Anxiety and stress in mothers and fathers in the 24 h after their child's surgery

Child Care Health Dev. 2009 Mar;35(2):227-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2214.2008.00920.x.


Background and objective: Surgery in a paediatric setting stresses children and their parents. Previous studies have focused on children and the preoperative period; however, the 24 h after child surgery are highly stressful for parents as their child is still physically recovering and physician-parent communication is vital. The aims of this study are to investigate the impact of three levels of severity of paediatric surgery on mothers' and fathers' anxiety and stress and to identify factors that contribute to parental anxiety and acute stress symptoms in the first 24 h after child surgery.

Patients and methods: A total of 154 parents (91 mothers, 63 fathers) of children who had just undergone elective surgery for a major intervention (n = 41), minor intervention (n = 64) or day surgery (n = 49) completed questionnaires aimed at assessing levels of state anxiety and acute stress symptoms. Social network, socio-economic status and parental health locus of control were evaluated as contributors.

Results: Parents reported high levels of state anxiety (26% had scores on the state scale 2 standard deviations above the norm) and acute stress symptoms (28% in at least one of the four acute stress disorder symptom categories). Child's type of surgery is related to parental anxiety [F(2,134) = 38.12, P = 0.0001, eta(2) = 0.175] and acute stress symptoms [F(2,133) = 31.21, P = 0.0001, eta(2) = 0.133]. Parental state anxiety was predicted by parent's gender, trait anxiety and health external locus of control. Parent's number of acute stress symptoms was predicted by parental trait anxiety, health external locus of control, parent's level of education and the number of social contacts.

Conclusions: There is a need to take into consideration parental anxiety and distress in the 24 h after child surgery. Parental well-being is related to several characteristics including the severity of child surgery; these aspects should be taken into consideration when interacting with parents in the aftermath of their child's surgery.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child, Hospitalized*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / psychology*
  • Fathers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors