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Parents stress may affect behavior in children with heart defect

New research indicates that 4-year-olds who have had surgery to correct an inborn heart defect -- much like children without such health problems -- are more likely to have behavioral problems if their mothers and fathers find parenting highly stressful.

While the researchers anticipated this finding, they did not predict another observation: that reported rates of problem behaviors and levels of parenting stress are no higher, and possibly lower, in families coping with the heart defect than in average families.

According to lead author Karen J. Visconti, Ph.D., of Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, "These findings indicate that the parents [of children with the congenital heart defect] were capable of coping with having a sick child."

The study is published in the October issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Visconti and her colleagues followed 153 children born with transposition of the great arteries and their parents for four years. In every case, the heart defect was surgically corrected at an urban children's hospital before the age of 3 months.

The researchers administered questionnaires on which parents rated their levels of stress and social support when the children were 1 year old, and again when they were 4 years old. A separate survey, distributed only at age 4, asked parents to record all the behavioral and emotional problems they observed in their children.

The results reveal that how stressed parents feel when the children are 1 year old is a good predictor of both parental stress levels and the number of problem behaviors in their children three years later. This echoes previous research on normal children, Visconti notes, which "reported that parent stress over the first three years of children's lives was the best predictor of child behavior problems at 4 years of age."

The investigators also found that "families with less social support reported mo
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Contact: Elizabeth (Bess) Andrews
elizabeth.andrews@tch.harvard.edu
617-355-5332
Center for the Advancement of Health
11-Oct-2002


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