How the Pandemic Changed Family Dynamics
The potential impact of covid-19 on adolescents’ social development..
Posted August 2, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- The social effects of quarantine hit younger adolescents particularly hard, derailing typical development.
- During COVID-19, family was more influential than friends during a developmental period when the opposite would normally be true.
- Siblings may have functioned as a buffer against the social effects of quarantine for older adolescents.
The social landscape has looked wildly different over the past year and a half. Because of the quarantines and social restrictions made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person social interactions were greatly reduced in 2020 as many found themselves spending the majority of their time at home with family, and away from friends and colleagues. Previous research has already connected quarantine and increased mental health issues that have been observed during the pandemic (e.g., Chahal et al., 2020; Ghebreyesus et al., 2020).
Adolescence is a time of social exploration where peers begin to play a greater role than parents as teens move toward independence, so the disruption of this normative timeline, and particularly interactions with friends, is cause for concern (Ellis et al., 2020; Orben, Tomova, Blakemore, 2020). Cross-sectional studies on the effects of COVID-19 have shown that maintaining friendships is something children and adolescents were bothered by and that while online social connections can be beneficial, in-person interactions are more effective (Ellis et al., 2020; Orben et al., 2020).
A recent study led by Dr. Reuma Gadassi-Polack in our lab expanded what is known about the effects of COVID-19 quarantine by looking at adolescents’ social interactions and depressive symptoms before and during the pandemic (Gadassi Polack et al., in press). Researchers collected data from kids using short questionnaires completed daily, a year before COVID and again at the beginning of the pandemic. Each day, participants reported both positive and negative interactions with family members and peers and their depressive symptoms.
The study looked at 112 participants (age 8-15) who completed daily questionnaires in both the initial pre-COVID data collection (Wave 1) and the data collection during COVID (Wave 2). Researchers were able to capture information about both individual relationships and how they affect one another via “spillover,” a concept that will be discussed further below.
COVID Had Greater Negative Effects on Younger Adolescents
In typical development, we would expect to see uniform increases in interactions with peers alongside decreases in interactions with parents (e.g., Lam et al., 2012; Larson et al., 1991; Larson et al., 1996). Instead, younger (but not older) participants had significantly fewer positive interactions with peers during COVID compared to pre-COVID. For participants 13 and older, significantly more positive interactions with siblings were seen during COVID vs. before. This led to a greater negative impact on younger adolescents, who lost positive interactions with peers without gaining any positive interactions with siblings like older adolescents. In fact, younger adolescents had more negative interactions with siblings than friends or parents.
For both age groups, negative interactions with friends significantly decreased while there were no other significant decreases in other relationships. This finding presents a different facet of the move to online school: for some, this was an opportunity to escape a negative environment.
Altogether, the lack of the expected increase in interactions with friends suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed the typical trajectory of social development. The larger effect can potentially be credited to less social development as younger adolescents are experiencing the same effects earlier in development, with less social skills in place. A further implication of these results is that in-person interactions cannot be neatly substituted with virtual interaction.
Family Members Were More Influential than Friends During the Early Stages of COVID-19
Looking at a process named “spillover” allowed researchers to understand the connections within the family, family subsystems, and peer relationships. The concept of spillover is grounded in the idea that our social world is made up of subsystems, including those within the family: the mother and father is a subsystem, as is the parent and child, or the siblings. These subsystems are of course connected (e.g., the mother-father relationship is related to the mother-child relationship), but not without some boundaries. When these boundaries become weaker, interactions in one subsystem can affect interactions in other subsystems via spillover (e.g., Chung et al., 2011; Flook & Fuligni, 2008; Kaufman et al., 2020; Krishnakumar & Buehler, 2000; Mastrotheodoros et al., 2020).
For example, an argument between parents can cause each parent to be more likely to argue with their child. What began as a negative interaction in the mother-father relationship has then spilled over into the parent-child relationship. This example would be considered negative spillover, where negative occurrences in one subsystem lead to negative interactions or feelings in another. Positive spillover occurs when the same thing happens with positive occurrences. For example, being praised by their mother might cause a child to be kinder to their sibling . Then, a positive interaction in the mother-child relationship has spilled over into the sibling relationship.
COVID-19 appeared to create a more closed family system, with fewer spillover effects from outside and more inside. In other words, interactions with family members impacted interactions with friends to a lesser degree during COVID. Separate interactions with family and friends are expected to affect each other less as adolescents develop typically. However, in the context of the pandemic, this was particularly detrimental for those who already had more negative family relationships prior to COVID as there was less day-level positive spillover and increased negative spillover on the individual level.
Increase in Depressive Symptoms Related to Family Interactions
Changes were not only seen in interactions, but also in levels of depressive symptoms. Depressive symptoms increased significantly by almost 40 percent during COVID-19, regardless of age. This signifies the severity of COVID-19’s impact on adolescent mental health, above and beyond any increase in depression typically seen in development (e.g., Salk et al., 2016). The occurrence of less positive and more negative interactions with family members significantly predicted depressive symptoms during COVID-19.
More Positive than Negative Interactions and a New Role for Siblings
The effects of the social changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic were not wholly negative, however. Overall, most kids reported five times more positive interactions than negative interactions. Importantly, having more positive interactions with family members was associated with smaller increases in depressive symptoms during COVID.
