Background: Parents of children with congenital heart disease (CHD) exhibit high rates of mental health difficulties, which can influence child developmental and behavioural outcomes. While extensive research has focused on CHD-related stressors that contribute to parental mental health difficulties, few studies have investigated parental coping strategies that may mitigate or heighten risk. This study aimed to identify parental coping strategies following diagnosis of CHD and compare use of coping strategies among different groups (mothers vs. fathers; prenatal vs. postnatal diagnosis).
Methods: A diverse sample of 34 parents (20 mothers and 14 fathers) of young children with CHD participated in semistructured interviews focused on their responses to CHD-related stressors. Coping strategies were identified from qualitative data and categorized according to the COPE Inventory, an instrument that assesses common adult responses to stress. Coping strategies deemed as unique to parenting a critically ill child were identified. χ2 and independent sample t tests evaluated group differences.
Results: Parents described using between 1 and 10 different adaptive and maladaptive strategies measured by the COPE Inventory. Most parents (82.35%) also described coping strategies that may be unique to parenting a critically ill child. Mothers were more likely than fathers to report a focus on and venting of emotions (70% vs. 21.43%) and behavioural disengagement (25% vs. 0%). Compared with parents receiving a postnatal CHD diagnosis, those receiving a prenatal diagnosis described a greater variety of coping strategies (6.23 vs. 4.52) and more often reported positive reinterpretation and growth (69.23% vs. 14.29%), behavioural disengagement (38.46% vs. 0%) and denial (38.46% vs. 0%).
Conclusions: Parents of children with CHD utilize a variety of coping strategies, some of which are maladaptive. Interventions tailored to the needs of mothers and fathers of young children with CHD, including those receiving a postnatal diagnosis, are needed to promote adaptive coping and optimize family psychosocial outcomes.
Keywords: congenital heart disease; coping; mental health; parenting; psychosocial.
© 2021 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.