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Parent and Child Preferences and Styles of Communication About Cancer Diagnoses and Treatment

Journal title
Journal of pediatric oncology nursing : official journal of the Association of Pediatric Oncology Nurses
Publication year
Smith, L. E.; Maybach, A. M.; Feldman, A.; Darling, A.; Akard, T. F.; Gilmer, M. J.

Communication challenges frequently occur among families and health care providers of children with life-threatening conditions. These obstacles compound concerns related to children’s diagnoses and treatment, the family’s quality of life, and delivery of care. Developmentally appropriate and validated methods of addressing the communication preferences of families with chronically ill children are limited. This study used six focus groups to determine child and parent preferences and styles of communication centering on new diagnoses and changes in prognosis. Hypothetical situations were used to minimize feelings of self-consciousness among school-aged and adolescent participants. Qualitative analyses (interrater reliability 75%) of child and parent responses revealed 3 categories and 11 subcategories or themes. The category of Characteristics of Communication Exchange included (1) how to tell, (2) who should tell, (3) when to tell, (4) who should be included, and (5) what to tell. The Knowledge and Understanding category included themes of (1) side effects of treatment, (2) what children understand, and (3) questions when being diagnosed. The category of Feelings and Emotions included themes of (1) feelings about changes in prognosis, (2) children’s feelings on being informed, and (3) coping and emotional regulation. Results reveal a need for developmentally appropriate, evidence-based education to inform parents on how, what, and when to communicate information concerning their child’s disease, as well as instructions around facilitating those discussions. Moreover, a need for professional education and training programs for providers is demonstrated by some parental dissatisfaction with bedside manner and disclosure of information. The data collected from this study lay a foundation for future research in communication as a principal factor in quality of life for pediatric patients and their families.

Research abstracts