Parent-child interactions and children with cerebral palsy: An exploratory study investigating emotional availability, functional ability, and parent distress.


Background: Emotionally available parent-child relationships are supportive of child health and development. When a child has cerebral palsy, a range of child and parent factors can potentially impact the parent-child relationship; however, little research has specifically addressed this question. The aim of this study is to investigate links between parent-child emotional availability and both child functional abilities and parent distress in a sample of parents and children with cerebral palsy. Methods: Twenty-three mothers (mean age 37.3+/-5.7 years) and their children (mean age 4.9+/-3.3 years) with cerebral palsy completed a 20 min videoed parent-child interaction, scored using the Emotional Availability Scales. Parents also completed the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale, the Paediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory, and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Correlational analyses were conducted, and qualitative observations were made. Results: Parent-child dyads in which the parent reported depressive symptoms scored poorer on all aspects of parent-child emotional availability. Where parents reported experiencing anxiety or stress, increased parent hostility and decreased child responsiveness was found. There was no relationship between child functional abilities and either parent distress or parent-child emotional availability. Parent sensitivity, structuring, and nonintrusiveness were negatively associated with child peer problems. Both child responsiveness and child involvement were negatively associated with hyperactivity/inattention. Observations of video footage suggested that parent implementation of therapy strategies impacted negatively on parent-child emotional availability for some dyads. Conclusion: Findings from this study are consistent with the wider literature showing a link between parental depression and the parent-child relationship and extend this link to the cerebral palsy population. The importance of routine screening for parental mental health problems in early childhood intervention is highlighted by these findings. In addition, this study emphasizes the need to better understand how therapists support parents to implement therapeutic strategies to minimize negative impact on the developing parent-child relationship.