Parents'psychological and emotional distress can disrupt their parenting at any time, but the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric cancer are examples of major stressors that can present particularly significant challenges to the ability to function as a parent. Parents are challenged to provide information and emotional support to their child during their diagnosis and treatment, but high levels of their own psychological and emotional distress may interfere with their ability to do so. Research has shown that parents of pediatric cancer patients are more likely to experience posttraumatic stress symptoms than other kinds of distress. PTSD symptoms in these parents may interfere with the information and emotional support they provide for their child, and parents'emotion regulation strategies may determine the effect that PTSD symptoms ultimately have on parents'behavior. The proposed research will examine how parents'posttraumatic stress symptoms and emotion regulation strategies are related to the amount of warmth and structure provided during a conversation with their child about cancer. This proposed research is in service to a long-term goal of expanding current research on how parents'own psychological and emotional distress affects their parenting behavior. Further, the proposed research aims to identify emotion regulation strategies that may be important in accounting for the relation between psychological distress and parenting in order to illuminate why parents'distress interferes with parenting and what interventions aimed at improving parenting can target in parents. This proposal focuses on parents of children with cancer as a group that is exposed to major, salient stressors and has variability in distress levels. Using direct observations, semi-structured interviews, and questionnaires, the proposed project will assess posttraumatic stress symptoms, emotion regulation, meta-emotion philosophy and parenting in 100 parents of children diagnosed with cancer. A model of the relations among PTSD symptoms, emotion regulation, meta-emotion philosophy and parenting will be tested.

Public Health Relevance

Lay summary: This project examines how parents'psychological and emotional distress and the ways they deal with that distress may interfere with their parenting behavior when a child is diagnosed with cancer. Specifically, parents'posttraumatic stress symptoms and emotion regulation will be examined in relation to the warmth and structure they provide during a conversation with their child about cancer. Findings from this study will contribute to the development of better ways to help parents engage in effective parenting in the midst of severely stressful circumstances.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F12B-S (20))
Program Officer
Rubio, Mercedes
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Schools of Education
United States
Zip Code
Compas, Bruce E; Jaser, Sarah S; Dunn, Madeleine J et al. (2012) Coping with chronic illness in childhood and adolescence. Annu Rev Clin Psychol 8:455-80