The effect of the pandemic on sibling relationships was also more positive. Few would be surprised to hear siblings had a high number of negative interactions – much higher compared to any other relationship. However, increased positive interactions without an increase in negative interactions with siblings was seen in older adolescents, suggesting that siblings can compensate at least somewhat for the decrease in in-person peer interactions.
Combined with prior research on siblings’ positive effects on mental health and loneliness (McHale, Updegraff, & Whiteman, 2012; Wikle, Ackert, & Jenson, 2019), these results suggest that the presence of siblings is beneficial during a time of social isolation .
In general, this research shines a light on how important peer interactions are for normative development and the necessity of ensuring children and adolescents are given opportunities to spend time, especially in-person, with peers.
- Family negativity predicted the increase in depressive symptoms during COVID-19. In families with more positive interactions, there was less of an increase.
- Siblings potentially functioned as a buffer for the social effects of quarantine for older adolescents.
Anna Leah Davis, a Yale undergraduate, contributed to the writing of this blog post.
Chahal, R., Kirshenbaum, J. S., Miller, J. G., Ho, T. C., & Gotlib, I. H. (2020). Higher executive control network coherence buffers against puberty-related increases in internalizing symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Biological Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpsc.2020.08.010
Chung, G. H., Flook, L., & Fuligni, A. J. (2011). Reciprocal associations between family and peer conflict in adolescents' daily lives. Child Development, 82, 1390–1396. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01625.x
Ellis, W. E., Dumas, T. M., & Forbes, L. M. (2020). Physically isolated but socially connected: Psychological adjustment and stress among adolescents during the initial COVID-19 crisis. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 52, 177-187. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cbs0000215
Flook, L., & Fuligni, A. J. (2008). Family and school spillover in adolescents’ daily lives. Child Development, 79, 776-787. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01157.x
Gadassi Polack, R. Sened, H., Aubé, S., Zhang, A., Joormann, J., & Kober, H. (in press) Connections during Crisis: Adolescents’ social dynamics and mental health during COVID-19. Developmental Psychology.
Ghebreyesus, T.A. (2020). Addressing mental health needs: an integral part of COVID-19 response. World Psychiatry, 19, 129–130. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20768
Hankin, B. L., Stone, L., & Wright, P. A. (2010). Corumination, interpersonal stress generation, and internalizing symptoms: accumulating effects and transactional influences in a multiwave study of adolescents. Development and Psychopathology, 22, 217–235. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579409990368
Kaufman, T. M., Kretschmer, T., Huitsing, G., & Veenstra, R. (2020). Caught in a vicious cycle? Explaining bidirectional spillover between parent-child relationships and peer victimization. Development and Psychopathology, 32, 11-20. doi: 10.1017/S0954579418001360.
Krishnakumar, A., & Buehler, C. (2000). Interparental conflict and parenting behaviors: A meta‐analytic review. Family Relations, 49, 25-44. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2000.00025.x
Lam, C. B., McHale, S. M., & Crouter, A. C. (2012). Parent–child shared time from middle childhood to late adolescence: Developmental course and adjustment correlates. Child Development, 83, 2089-2103. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01826.x
Larson, R., & Richards, M. H. (1991). Daily companionship in late childhood and early adolescence: Changing developmental contexts. Child Development, 62, 284-300. https://doi.org/10.2307/1131003
Larson, R. W., Richards, M. H., Moneta, G., Holmbeck, G., & Duckett, E. (1996). Changes in adolescents' daily interactions with their families from ages 10 to 18: Disengagement and transformation. Developmental Psychology, 32, 744–754. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1622.214.171.1244
Mastrotheodoros, S., Van Lissa, C. J., Van der Graaff, J., Deković, M., Meeus, W. H., & Branje, S. J. (2020). Day-to-day spillover and long-term transmission of interparental conflict to adolescent–mother conflict: The role of mood. Journal of Family Psychology. doi: 10.1037/fam0000649.
McHale, S. M., Updegraff, K. A., & Whiteman, S. D. (2012). Sibling Relationships and Influences in Childhood and Adolescence. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 74, 913–930. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.01011.x
Orben, A., Tomova, L., & Blakemore, S. J. (2020). The effects of social deprivation on adolescent development and mental health. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. https://doi.org/10.1016/ S2352-4642(20)30186-3
Salk, R. H., Petersen, J. L., Abramson, L. Y., & Hyde, J. S. (2016). The contemporary face of gender differences and similarities in depression throughout adolescence: Development and chronicity. Journal of Affective Disorders, 205, 28-35. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.03.071
Wikle, J. S., Ackert, E., & Jensen, A. C. (2019). Companionship patterns and emotional states during social interactions for adolescents with and without siblings. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 48, 2190–2206. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-019-01121-z
Jutta Joormann, Ph.D ., is a professor of psychology at Yale University who studies risk factors for depression and anxiety disorders.
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Marital health, parental well-being, and family bonds during the pandemic: findings from the 2020 american family survey, december 14, 2020.
This year, much of life is taking place from home. Work, school, recreation, and worship are frequently occurring from couches, kitchen tables, and makeshift home offices and classrooms. The demands placed on families, particularly those with children, are high. How are family relationships faring in America during this trying time? The 2020 American Family Survey , an annual nationwide survey of 3,000 people conducted by the Deseret News and Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, provides some insight. 1
The Health of American Marriages during COVID-19
Relationship commitment and stability.
