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COVID-19 Stress Taking Toll on Parent-Child Relationships

April 13, 2020

Despite feeling close to their children during the COVID-19 pandemic, 61% of parents say they have shouted, yelled, or screamed at them at least once over the past 2 weeks, according to a new report from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 

“For a large number of parents, financial concerns, other worries, social isolation, loneliness, and sadness are getting in the way of parenting,” said lead author Shawna J. Lee, PhD, an associate professor of social work, who compiled the report with coauthor Kaitlin Ward, a doctoral student.

Findings stem from an online survey launched March 24, 2020, about 1 week after the White House administered social distancing guidelines.

Respondents included 562 adults, 58% of whom were mothers, and 51% of whom had at least 1 child age 12 or younger. The majority of participants had at least a bachelor’s degree and identified as white; average household incomes were between $50,000 and $70,000 annually. 

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Overall, parents reported high levels of psychological and physical punishment of children. Twenty percent reported having spanked or slapped children at least once over the past 2 weeks, researchers reported. Eleven percent had done so several times. Meanwhile, 41% of parents said they shouted, yelled, or screamed at children a few times or more in the past 2 weeks.

Some 55% of parents said they were worried money would run out, and 50% worried that they would not be able to afford their bills. Furthermore, 52% said financial stresses were interfering with their parenting and 50% said social isolation was.

The report did share some positive news: 88% of parents said they and their children have demonstrated love for each other over the past 2 weeks. However, researchers were troubled about the high rates of psychological and physical punishment their survey found.

“Given that these data were collected relatively early in the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, we can expect these rates to increase over time as economic conditions worsen and parents’ stress levels increase,” the report concluded. “Advocates for children should be concerned about whether these conditions will contribute to higher rates of child physical abuse and emotional abuse.” 

—Jolynn Tumolo


Lee SJ, Ward KP. Parenting in Context Research Lab, University of Michigan. March 26, 2020.

Parents are having more conflict with children since pandemic [press release]. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan; March 31, 2020.

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