AIMS: To identify the characteristics of optimistic parents of children with cancer. To examine the relationship between optimism, anxiety, depression, life satisfaction, coping and subjective health perception in parents of children with cancer and parents of healthy children. METHODS: One hundred parents of children with cancer were recruited during attendance at Oncology Out-patient Clinics at a UK Regional Cancer Centre. A comparison group of 117 parents of healthy children was also recruited. All parents completed a questionnaire, providing demographic and medical information relating to the child, dispositional optimism, psychological distress, life satisfaction, coping and subjective health perception. RESULTS: Parents of children with cancer had higher levels of anxiety, depression, optimism, satisfaction with life and subjective health perception than the comparison group. Optimism was significantly correlated with satisfaction with life, subjective health perception, anxiety and depression in both groups. CONCLUSION: The findings highlight the importance of optimism in relationship to psychological distress in parents of children with cancer. Interventions targeting parents’ optimism are recommended as a potential source of coping with adversity within this population.