While some might hypothesize the pandemic would lead to more stress in marriage and thus higher divorce rates, for the most part this has not been the case. The American Family Survey finds the majority (56 percent) of adults in a relationship say the pandemic has made them appreciate their partner more and nearly half (47 percent) say the pandemic has increased their relationship commitment. Only 25 percent agree the pandemic has increased stress in their relationship and even fewer, 13 percent, say the pandemic has made them question the strength of their relationship.
Furthermore, the vast majority of couples, 84 percent, say their thoughts about divorcing or breaking up have not changed since the pandemic began. In fact, slightly more respondents (8 percent) say the likelihood of their relationship ending in a divorce or breakup has declined, compared to those that say it has increased (6 percent). (Two percent of couples report they did divorce or break up since the beginning of the pandemic.) So far, available state divorce data suggests divorce rates in the United States will decline this year.
However, couples who have experienced a financial crisis during the pandemic report greater challenges in their marriages than those who have not faced financial struggle. More than one-third (37 percent) of married couples who have experienced a financial crisis during the pandemic say the pandemic has increased stress in their marriage, compared to only 20 percent of couples who have not experienced a financial crisis. Twenty-one percent of couples who have faced a financial crisis say the pandemic has made them question the strength of their marriage, compared to only 8 percent of couples who have not experienced a financial crisis. (Overall, about a third—32 percent—say either one or both partners have experienced a loss of income, and 22 percent say one or both has experienced a temporary layoff, while 11 percent say one or both has experienced a permanent job loss.)
Although most marriages are faring well during the pandemic, the share of Americans in a relationship is lower than in the previous five years of the American Family Survey. Given the restrictions placed on socializing, the decline in romantic relationships is not surprising. In 2020, 37 percent of Americans reported they were not in a relationship, compared to 34 percent in 2019 and 30 percent in 2015. The decline in romantic relationships in 2020 may exacerbate the already-declining marriage rates in the United States, at least for a time.
Perceptions of Marriage as an Institution
Although the majority of survey respondents say the pandemic has made them appreciate their spouse or partner more and nearly half say the pandemic has increased their marital commitment, perceptions of the value of one’s own marriage do not appear to translate into an overall increase in the share of people who value marriage as an institution. During the last five years, the American Family Survey has asked people whether they agree with statements such as: “marriage is needed to create strong families,” “marriage makes families and children financially better off,” “when more people are married, society is better off,” “being legally married is not as important as personal commitment,” “marriage is more of a burden than a benefit,” and “marriage is old-fashioned or out-of-date.” While most people still agree marriage is good for society, support for these ideas has declined over time, and in 2020 these trends either continued to decline or remained flat.
Parenting Perspectives during COVID-19
Parents with children at home have faced unique challenges this year, including managing job responsibilities while overseeing or even providing their children’s education. Many parents simply have fewer institutions to rely on for help with the daily activities of raising children, given the limitation on in-person school, church, and other places that provide services and community for families. While more time together for parents and children may forge stronger relationships, it may also lead to greater parental stress.
While most working parents in the American Family Survey report they are managing work and family life well during the pandemic, a substantial minority report struggling to find a balance between home and work responsibilities (40 percent of fathers and 31 percent of mothers). Overall, fathers report greater challenges with parenting during the pandemic than mothers. For example, 39 percent of fathers say they have struggled being at home with their children, compared to 25 percent of mothers; 32 percent of fathers say they feel they are failing as a parent, compared to 22 percent of mothers; and 31 percent of fathers say their children have become more difficult, compared to 19 percent of mothers.
Most fathers and mothers report feeling more secure about their children’s well-being since the pandemic began and children have been home from school (53 percent of fathers and 60 percent of mothers). However, parents report dissatisfaction with the state of schooling under the pandemic. Fewer than half of employed parents with school-age children say they are satisfied with the home school resources and curriculum provided to them (44 percent of fathers and 47 percent of mothers), and only about 40 percent of fathers and mothers say their children have learned as much at home as at school.
Quite a few parents say the pandemic has made them more likely to consider home schooling in the future (41 percent of fathers and 37 percent of mothers). However, it is possible that schooling has improved since the survey: the survey was conducted in the summer, following the scramble to shift to online learning in the spring. Parents’ perceptions may have been more positive if the survey was conducted during the new school year, after schools and families had more time to adjust.
Feelings of Failure or Success as a Parent
Mothers’ and fathers’ feelings about how well they are doing in their role during the pandemic vary depending on demographics and life circumstances. Overall, 25 percent of parents in the survey report feeling they are failing as a parent since the pandemic began. However, this feeling is more likely when combined with other stressors. Of those who have experienced an economic crisis during the pandemic, 35 percent say they feel they are failing as a parent. Of those who say their relationship is in trouble, 33 percent report feeling they are failing as a parent.
There is little difference between the share of high-income and low-income individuals who report feeling they are failing as a parent (26 percent and 25 percent, respectively). There are differences by race, however, with more Hispanic parents (27 percent) and white parents (26 percent) feeling they are failing as a parent than black parents (18 percent).
Tension within the Family
Only a minority of people report increased tension within the family since the start of the pandemic, and parents do not necessarily report greater tension than families without children. Seventeen percent of married individuals without children said tension had increased since the pandemic began, compared to only 13 percent of married respondents with children. However, 25 percent of single parents report an increase in tension within the family since the pandemic began.
