‘Inspiring Stories’ with Leanne Morrison
Lecturer in Health Psychology
This is part of the Engaged Medicine ‘Inspiring Stories’ blog series. The blogs explore the stories behind outreach and patient-public engagement activities of staff and students from the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine.
Novel Patient & Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) August 2021. Supporting caregivers of young children experiencing constipation
My research interest is in understanding and supporting parents’ experiences of childhood constipation, that has no underlying organic cause. Constipation affects 1 in 3 children in the UK. Symptoms of constipation are unpleasant for children and challenging for parents and carers to cope with. As a researcher and parent of a child who struggles with constipation, I had some early ideas about what specific needs a new support resource for parents/carers could address. But I really needed to speak with other parents to find out if they agreed this was a topic worth exploring, and if so, which support needs should be prioritised.
I contacted Sonia Newman, Patient & Public Involvement and Engagement Officer in the Primary Care Research Centre, who leads the ‘Finding Out Together’ team. They have been developing relationships with staff and families attending a Sure Start centre in Southampton. I was invited to go along to a community Sure Start Summer event and spend time speaking with parents and carers. This was a fantastic chance to chat with families at such an early stage in my research planning. Although constipation is common it’s not necessarily what most people would choose to talk about on a fun day out with their children (especially with a stranger). It was therefore crucial for families to see me as a friendly face and have varied ways to share their thoughts with me. I made a short 30 second video introduction, posted on the Sure Start Facebook group, to introduce myself and what I hoped to talk with families about. On the day, I took conversation starter leaflets with contact details and a postcard on which parents could very quickly indicate their own priorities or jot down their wish list for additional help and support. We also offered a mess contained slime activity to keep little ones entertained while I chatted with parents/carers.
Attending this event pushed me outside my comfort zone. The activity table was often busy with multiple different families and was not the ideal place to talk about constipation. Instead, it worked much better to mingle with the families and wander around the event. I did not consider myself to be well skilled in striking up conversation with families and felt I didn’t have the right to interrupt their fun day out. Actually, most people were very happy to chat to me about their own, and sometimes other people’s experiences with constipation. The biggest challenge was finding a way to introduce the topic of constipation and encourage parents/carers to open up. Having a child with constipation was sometimes judged by parents/carers as having done something wrong e.g. not providing enough fruit and vegetables. Sharing my own personal experience reinforced that I was not there to judge and could empathise with their experience. Although I was mindful not to overshare and inadvertently steer parents/carers to simply agree with my ideas. Following the event, I recorded another short video to thank families for sharing their experiences and invite other families to get in touch.
Despite these challenges, I had very useful conversations with families that helped me to change the way I was thinking about my research plans. Many families had experienced constipation at one time or another and their first response was ‘it’s tough’, affirming that this is a worthwhile research topic. Families also discussed a range of different experiences. This meant I was not able to prioritise the specific support needs to focus on. Instead, I realised it’s crucial to spend more time finding out what the range of support needs are and how these can be addressed in one easily accessible support resource for parents/carers. Next time, I would like to spend more time chatting to centre staff too, many of whom also have useful insight to share. My confidence in talking to the public about my research ideas has grown and I would encourage researchers with topics of interest to families to get involved with other similar events.
Stay Connected! To find out more about the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series, Faculty of Medicine educational programmes and research, or to get involved use the links below or contact Dr Lucy Green.
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