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children, cortisol, distress, distraction, pain



  1. McCarthy, Ann Marie
  2. Kleiber, Charmaine
  3. Hanrahan, Kirsten
  4. Zimmerman, M. Bridget
  5. Westhus, Nina
  6. Allen, Susan


Background: Previous research shows that numerous child, parent, and procedural variables affect children's distress responses to procedures. Cognitive-behavioral interventions such as distraction are effective in reducing pain and distress for many children undergoing these procedures.


Objectives: The purpose of this report was to examine child, parent, and procedural variables that explain child distress during a scheduled intravenous insertion when parents are distraction coaches for their children.


Methods: A total of 542 children, between 4 and 10 years of age, and their parents participated. Child age, gender, diagnosis, and ethnicity were measured by questions developed for this study. Standardized instruments were used to measure child experience with procedures, temperament, ability to attend, anxiety, coping style, and pain sensitivity. Questions were developed to measure parent variables, including ethnicity, gender, previous experiences, and expectations, and procedural variables, including use of topical anesthetics and difficulty of procedure. Standardized instruments were used to measure parenting style and parent anxiety, whereas a new instrument was developed to measure parent performance of distraction. Children's distress responses were measured with the Observation Scale of Behavioral Distress-Revised (behavioral), salivary cortisol (biological), Oucher Pain Scale (self-report), and parent report of child distress (parent report). Regression methods were used for data analyses.


Results: Variables explaining behavioral, child-report and parent-report measures include child age, typical coping response, and parent expectation of distress (p < .01). Level of parents' distraction coaching explained a significant portion of behavioral, biological, and parent-report distress measures (p < .05). Child impulsivity and special assistance at school also significantly explained child self-report of pain (p < .05). Additional variables explaining cortisol response were child's distress in the morning before clinic, diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or anxiety disorder, and timing of preparation for the clinic visit.


Discussion: The findings can be used to identify children at risk for high distress during procedures. This is the first study to find a relationship between child behavioral distress and level of parent distraction coaching.