Parental participation and role negotiation are central elements in family-centred care, but research suggests that such negotiation tends to be ad hoc, depending on the relationships developing between the family and health professionals. Lack of effective communication, professional expectations and issues of power and control often prevent open and mutual negotiation between families and health professionals, especially nurses. This article summarises key lessons from a critical review of relevant research literature (Corlett and Twycross 2006) which suggests that nursing staff often control parental participation leaving parents feeling disempowered and deskilled. Poor communication and lack of information sharing exacerbate the situation. Where parents do not comply with nurses' expectations conflict can arise, resulting in more anxiety for already stressed parents. Current health policy requires that health workers listen to children and their families, to actively involve them in the decision-making process and to plan care around their needs and wishes. Nurses need to be aware of the way they interact with parents and the control they may unwittingly exert. A greater emphasis on communication, interpersonal and negotiation skills within nurse education is also needed.