Relationships with Family Members Outside of the Household
Americans’ relationships with family members outside the home also appear to be weathering the pandemic. The vast majority of Americans say their relationships with family members outside their own household have either stayed the same or grown stronger since the pandemic began (64 percent say family relationships have stayed the same and 18 percent say they have grown stronger). Just 9 percent say relationships with family members outside of the home have weakened.
Furthermore, more Americans are living with extended family members in 2020 than in any of the previous five years. In 2020, 25 percent of respondents reported living with extended family members, compared to 20 percent in the 2019 version of the survey and 19 percent in the 2015 survey. Part of the increase in extended family members living together could be due to economic need, although only a small share of people surveyed (4 percent) said they had to move in with other people over the past year due to financial problems, and half of them who moved in with others due to financial need say they did so prior to the pandemic.
As for in-person contact with family members outside the household, roughly one-third (34 percent) of survey respondents said they had placed some restriction on family members outside their home coming to visit. Apparently not all of these family members were aware of the restrictions though, as only 24 percent of respondents said they had ever been restricted from visiting other family members.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging the strength of some marriage and family relationships, the American Family Survey indicates marriages and families in America are doing well and may be stronger in some ways than before the pandemic started. Still, families who have experienced economic struggles as a result of the pandemic are facing greater challenges than others, and single parents report significantly greater tension in the home than married parents. Furthermore, the pandemic has likely increased barriers for single people interested in building relationships.
As outlined in a recent Social Capital Project report , policy can be reformed to strengthen marriages and families, and communities can take a variety of approaches to bolster family relationships. Americans with fewer economic resources face greater challenges to building and maintaining marriages in general. COVID-19 brings additional hurdles. Finding ways to strengthen marriage and families, particularly during these times, may especially help those facing the greatest challenges.
Rachel Sheffield Senior Policy Advisor
1 The American Family Survey was conducted between July 3 and 14 of 2020.
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Parenting in a pandemic: How to develop stronger family relationships during COVID-19
Assistant Professor, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, Associate Member, Department of Psychiatry, and Director of Childhood Anxiety and Regulations of Emotions (C.A.R.E.) Research Group, McGill University
Tina Montreuil has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), les Fonds de recherche du Québec - Société et culture (FRQSC), Fonds de recherche du Québec - Nature et technologie (FRQNT), the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (Mi4), McGill Social Sciences and Humanities Development Grants, and Le Récit.
McGill University provides funding as a member of The Conversation CA.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected us. It has increased our worries and concerns about physical health . COVID-19 has added to the existing challenges parents face, and has also created greater awareness surrounding the fragility of mental health.
Yet, the second wave has also paved the way for a larger discussion on ways to promote mental well-being .
As a researcher and a clinical psychologist, I lead a research group that investigates how emotion regulation, values and beliefs affect the development and inter-generational transmission of mental or behavioural disorders, and how these problems can impact educational achievement.
The Childhood Anxiety and Regulation of Emotions (C.A.R.E.) research group has developed a school-based program as well as a parenting program , both of which teach core coping skills that have been associated with resilience. Resilience is the capacity for an individual to remain engaged, available and optimistic instead of withdrawn, overwhelmed and defeated when faced with hardship and adversity.
Our research group believes that when parents are aware of their own emotional self-regulation, and when they can find space to structure meaningful family activities that promote mutual bonding, both they and their children are in a better position to learn core coping skills that will benefit individuals and family relationships.
Impact of the pandemic on family life
A recent report by the Australian Human Rights Commission investigated COVID-19-related concerns experienced by children aged five and older and emerging adults from January to April 2020. The report suggested that “mental health concerns resulting from COVID-19” and “impacts on family life” were among the top five concerns endorsed by youth.
Similarly, a July 2020 Statistics Canada report revealed three out of four parents experienced concerns and worries about balancing child care, their child’s schooling and their own professional work irrespective of the child’s age. More than half of parents surveyed reported greater difficulty managing their child’s emotions as well as their own.
The arising parenting challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic may represent an opportune time for us to improve our resilience and model more adaptive strategies and skills. In turn, such skills can promote the development of resilient behaviours in our children.
Read more: How to build children's resilience, and your own, amid coronavirus unknowns
As the picture below illustrates, not everyone reacts in the same way to a given situation. The ability to manage strong negative emotions and shift our mindset to a more adaptive perspective can be developed at any age. Since our brain is most adept at performing a new task early in life, it’s most beneficial for people to become socialized in these fundamental life skills early. This will help children to become self-regulated, adaptive and thriving adults.
Findings from our research group’s recent study , conducted with mothers, suggest that parents’ abilities to regulate their own emotions predicted how frequently and effectively they rely on supportive parenting practices. Supportive practices are things like comforting children when they experience negative emotions; engaging in problem-solving strategies aimed at reducing children’s distress; and discussing children’s emotional experiences with them. As such, these results suggest that supportive parenting is associated with children who are better at managing difficult emotions.
We also found that invalidating children’s emotional expression or ignoring or dismissing the child’s emotions contributed to poorer emotion regulation skills in children , and that such less-supportive parenting practices were linked to anxiety in adulthood. When parents themselves match or exceed their child’s emotions, they also offer less adaptive emotional coaching.
