Searching for their Path: Understanding Parents of Children with Emotional Disturbance


May 2024

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Background: Children with Emotional Disturbance (ED) have unpredictable reactions and behaviors, which cause significant problems for themselves, their families and society (Zionts et al., 2016). The child’s reactions are highly disproportionate, chronic and frequent (Gage, 2013). These children have significant risks related to their ED, including school drop-out, incarceration, unemployment and substance abuse (Lipscomb et al., 2018). Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore participants’ experiences related to raising a child with ED, participants’ response to situations related to their child’s ED, and how a child with ED impacted the family. Method: This study explored the parenting experiences of mothers of children with ED, utilizing Naturalistic Inquiry as described by Lincoln and Guba (1985) and Erlandson et al. (1993). After IRB approval, eight mothers were recruited nationally through social media. Results: Three overarching constructs emerged in the study. The first construct, “concerns and suspicions,” was the evolution of mothers’ concerns, rationalizations, escalations, decision and eventual confirmation that their child was “different.” “Actions and adaptations” depicted the actions used to manage their child with ED, along with actions for self-care and siblings’ care. “Altered families and advice for others” described how every family member was impacted by the child with ED and participants’ advice on how to ease the difficulties for other families. Study findings suggested needed changes to nursing practice, education and policy.