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Parental coping in the context of having a child who is facing death: A theoretical framework

  • Anne-Sophie E. Darlington (a1), David N. Korones (a2) and Sally A. Norton (a3)



While improvements in healthcare have resulted in children with complex and life-threatening conditions living longer, a proportion of them still die. The death of a child puts parents at increased risk for anxiety, depression, and complicated grief. Increasing our understanding of the coping strategies that parents use under such extreme circumstances will enable us to best provide support to families, before and after a child's death. Our aim herein was to develop a theoretical framework of parental coping.


Evidence from the literature was employed to develop a theoretical framework to describe parental coping in the context of having a child with a life-limiting illness who is declining and facing eventual death.


The reasoning and argument consists of three guiding elements: (1) the importance of approach as well as avoidance (as coping strategies) in the context of managing the extreme emotions; (2) the importance of the social aspect of coping within a family, whereby parents cope for others as well as for themselves; and (3) the importance of a flexible and balanced coping profile, with parents using different coping strategies simultaneously. Central to the proposed framework is that effective coping, in terms of adjustment, is achieved by balancing coping strategies: accessing different coping strategies simultaneously or in parallel with a specific focus on (1) approach and avoidance and (2) coping aimed at self and others.

Significance of results:

Understanding of parental coping strategies is essential for health professionals in order to support parents effectively.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Anne-Sophie Darlington, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southampton, Building 67, Highfield Campus, Southampton SO17 1BJ, United Kingdom. E-mail:


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