Parents may have heard the airplane safety tip to always don one’s own oxygen mask before helping a child: the same applies with emotional regulation. As parents, when we prioritize managing our own stress, tolerating greater uncertainty and engaging in self-care activities like exercise, good sleep hygiene and relaxation, this expands our capacity to respond calmly. This teaches our children that they too can cope and manage stress and related threats .
Supportive parenting is best achieved when a connected, caring and responsive relationship with children is fostered early on. Supportive parenting that builds resilience is comparable to an early investment that grows with time. It is key to create as many early positive and reinforcing experiences as possible.
Failure: An opportunity for growth
Parenting is difficult and striving for perfection is unrealistic and unattainable. We can instead chose to model that mistakes and failures can be a renewed opportunity for growth. Raising resilient children means that we value teaching them self-compassion, gratitude, delayed gratification and self worth to leverage life experiences that facilitate the development of their sense of purpose.
It is as critical for parents to value teaching children these core social emotional skills, just as much as we might encourage them to become expert swimmers or gifted mathematicians.
When supportive parenting and strong family relationships consistently provide opportunities to strengthen coping skills and the ability to regulate emotions, these are also opportunities for children to become skilled at accepting hardship and remaining committed toward achievement. Supportive parental practices contribute to children’s long-term healthy emotional and psychological development.
Parents can help their children develop these key social-emotional abilities in a variety of ways.
As a first step, parents should evaluate whether their own emotional and psychological needs are met and do their best to find, advocate for or create structures or supports to meet these. In return, they may gain the capacity to model these adaptive behaviours.
Parents can learn more about core coping skills like emotional regulation . This includes the ability to pay attention to and accept (not judge) our emotions, to label and differentiate emotions. It also means understanding varying levels of emotional intensity, to learn how to tolerate and be open to the experience of distressing emotions and to control our emotions by changing how we think about the situation at hand. Mindfulness and problem solving can also be easily taught through interactive read-along activities and lessons.
Regardless of a family’s structure, parents can improve family relationships and connectedness. They can do this by dedicating common time for the family members to congregate and bond with one another through activities like meal time, game or movie night and outdoor or sport activities.
Parents can work on identifying mutual family values through activities like developing a values coat of arms . Identifying mutual values can be useful when seeking to carve out time spent together based on identified commonalities and shared interests.
Adversity creates accidental opportunities to build skills to endure ongoing or future hardship. This is the essence of resilience: accepting that a door has closed behind us, and being optimistic about what awaits. By being more emotionally and mentally grounded as parents, parents can lead collectively stronger families. Let’s stay strong together!
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Family Coping During the Coronavirus
Small adjustments that can take the pressure off families — and let them enjoy the added time together.
As the world navigates the current pandemic, there has been a dramatic increase in how much time families are spending together, leading many parents and caregivers to feel pressured into being everything — parent, friend, teacher — for their child. Child developmental psychologist Junlei Li says it doesn’t have to be that way — and families can look to China’s working families for examples of how to find balance and support through the isolation.
“Being with your children doesn’t have to be yet another stressor, but can offer a sense of relief, even for grownups,” Li says. “Parents feel a lot of burden. They are not used to being with their kids all this time, especially with young children. Parents can feel the pressure of having to accompany them this whole time. Instead of trying to be everything at all times, think about the small, even brief, kind of quality moments of play we can have with our children.”
Li participated in work that was led and organized by the child development and family support research center of the China Welfare Institute , which has helped families during that country’s nationwide quarantine. In an ongoing series of “corona-fighting family wisdoms,” the initiative solicited coping strategies from both urban and rural families, and shared out the stories.
We asked Li to share three of these lessons from China for American families to adopt as they face extended time at home during the coronavirus.
Find ways to connect and share within and beyond your family
Children can pick up on the stress being felt by their caregivers, Li says. The China Welfare Institute tried not to add to growing stress levels, and instead focused on simple efforts at home.
“Instead of going out and telling parents — here are the top 10 things you need to do for your kid — they asked for videos and photos submissions of things parents and children are doing together,” Li says. The organization solicited and shared stories from a diverse range of families, providing a glimpse of what support can look like. The outcome stressed the value of families being able to connect and better understand their role in children’s lives. Li suggests that all families should find similar ways to enjoy being with each other that relieve pressure for all members of the family.
“Children process and deal with these things right along with grownups,” Li says.
Emphasize play over learning
Despite the reputation of Chinese culture for its dedication to academic learning, Li reports that the China Welfare Institute deviated from that ideal by placing a larger emphasis on play.
Play provides a way for children to process their emotions, says Li. “Part of the richness of play is — playing either alone or playing together with other children or with us, with the grownups — it can start to meet children's developmental need,” he says. “Children need a way to express their own uncertainty, handle anxiety, and assert control.”
Families should plan time to play every day without trying too hard to drive the experience. Children should take the lead in thinking about how they want to play, what they want to play, and whom they want to play with. Although many children have limited opportunity right now, Li says families can create the environment where children can match their needs through play.
Find ways to create new modes of learning
Li witnessed many families in China take advantage of learning through observation and doing, which has long been a part in rural and indigenous communities where children are often active participants in family life.
He suggests finding simple ways to let your child pitch in. Consider when children demand what they want or don’t want to eat and take advantage of this time to let children take part in cooking. For example, have children come up with something they want to cook with their parents and then eat it.
