Family environment, parental coping and distress, and socioeconomic status as predictors of psychological distress in chronically ill children

Cori Elizabeth Cieurzo, Fordham University


This study investigated psychological distress in children with asthma and diabetes and their parents. Prior research on child and parental psychological adjustment to chronic disease has produced equivocal findings and has focused mainly on maternal psychological distress, neglecting the potential impact chronic illness diagnoses have on fathers. Study participants included 52 couples with a child diagnosed with either asthma (n = 25) or diabetes (n = 27) accessing treatment at outpatient specialty centers. All participants completed a demographic questionnaire, the Brief Symptom Inventory, the Child Behavior Checklist/4-18 – Parent Version, the Family Environment Scale, and the Ways of Coping Questionnaire. The response rate for this study was 65%. Descriptive statistics were calculated. Differences between parental psychological distress and the normative population, differences in psychological distress between mothers and fathers, and differences in parental use of escape-avoidance and planful problem solving coping responses were assessed. Contrary to the literature, both mothers and fathers reported similar levels of psychological distress that were comparable to the normative sample, suggesting healthy psychological adaptation. There were no gender differences found in the use of coping responses. Family environment characteristics and parental psychological distress were not significantly correlated. Correlations were computed between escape-avoidance and planful problem solving discrepancy scores and parental psychological distress. Findings indicated that discrepant use of planful problem solving coping within couples was associated with lower levels of maternal psychological distress. A hierarchical multiple regression was utilized to predict maternal report of children's psychological distress. Socioeconomic status, maternal psychological distress, and escape-avoidance discrepancy scores significantly contributed to the equation suggesting that financial strain, maternal psychological difficulty, and discrepant use of escape-avoidance coping in couples are related to increased psychological distress in children diagnosed with asthma or diabetes. Future research should utilize larger and more racially diverse samples, incorporating both couples and single parent families, to further assess the relationships found in this study.

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Recommended Citation

Cieurzo, Cori Elizabeth, "Family environment, parental coping and distress, and socioeconomic status as predictors of psychological distress in chronically ill children" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3084907.