Emotional Distress and Linguistic Complexity in Parents of Children with Cancer
Rodriguez, Erin M
Childhood cancer is a source of stress for children who are diagnosed and their families. These children and their parents have been shown to have higher levels of emotional distress than the general population. Parent-child communication about cancer can provide information and emotional support to children and contribute to children’s adjustment to cancer. However, parental communication that does not match their child’s developmental level may be related to poorer adjustment in both parents and children. Further, parental distress may interfere with parents’ ability to communicate effectively with their children about cancer. Method: 78 families participated in a questionnaire study about emotional distress related to a child’s cancer. Of those families, 34 participated in a videotaped parent-child interaction about cancer. Parental linguistic complexity during the interaction was measured by word count and revisions per turn during the interaction. Results: Child and parent emotional distress were positively correlated with each other, but not significantly correlated with linguistic complexity. Parent linguistic complexity was significantly positively associated with child age. Although not significant, associations between linguistic complexity and parental anxiety were positive, and associations between complexity and depressive symptoms were negative. Conclusions: Linguistic complexity is a significant variable in parent-child communication about cancer, suggesting that it may be important to consider it when designing communication interventions for parents. Future studies should include larger sample size and other measures of complexity to test for potential effects of linguistic complexity on child distress and adjustment.