Li adds that young children, in particular, really like to help. “They feel really important if they can pitch in,” he says. “Right now it almost seems more doable because there is so much more time since we’re stuck at home so it’s easier to incorporate.”
Along the way, Li says it helps restore some sense of control and agency in children too. “You know, for children right now, it’s ‘I can’t go to school, I can’t go outside, I can’t go to the playground,’” he says, “I can’t play all the time. … There’s a lot of ‘I can’t, I can’t. I can’t.’ Finding family appropriate ways for children to pitch in can turn into a ‘I can do this.’”
Ultimately, these small adjustments can help the whole family as everyone gets used to differences in their daily lives.
“As adults we can have quite a bit of empathy. I think for once we're in a situation where we’re very similar to children. We're uncertain. We're anxious. We don't know when this ends,” Li says.
- Focus on the simple pleasures that additional family time provides.
- Take time for play.
- Find ways for children to contribute around the house.
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What Students Are Saying About Family Conflict in Quarantine, Starting Over and Health Care Heroics
Teenage comments in response to our recent writing prompts, and an invitation to join the ongoing conversation.
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By The Learning Network
For this week’s roundup of student comments on our writing prompts , we’re highlighting teenagers’ thoughts on isolating with their families, beginning again after a setback, and the role of health care workers during the pandemic.
Welcome to all the new students who chimed in this week from:
Brooks School, North Andover, Mass.; Clarkston, Ga.; Dearborn, Mich.; Easton, Pa.; Emerson, N.J.; Hillsboro, Kan.; The International School Ho Chi Minh City — American Academy; John H. Francis Polytechnic High School; Madison Junior High; Madrid, Spain; The Mead School, Greenwich, Conn.; Pacific Grove, Calif.; Robbinsville, N.J.; Santa Monica; Seven Bridges Middle School, Chappaqua, N.Y. and Sharet High School, Netanya, Israel.
Please note: Student comments have been lightly edited for length, but otherwise appear as they were originally submitted.
Is Your Family Experiencing Greater Conflict During a Time of Self-Quarantine?
The coronavirus crisis has forced people around the world to spend more time together at home. In some cases, families are running off the rails .
We asked students if their families were experiencing greater conflict while quarantined together. They told us about increased stress, productive and counterproductive family meetings, and how living in close quarters can exacerbate underlying tension or engender more closeness.
Nagging, bickering and ‘fiery arguments’
If I’m being honest I feel like I have been arguing with my parents so much more since quarantine … My parents have been so much more stressed out recently because they have so much more that they have to worry about. I feel bad for my parents because they didn’t sign up for this, I know nothing can be controlled but I wish I could take some of the stress from them because they are being overworked nowadays.
— Isabella F, Hoggard High School Wilmington, NC
I personally feel the most stressed as this year I am missing huge amounts of learning that will be required for my exams. Being the oldest I feel a duty to help my mother around the household especially now we as everyone is home 24 hours a day and is cooking and cleaning more frequently … I do become frustrated when I’m asked to do things when I’m trying to work. I feel as if they don’t understand how the amount of work I have to do. Ideally I would like them to not disturb till I have completed all my work as otherwise being disturbed multiple times discourages me and takes me a lot longer to complete my work.
— Sameera, London, UK
I feel that we are facing more conflicts as time passes. I can see these changes happen as we spend more time together in the house. I’ve been getting into more problems with my mom and we keep on arguing. She feels that I’m not as active as I’m supposed to be while I just want to try to get my mind off of things. I feel that it is because we all don’t know how to spend time together as a family because I was used to only seeing her for a couple hours a day. Now that she’s at home all the time she is stressed that she has no work while I feel weird that she is even home … With there being too much time, arguments fill up some of that time and it ends up in me just staying in my own room rather than being outside in the living room but even then living in a small apartment doesn’t help especially when we need time to ourselves.
— Rubi M, Chicago, IL
Throughout the pandemic, family conflicts have been brief, but frequent. The irritability and boredom caused by self-isolation have caused us to be quick to insult or side-eye each other. Which then escalates into a fiery argument that surfaces feelings that have long been repressed. Social distancing forces us to move on from fights over insignificant quickly to live peacefully. But, quarantine also allows us to brush over problems without finding the root of the issue. So, we pack our feelings of anger far away until the next trivial disagreement can set them free.
— Malia, Santa Monica
In my family, every day is something new, but it’s even worse during the pandemic. The main conflict is usually between my mom and me. We nag at each other while my dad and brother find wats to chime in to stop the fighting. I feel like being stuck with each other has made each of us more hostile. Quarantine is coming at a difficult time because my brother and I are in the midst of being teenagers. We’re both naturally more aggressive even without a pandemic happening. Even with a few snarky comments here and there, we still find ways to laugh and bond with each other.
— Daniela Munoz, Santa Monica, CA
Family movie nights and realizing what’s important
My family has always been a tight unit, an imperfect one but always close. This experience has brought us closer for the better. Do I want to murder my brother when he refuses to chew with his mouth closed? Does my dad sneeze/scream whenever he gets the chance to? Yes and yes. The truth is, quarantine has not changed my family dynamic besides allowing us to spend more time together and keep the habits that we were never able to before. With family dinner and movie every night, we are seeing hours of each other that were never possible before. We talk out our problems and ultimately have loved being able to be locked in together.
