Understanding parental behavior in pediatric palliative care: Attachment theory as a paradigm


Understanding parental behavior in pediatric palliative care: Attachment theory as a paradigm


Kearney JA; Byrne MW


Palliative & Supportive Care




attachment theory; parenting


Objective: The objective of this conceptual paper was to present important constructs in attachment theory as they apply to parent and caregiver behavior in pediatric palliative care. Clarification of these constructs is provided with specific reference to their clinical application as well as their reflection in current empirical literature. Social attachment theory is proposed as a developmentally contextual model for the study of parenting in pediatric palliative and end-of-life care. Method: A comprehensive search was conducted of pertinent literatures. These included classic as well as recent theory and research in attachment theory in addition to the empirical literatures on parent and family experience in pediatric palliative care, serious illness, and beyond to parental bereavement. Other relevant literature was examined with respect to the phenomena of concern. Results: The empirical literature in pediatric palliative care supports the use of central concepts in attachment theory as foundational for further inquiry. This is evidenced in the emphasis on the importance of parental protection of the child, as well as executive activities such as decision making and other prominent parental operations, parental psychological resolution of the child's diagnosis and illness as well as coping and meaning making, and the core significance of parental relationships with providers who provide secure-base and safe-haven functions. Significance of Results: The promise for developing integrated, conceptually based interventions from construction through implementation is of urgent importance to children and families receiving pediatric palliative care services. Focusing on key parental behaviors and processes within the context of a well-studied and contextually appropriate model will inform this task efficiently. The attachment paradigm meets these criteria and has promise in allowing us to move forward in developing well-defined, inclusive, and conceptually grounded protocols for child and family psychosocial research, practice, and education in this specialty.


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Kearney JA; Byrne MW, “Understanding parental behavior in pediatric palliative care: Attachment theory as a paradigm,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed December 3, 2023, https://pedpalascnetlibrary.omeka.net/items/show/15019.