Child-Parent Interactions



There is evidence that parent and child scores are significantly correlated after PICU1, as after other traumatic events. Within the wider traumatic stress literature, there are different theories about the direction of this relationship, with some researchers proposing that children pick up post-traumatic stress  from parents ('contagion hypothesis') and others showing evidence that parents develop psychological symptoms in reaction to their child’s distress2.

Research to date:

  • Qualitative analysis of 50 parents' reflections on how their relationship with their child had been affected by a PICU admission found that the majority felt their relationship had altered and in particular that they were still over-protective 8 months after discharge3
  • Correlation between parent and child scores is moderate at 3 mths but no longer significant at 1 yr4
  • Child’s avoidance score at 3 mths significantly associated with parent’s post-traumatic stress score at 1 yr4
  • Children who become newly symptomatic by 1 yr (47% of total cases at 1yr) more likely to have symptomatic parent at one year4

Ideas for future work:

  • Could attempt to track pattern of post-traumatic stress symptomatology in a set of parent-child pairs over time in more detail, with the aim of developing a model as to how their reactions are inter-related
  • Could examine whether patterns of post-traumatic stress  in families predict family outcomes, as has been shown with families after child’s cancer treatment5


  1. Rees et al (2004)
  2. McFarlane (1987)  
  3. Colville et al (2008)
  4. Patterns of post-traumatic stress in child-parent pairs after the child's admission to paediatric intensive care (in preparation). (See also 'Patterns of post traumatic stress in child-parent pairs after PICU' - presented at ISTSS Conference, Baltimore, Nov 2007 ppt/handout)
  5. Alderfer et al (2005)
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