Children’s Coping with Parental Illness

  • Nancy L. Worsham
  • Bruce E. Compas
  • Sydney Ey
Part of the Issues in Clinical Child Psychology book series (ICCP)


What happens to children when their mother or father is seriously ill? What is the impact of parental illness on their psychological and behavioral adjustment? Are children faced with certain types of stressors as a result of specific parental illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, or cancer? And how do children cope with the stress of having an ill parent? Are some coping responses associated with better psychological adjustment and others related to poorer adaptation? These questions form the basis for a growing interest in the consequences of parental physical illness for the psychological well-being of children (e.g., Compas et al., 1994; Lewis, Hammond, & Woods, 1993).


Psychological Adjustment Intrusive Thought Depressed Mother Coping Effort Parental Illness 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adrian, C., & Hammen, C. (1993). Stress exposure and stress generation in children of depressed mothers. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,61, 354–359.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson, C. A., & Hammen, C. L. (1993). Psychosocial outcomes of children of unipolar depressed, bipolar, medically ill, and normal women: A longitudinal study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61, 448–454.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berman, H., Cragg, C. E., & Kuenzig, L. (1988). Having a parent die of cancer: Adolescents’ reactions. Oncology Nursing Forum, 15, 159–163.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Biegel, D. E., Sales, E., & Schulz, R. (1991). Family caregiving in chronic illness. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  5. Bolton, D. A. (1995). Social support in families: Examining the provision and receipt of social support in families when a parent has cancer. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Vermont.Google Scholar
  6. Carter, B., & McGoldrick, M. (1988). The changing family life-cycle: A framework for family therapy. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  7. Cassileth, B. R., Lusk, E. J., Strouse, T. B., Miller, D. S., Brown, L. L., & Cross, P. A. (1984). A psychological analysis of cancer patients and their next-of-kin. Cancer, 55, 72–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin,98, 310–357.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Compas, B. E., Connor, J., Osowiecki, D., & Welch, A. (in press). Effortful and involuntary responses to stress: Implications for coping with chronic stress. In B. H. Gottlieb (Ed.), Coping with chronic stress. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  10. Compas, B. E., Malcarne, V. L., & Banez, G. A. (1992). Coping with psychosocial stress: A developmental perspective. In B. Carpenter (Ed.), Personal coping: Theory, research, and application (pp. 47–64). New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  11. Compas, B. E., Malcarne, V., & Fondacaro, K. (1988). Coping with stress in older children and young adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56, 405–411.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Compas, B. E., & Wagner, B. M. (1991). Psychosocial stress during adolescence: Intrapersonal and interpersonal processes. In S. Gore & M. Colton (Eds.), Adolescence, stress, and coping (pp. 67–85). New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  13. Compas, B. E., Worsham, N., Epping-Jordan, J. E., Howell, D. C., Grant, K. E., Mireault, G., & Malcarne, V. (1994). When mom or dad has cancer: Markers of psychological distress in cancer patients, spouses, and children. Health Psychology, 13, 507–515.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Compas, B. E., Worsham, N. L., & Ey, S. (1992). Conceptual and developmental issues in children’s coping with stress. In A. LaGreca, L. Siegel, J. Wallander, & C. E. Walker (Eds.), Advances in pediatric psychology: Stress and coping with pediatric conditions (pp. 7–24). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  15. Compas, B. E., Worsham, N., Ey, S., & Howell, D. C. (1996). When mom or dad has cancer: II. Coping, cognitive appraisals, and psychological distress in children of cancer patients. Health Psychology, 15, 167–175.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Craft, M. J. (1986). Validation of responses reported by school-aged siblings of hospitalized children. Children’s Health Care, 15, 6–13.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Epping-Jordan, J. E., Compas, B. E., & Howell, D. C. (1994). Predictors of cancer progression in young adult men and women: Avoidance, intrusive thoughts, and psychological symptoms. Health Psychology, 13, 539–547.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ey, S., Compas, B. E., Epping-Jordan, J. E., & Worsham, N. (1997). Stress responses and psychological adjustment in cancer patients and their spouses. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  19. Forsythe, C. J., & Compas, B. E. (1987). Interaction of cognitive appraisals of stressful events and coping: Testing the goodness of fit hypothesis. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 11, 473–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grandstaff, N. W. (1976). The impact of breast cancer on the family. In J. M. Vaeth (Ed.), Frontiers of radiation therapy and oncology (Vol. 11, pp. 146–156). Basel, Switzerland: Karger.Google Scholar
  21. Grant, K. E., & Compas, B. E. (1995). Stress and anxious-depressed symptoms of anxiety/depression among adolescents: Searching for mechanisms of risk. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63, 1015–1021.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Greening, K. (1992). The “Bear Essentials” program: Helping young children and their families cope when a parent has cancer. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, 10, 47–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hammen, C., Adrian, C., Gordon, D., Burge, D., Jaenicke, C., & Hiroto, D. (1987). Children of depressed mothers: Maternal strain and symptom predictors of dysfunction. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 96, 190–198.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hammen, C., Burge, D., & Adrian, C. (1991). Timing of mother and child depression in a longitudinal study of children at risk. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,59, 341–345.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hammen, C., Burge, D., Burney, E., & Adrian, C. (1990). Longitudinal study of diagnoses in children of women with unipolar and bipolar affective disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 47, 1112–1117.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hammen, C., Gordon, D., Burge, D., Adrian, C., Jaenicke, C., & Hiroto, D. (1987). Maternal affective disorders, illness, and stress: Risk for children’s psychopathology. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 736–741.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Hirsch, B. J., Moos, R. H., & Reischl, T. M. (1985). Psychosocial adjustment of adolescent children of a depressed, arthritic, or normal parent. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 94, 154–164.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Horowitz, M. J., Wilner, N., & Alvarez, W. (1979). Impact of Event Scale: A measure of subjective stress. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,41, 209–218.Google Scholar
