From pandemic to endemic: Stress of COVID-19 on families

pandemic family

The novel coronavirus has created unprecedented challenges that were unforeseeable two years ago. The DU Newsroom has been speaking with faculty experts about issues that have arisen or have been exacerbated because of the pandemic. Tracy Vozar is a clinical associate professor and director of the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) Specialty in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology. She shares her thoughts about the stress of COVID-19 on families in this interview with the DU Newsroom.

What are some of the challenges that families face during the pandemic?

Families are facing all the challenges they were up against before the pandemic as well as the additional stressors and strains the pandemic adds to their plates. Families we speak with personally and professionally are experiencing additional financial, educational, occupational, childcare, health, mental health and social support concerns, among others. Parenting is challenging no matter what. Parenting during a pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetime and not something we have a guidebook for.

How does pandemic-related stress on parents affect child mental health?

I think of mental health and well-being in relational terms. Within a family, when one person is struggling, others will be impacted. Children are very attuned to their caregivers’ well-being. When a parent or caregiver is stressed, children will notice and can experience that stress, as well. Depending on children’s ages, they may show signs of stress via sleep, eating, toileting difficulties or behavioral or learning issues at school, for example.

Who is most at risk of longer-term mental health issues due to pandemic conditions?

When we think of risk in early childhood, we know that numerous risk factors are more predictive of difficulties than any one risk factor. When families are experiencing hardships and then additional risk factors due to COVID or other concerns are added, those are the families I’m most concerned about for longer term mental health and well-being.

What are some strategies that promote family well-being?

The good news is there is a lot that caregivers can do to support their children during this time. On a daily basis, caregivers can check in with children on how they’re feeling and can provide support and affirm their emotions. Children may have mixed emotions and may experience confusion—especially during the pandemic—and can look to caregivers for support, understanding and discussions of what they’re experiencing. Doing something fun or enjoyable together, even for five minutes, is another great way to show kids you love and care about them which is protective for their mental health and well-being.

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