Intended for healthcare professionals

General Practice

Parents' difficulties and information needs in coping with acute illness in preschool children: a qualitative study

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 19 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:987
  1. Joe Kai, lecturer in primary health carea
  1. a Department of Primary Health Care, Medical School, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH
  • Accepted 7 August 1996


Objectives: To identify and explore difficulties parents experience with acute illness in young children and the information they seek to help them.

Design: Qualitative study using semistructured one to one and group interviews with parents of preschool children.

Setting: Disadvantaged inner city community.

Subjects: 95 parents of preschool children.

Results: Parents felt disempowered when dealing with acute illness in their children because of difficulties making sense of the illness. Central to parents' difficulties were their experiences of inadequate information sharing by their general practitioners and variations in their doctors' decisions and behaviour. Disparity between parents' beliefs and expectations about illness and treatment and professionals' behaviour further frustrated parents' attempts to understand illness. Parents expressed a need for a range of accessible and specific information to support them through their negotiation of children's illness.

Conclusions: Communication with parents requires greater recognition of parents' difficulties. Professionals have considerable potential to empower parents by sharing more information and skills. Such information should be consistent and address parents' concerns, beliefs, and expressed needs if this potential is to be realised.

Key messages

  • Greater recognition of parents' difficulties may help to reduce potential disharmony between par- ents and doctors

  • Attempts to share greater and consistent information may empower parents and should be sensitive to parents' concerns, beliefs, and needs

  • Tensions may arise for both parents and doctors if greater sharing of knowledge is accompanied by difficulties in tolerating and sharing uncertainty


  • Funding Northern and Yorkshire Regional Health Authority.

  • Conflict of interest None.

  • Accepted 7 August 1996
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