  29. Issel, L. M., Ersek, M., & Lewis, F. M. (1990). How children cope with mother’s breast cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 17, 5–12.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Klein, D. N., Clark, D. C., Dansky, L., & Margolis, E. T. (1988). Dysthymia in the offspring of parents with primary unipolar affective disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology,97, 265–274.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  32. Lee, C. M., & Gotlib, I. H. (1989a). Clinical status and emotional adjustment of children of depressed mothers. American Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 478–483.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Lee, C. M., & Gotlib, I. H. (1989b). Maternal depression and child adjustment: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 98, 78–85.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lee, C. M., & Gotlib, I. H. (1991). Adjustment of children of depressed mothers: A 10-month followup. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 100, 473–477.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Levanthal, H., Levanthal, E. A., & Nguyen, T. V. (1985). Reactions of families to illness: Theoretical models and perspectives. In D. C. Turk & R. D. Kerns (Eds.), Health, illness, and families: A lifespan perspective (pp. 108–145). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  36. Lewandowski, L. A. (1992). Needs of children during the critical illness of a parent or sibling. Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America, 4, 573–585.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Lewis, F. M. (1990). Strengthening family supports. Cancer, 65, 752–759.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lewis, F. M., Ellison, E. S., & Woods, N. F. (1985). The impact of breast cancer on the family. Seminars in Oncology Nursing,1, 206–213.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lewis, F. M., Hammond, M. A., & Woods, N. F. (1993). The family’s functioning with newly diagnosed breast cancer in the mother: The development of an explanatory model. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 16, 351–370.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lewis, F. M., Woods, N. G., Hough, E. E., & Bensley, L. S. (1989). The family’s functioning with chronic illness in the mother: The spouse’s perspective. Social Science and Medicine, 29, 1261–1269.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Malcarne, V. L., Compas, B. E., Epping-Jordan, J. E., & Howell, D. C. (1995). Cognitive factors in adjustment to cancer: Attributions of self-blame and perceptions of control. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 18, 401–417.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Moguilner, M. E., Bauman, A., & De-Nour, A. K. (1988). The adjustment of children and parents to chronic hemodialysis. Psychosomatics, 29, 289–294.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. National Center for Health Statistics. (1993). Advance data from vital and health statistics: Numbers 111–120. (National Center for Health Statistics Vital Health Stat 16(12)). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  44. Nicholson, A. C., Titler, M., Montgomery, L. A., Kleiber, C., Craft, M. J., Halm, M., Buckwalter, K., & Johnson, S. (1993). Effects of child visitation in adult critical care units: A pilot study. Heart and Lung, 22, 36–45.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1990). Sex differences in depression. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Northouse, L. L. (1995). The impact of cancer in women on the family. Cancer Practice, 3, 134–142.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Osowiecki, D., & Compas, B. E. (1997). Coping and control beliefs in adjustment to cancer. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  48. Reynolds, C. R., & Richmond, B. (1978). What I Think and Feel: A revised measure of children’s manifest anxiety. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology,6, 271–280.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rickard, K. (1988). The occurrence of maladaptive health-related behaviors and teacher-rated conduct problems in children of chronic low back pain patients. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 11, 107–116.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rutter, M. (1966). Children of sick parents: An environmental and psychiatric study. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Siegel, K., Karus, D., & Raveis, V. H. (1996). Adjustment of children facing the death of a parent due to cancer. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 442–450.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Siegel, K., Mesagno, F. P., Karus, D., Christ, G., Banks, K., & Moynihan, R. (1992). Psychosocial adjustment of children with a terminally ill parent. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,31, 327–333.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Stetz, K., Lewis, F. M., & Primomo, J. (1986). Family coping strategies and chronic illness in the mother. Family Relations, 35, 515–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Turk, D. C., & Kerns, R. D. (1985). The family in health and illness. In D. C. Turk & R. D. Kerns (Eds.), Health, illness, and families: A life-span perspective (pp. 1–22). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  55. US Bureau of the Census. (1993). Statistical abstract of the United States: 1993 (113th ed.). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  56. Walsh-Burke, K. (1992). Family communication and coping with cancer: Impact of the We Can Weekend. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, 10, 63–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Welch, A. S., Wadsworth, M. E., & Compas, B. E. (1996). Adjustment of children and adolescents to parental cancer. Cancer, 77, 1409–1418.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wellisch, D. K., Gritz, E. R., Schain, W., Wang, H.-J., & Siau, J. (1991). Psychological functioning of daughters of breast cancer patients. Part I: Daughters and comparison subjects. Psychosomatics, 32, 324–336.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Wellisch, D. K., Gritz, E. R., Schain, W., Wang, H.-J., & Siau, J. (1992). Psychological functioning of daughters of breast cancer patients. Part II: Characterizing the distressed daughter of the breast cancer patient. Psychosomatics, 33, 171–179.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nancy L. Worsham
    • 1
  • Bruce E. Compas
    • 2
  • Sydney Ey
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyGonzaga UniversitySpokaneUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MemphisMemphisUSA

Personalised recommendations