- A recent study found that children were more negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic when their parents experienced emotional symptoms.
- Parents who had positive relationships with their children were less likely to “pass on” any emotional symptoms they were experiencing.
- Parents can work to build their relationship through "special time" positive attention, mindfulness, explaining coping strategies, and self-care.
A recent study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology found that the parent–child relationship is particularly important in predicting children’s resilience during a stressful time (in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic).
Influence of Parents' Emotional Symptoms
Specifically, children were more negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic when a parent experienced emotional symptoms themselves (emotional symptoms here were defined as symptoms of anxiety, depression, or trauma). Parents’ emotional symptoms during the pandemic were associated with increased emotional and behavioral issues in children (including symptoms of depression, anxiety, irritability, and attention issues). However, the relationship between emotional symptoms in the parent and the child during the pandemic depended on the quality of the parent–child relationship. In other words, parents who had a negative relationship with their children (a lot of conflict and little positive interactions) were more likely to have children with emotional symptoms that mirrored their own when they were struggling. Parents who had positive relationships with their children were less likely to “pass on” any emotional symptoms they were experiencing as a result of the pandemic.
In other words, if you are a parent who experienced depression, anxiety, or stress during the pandemic, your experience may not necessarily have a negative impact on your child. By working on your relationship with your child during this time, you may be able to protect them from some negative impacts of the pandemic (or any life stressor).
Increasing Our Children's Resilience
So what can we learn from this research? How do we increase resilience in our children following the pandemic (and other similarly stressful events)?
- Value the quality of the time with your children over the quantity of time. Try to have at least 10 minutes per day of one-on-one “special time," which involves limiting distractions, following your child’s lead in play, and observing and narrating their play.
- You can also improve your relationship with your child by paying attention to and praising any of their positive behaviors. Try to notice and label your child's positive behaviors more frequently than you correct their negative behaviors.
- Practice mindfulness to increase your ability to be present with your child during stressful times. Free apps such as the Healthy Minds Program and UCLA Mindful may help you to learn how to practice mindfulness if you are new to it.
- Let your child know whenever you are using coping skills so they can learn these skills themselves. In other words, state out loud exactly how you help yourself to calm down ("I feel like I'm starting to get nervous, so I'm going to take some deep breaths and tell myself that I can handle this situation.").
- Take care of yourselves during stressful times. Don't feel guilty about prioritizing yourself when you need to. Be realistic about what you can actually get done and ask for help when you need it.
- Seek out a mental health professional if you are ever in need of additional help for yourself or your children.
In summary, research finds that stressful times may negatively impact children, yet prioritizing the parent–child relationship may ultimately help your children to become resilient in face of stress.
Bate, J., Pham, P. T., & Borelli, J. L. (2021). Be My Safe Haven: Parent–Child Relationships and Emotional Health During COVID-19. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 46(6), 624–634.