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Parenting a child with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may be stressful and emotionally challenging at times. However, there is limited research exploring the experiences of parents of children with IBD and how this group may be supported in practice. With support from IBDrelief, 159 parents of children with IBD were recruited to take part in the ‘A Self-Compassion Intervention for Parents of Children with Inflammatory Bowel Disease’ study, which ran between April and December 2021.
One way in which parents may be supported in this context is through self-compassion interventions. Self-compassion has been defined in relation to three main components: self-kindness; common humanity; and mindfulness. Existing research has shown the benefits of self-compassion in the context of chronic health conditions and challenging parenting situations.
We therefore conducted a randomised controlled trial which investigated the effectiveness of a brief online self-compassion intervention for parents of children with IBD. The intervention involved reflecting and expressing compassion to oneself in relation to a recent challenging parenting event. Participants were randomised to either the intervention or a control group, completing outcome measures before, immediately after the intervention, and two weeks after daily engagement in the intervention.
Findings suggest that the self-compassion intervention effectively increased self-compassion and reduced distress, but not shame, immediately following the intervention. Repeated engagement in the intervention had no effect on longer-term measures of self-compassion or parental stress. Significant drop-out and several methodological limitations mean that these latter findings cannot be confidently applied to all and further studies are needed.
Nonetheless, this study is the first to explore a brief self-compassion intervention for parents of children with IBD, and findings suggest that this may be a helpful and accessible way to support parents in the immediate moment. Future research and clinical practice in IBD should seek to understand and support the wellbeing of parents alongside their children.
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