— Madison, Nashville, TN
I feel like being in self-quarantine with my family has benefited all of us. Before all of this happened, we never really got a lot of family time for many reasons. I was in high school and didn’t have much free time on my hands. And my younger sisters were always busy with something. Right now, this is the perfect opportunity to spend time with family and bond more than you could have before this quarantine. In other words, I believe that I have experienced less conflict now because we are forced to get along with the family when you have nothing else to do. It is important to realize in these times that family is the most important thing.
— Zach Bertrand, Glenbard West HS, Glen Ellyn
I am lucky enough to have a good relationship with my family and can communicate effectively. My dad is an essential worker, so I don’t see him until late at night. My mom works for a school system and although she is home, she has constant meetings from 7am to 7pm. In reality we may be quarantined together but I don’t see my family as often as you would think. This allows us to have our own space and we are able to avoid conflict this way.
I think that the reason why my family is doing so well is that we know so much is out of our control. It’s safe to say my family and I are control freaks but in situations like this we just take as many precautionary measures as we can. We take everything one day at a time and are grateful that we get to spend time together. We all agree on the important issues at hand, although we may have petty arguments about small things. But those don’t really matter and we come to realize that quickly.
— Mary Pellicio, Massachusetts
Quarantine in two households
I believe I’m experiencing more conflict with my guardians. I live in two households, as my parents are divorced. When my parents cannot come to an agreement of who gets “the kids” on what days, a problem occurs. Me and my siblings are then put in the middle and asked to choose how we want the schedule to go. This makes it hard to come up with a concrete schedule because our parents will guilt us. Although, I think I have gotten closer to my siblings and been more open with them.
The ideal relationship I want with my family is a mutual understanding that we are all individuals and we all need our personal space, whether that be in our rooms or sitting outside by oneself. We do not have this. My parents see it as us not wanting to spend time with them when in reality we just need some space and time to be with ourselves or socialize with friends through social media.
— Erin M. Los Angeles
While many families may be struggling to get along during this unprecedented time, my family seems to be getting along better now than ever before. As my brothers and I are children of divorced parents, we transition between houses on a weekly basis. Although this displacement is normally an inconvenience, we’ve found that having two homes is somewhat of a luxury during a time in which many families feel that they have no escape from one another. When I need a break from my brothers or a quiet place to focus on a Zoom call, I have the convenience of escaping to the alternate household.
Having the ability to rotate between households also relieves my parents, as having 3 school-age children at home each day on top of working from home is imaginably overwhelming. We have learned to make the best of our arrangements during the pandemic in order to promote domiciliary serenity. The little breaks my family gets from one another has enabled us not to experience greater conflict during a time of self-quarantine. Like many other families, we are making adjustments necessary to ensure a peaceful domestic life that is crucial in the midst of chaos in our surrounding world.
— Georgia Simpson, Maury High School: Norfolk, Virginia
Tried-and-true strategies for navigating the chaos
The short answer: yes, there’s definitely conflict. The accurate answer: gahhhhhhh … What I have learnt can be summed up in a word: compromise. Compromise, compromise, compromise. It takes courage to stand one’s ground, but it takes more courage to give in, to say, okay, I’ll do this. When you’re washing more dishes than your brother, just breathe in deeply, fix a death glare (unnoticed) and do your work. (It also makes you the good kid, which can be exchanged for brownie points later. Just kidding, It helps you live better with each other). And when you need a time out, I find it helpful to just say it. I need some time alone. Close your door, gently.
— Faith Ho, Singapore
Being cooped up in your house for weeks on end can bring out the worst in anyone. My family has always been pretty close, but we do have conflicts. During the quarantine the little things that you didn’t even notice before begin to bug you. This can cause fights and escalate the conflict in the home, but my family has meetings where we can talk about conflicts and figure out plans. This allows us to talk through the problems. It has definitely helped our family cope when we’re all stuck together, and turned a potentially negative situation into a positive one.
— Ammon Allred, Layton, Utah
My family doesn’t fight often, but quarantine has made us kind of on edge. We all realized this, and we just know now that we need time to ourselves. If a quarrel comes up, we all just separate ourselves until we are calmer and in a better headspace.
— Savannah, Nashville
When Has Starting Over Worked for You?
In “ Tear It Up and Start Again ,” author Harry Guinness writes about self-improvement and how better things can be forged from failures and new beginnings.
So we asked students to tell us about their own personal-improvement goals and resolutions. Their candid comments reassure us that every failure is an opportunity to learn and, oftentimes, our best work can come from it.
The best ideas come from reflection and drafting.
Often, I have to start over. For example, when I take notes in class, I always have to rewrite them after school. This more has to do with my perfectionism. I recently had a project for school, and at the last minute, I decided it wasn’t good enough and started over again. This made the situation a lot more stressful than it should have been, but I am a great believer in starting over. If I’m not content with something, I will just start it over because what’s the point in settling for something you’re not 100% satisfied with?
— Chloe, The Pennington School
Usually, when I fail, I reflect on my actions and pick out the parts that caused the failure. Then I restart, except I know what not to do. This is an experience I go through practically every time I begin an art project. Recently, I was assigned to create a work of art that represents two opposite emotions. I sketched around ten ideas and chose one. It turns out, the ten I sketched, including the one I chose did not follow some guidelines. I completely reset and drafted up a new idea involving the story of the sword in the stone. As a result, I produced something I was proud of. I learned that the best ideas come from constant reflection and drafting.
