Parental responses to child experiences of trauma following presentation at emergency departments: a qualitative study

Victoria Williamson, Cathy Creswell, Ian Butler, Hope Christie, Sarah L. Halligan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (SciVal)


Objective: Parents are often children's main source of support following fear-inducing traumatic events, yet little is known about how parents provide that support. The aim of this study was to examine parents' experiences of supporting their child following child trauma exposure and presentation at an emergency department (ED). Design: Semistructured qualitative interviews analysed using thematic analysis. Setting: The setting for this study was two National Health Service EDs in England. Participants: 20 parents whose child experienced a traumatic event and attended an ED between August 2014 and October 2015. Results: Parents were sensitive to their child's distress and offered reassurance and support for their child to resume normal activities. However, parental beliefs often inhibited children's reinstatement of pretrauma routines. Support often focused on preventing future illness or injury, reflective of parents' concerns for their child's physical well-being. In a minority of parents, appraisals of problematic care from EDs contributed to parents' anxiety and perceptions of their child as vulnerable post-trauma. Forgetting the trauma and avoidance of discussion were encouraged as coping strategies to prevent further distress. Parents highlighted their need for further guidance and support regarding their child's physical and emotional recovery. Conclusions: This study provides insight into the experiences of and challenges faced by parents in supporting their child following trauma exposure. Perceptions of their child's physical vulnerability and treatment influenced parents' responses and the supportive strategies employed. These findings may enable clinicians to generate meaningful advice for parents following child attendance at EDs post-trauma.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere012944
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number11
Early online date7 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2016


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