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Metaphors and decision making in parental blogs about their children with life-limiting diseases: who’s afraid of the war metaphor?


The use of metaphors aids understanding by allowing us to think of complex problems in terms of relatively simple and more concrete information. As such, metaphors shape thought and guide future action. While metaphors are known to play a role in medical treatment decision-making, the effect of particular metaphors is unknown.

This paper explores the metaphors West-European parents use for their child suffering from a life-limiting condition by analysing 15 blogs from Dutch, German and English and Welsh parents. The analysis found that all parents use war metaphors to describe their child and their disease. Describing their child in war metaphors, for example, ‘fighter’, ‘hero’ or ‘trooper’ allows parents to express their pride in their child. To describe the familial situation parents use both ‘life as a fight’ and a ‘time as space’ metaphor. Time is conceptualised as a space to be filled with positive experiences to allow the child to live as full a life as possible. In medical treatment decisions, parents balance ‘fighting the disease’ against their child’s ability to live a good life. No evidence was found that the use of war metaphors increase a tendency to treat when benefit is unlikely. Instead, parents primarily use war metaphors as a conduit to express their love for their child and to empower them to manage the familial situation.

  • child health
  • linguistics
  • metaphor
  • patient narratives

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All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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