Parenting stress in mothers and fathers of a child with a hemiparesis: sources of stress, intervening factors and long-term expressions of stress

P R Butcher, T Wind, A Bouma
Child: Care, Health and Development 2008, 34 (4): 530-41

BACKGROUND: In a substantial minority of children with a hemiparesis, motor impairments are accompanied by behavioural problems. This combination confronts parents with several persistent, frequently intense, sources of stress. At the same time, it is likely to reduce the effectiveness of psychosocial resources, such as feelings of competence, which would normally buffer the impact of the stressors. Aim To investigate the association between motor and behavioural problems in children with a hemiparesis and symptoms of stress in their parents, with particular attention to psychosocial factors which may mediate between the child's problems and parents' symptoms of stress.

METHOD: Questionnaires assessing the medical, functional and behaviour problems of the child, and the parents' experience of stress were completed by the mothers and fathers of 108 children with a hemiparesis who were members of the Association for the Motor Handicapped in the Netherlands.

RESULTS: Both parents reported (extremely) high levels of long-term stress significantly more frequently than parents in a normative sample. Indices of long-term stress were associated with the child's behavioural problems and, less strongly, with dysfunctionality in daily life. However, behavioural problems and dysfunctionality also reduced parents' feelings of competence and social support. A mediation analysis showed that feelings of incompetence and social isolation mediated between the child's problems and the parents' symptoms of stress. Fathers and mothers did not differ in level of reported stress, or in the associations between the child's problems and degree of experienced stress.

CONCLUSION: Both parents of a child with a hemiparesis experience high levels of stress, which are strongly associated with feelings of incompetence and social isolation. This suggests that one focus of intervention should be the alleviation of parenting stress with particular attention to increasing perceived competence in the parenting role and reducing feelings of social isolation.

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