousino, lead author and a graduate student in the Department of Psychological Sciences.
Researchers noted various elements that contribute to the parental stress:
- The challenge of integrating the needs of special needs children into the family routine
- extra therapy or doctors’ appointments
- medical treatments
- worrying about their children’s vulnerability
- school issues
- explaining their children’s needs to other people
In addition to identifying common stress triggers, parents also need help coping with the strain, reported Cousino and co-author Rebecca Hazen, psychologist and assistant professor, Department of Pediatrics.
Hazen said that parents of chronically ill children may be able to reduce their stress levels by:
- Be open to receiving help from family or friends
- Sharing parenting and treatment responsibilities to decrease the demands on one parent
- Talking to their doctor if they need help in managing their stress levels.