— Merrick Liu, New Jersey
I feel this on a very deep personal level. I find myself making goals to do homework or workout to improve myself. Like most people, I find that progress is good at the beginning, but as soon as one day fails the entire system collapses like a house of cards. Most of the time they never go to plan, and I think this article sheds light on the importance of second drafts. We don’t have to start again with something new but ultimately the same. Instead, we can look where we failed then modify our idea to actually succeed. It might not be what you originally planned, but you meet realistic expectations. Plans shouldn’t be rigid, instead we should have the mindset of adaptability when the chaos of the world ruins our perfectly structured, rigid plans.
— Evan Jensen, NUAMES
I am a person who likes to start over a lot. In fact, I started over when writing this very comment … Starting over at anything is hard. For example, I was recently reading a chapter of a textbook. It was hard reading, and a very long passage. When I was about thirty pages in, I realized I had forgotten to take notes. I was then faced with the decision of having either subpar knowledge of the chapter or having to start over. I mulled over the question, but in the end, I decided to just start over. At the end, I was very glad that I had decided to begin anew, because I was able to refine some of my thoughts about the text and remember it better.
— Sean Hession, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC
Failing is normal.
The world, as we know it, is made of failures and is made of comebacks after those failures. Einstein and Oprah once lamented their failures but the mistakes they made did not become barriers for further progress. Whether we wish for progress in an emotional manner or in a physical manner, “starting over” and beginning again has the power to grant us this progress. Stepping back from a situation, assessing it with a cold head, and looking at it with different eyes can make a world of difference when attempting to accomplish something. Personally, the concept of detaching from a situation for a while has allowed me to really think about what actions and decisions are best for me in the long run.
— Valeria Casas, Glenbard West HS, Glen Ellyn, IL
Failing is normal and is part of the learning process. As babies, we fall down multiple times in learning how to walk! Realizing when some goals or desires are not suited for us is part of the learning process too. There are multiple accounts of people with the goal of becoming a doctor, yet they learn late in the process that the occupation is not really for them. Especially after they learn how much they cannot stand the sight of blood. While these students invested much money and time towards reaching their goal, the many problems they face make them unhappy. It is not reasonable for them to keep working towards a goal after learning that it is ideal for them anymore. In a society where many people try to be the perfect person, we lose sight of true, individual goals to the goals that society sets upon us. Although it may seem appealing to constantly work towards a goal … also acknowledge the cost it comes with.
— Faith Cerbo, New Rochelle, New York
You can start over in your personal life, too.
For me, starting over was getting rid of toxic friends and starting over with myself. Sophomore year I had a group of friends that at the time seemed like they could be my lifelong friends. Slowly I realized what was happening and found myself being excluded from events, harassed in the group chat and constantly made fun of. Finally I reached a breaking point and told them what I was feeling, and just like that I left the group. I had never felt so alone, because I had just abandoned so many “friends.” Who did I have left? This was when I started over and worked on myself. I looked around and found the true friends that deeply cared about me and would be there no matter what. For me, starting over was a necessity and I encourage anyone who is afraid to get out of a toxic friendship to take a deep breath and just do it. It all worked out for me in the end, and I am so glad I decided to start over.
— Gretchen, PA
In my family the biggest example of starting over was the divorce we all went through. While the divorce was a hard pill for an 8 year old girl to swallow I didn’t know the deeper meaning at the time. Families don’t just divorce because they had one fight or they want alone time. It’s deeper than that. The divorce meant both of my parents could be happier and find other significant others that would make them happy. And they have, they both find other people that make them happier than before. And it’s not all bad for us kids. We are all very independent and our parents have a lot of trust in us. I do things most kids don’t have the opportunity too and I have to places to go with too different styles and things to do. It’s wasn’t starting over for us it was a new beginning that led me and my family to new opportunities that otherwise would’ve been suppressed.
— Teagan, Glenbard West HS Glen Ellyn, IL
Give yourself the freedom to begin again.
The personal improvement goals that usually fail, often don’t have a central purpose or something at its core that I’m invested in. I’ll make a fitness goal, but I don’t really want exercise; I just want the end result, without the effort or work. I expect that’s true for most people, which is probably why so many people don’t ever accomplish their New Year’s Resolutions. Deep down, we don’t want the experience of personal improvement, we just want the improved person. Only a few of my goals ever really get accomplished, and I think I’ve figured out why those work when so many other goals don’t. For one, I allow myself wiggle room, instead of boxing myself in with numbers and estimates and hours a week. Like the article says, I allow myself leeway for a couple of rough drafts. Another factor of success is when I start the process with the intention of becoming a better person, and not with the intention of fulfilling someone else’s expectations for me. I tell myself, “I want to journal because releasing my stress will make me more relaxed, even if I miss a few days.” I don’t say, “I want the aesthetic and perfect lifestyle that journaling brings.” When you allow yourself to restart when you need to, you relieve the stress of making goals.
— Stephanie Farnsworth, Norman, Oklahoma
One aspect of my life that I have long sought to get a firm hold on and stay on track with is my spirituality, more specifically, daily scripture and general conference talk study. I had always claimed to read almost every day, but I had multiple stints of going without it for months at a time. It’s difficult to understand what we’re living without until we have it again. I started getting back into it, but I was always “too busy.” As COVID-19 increasingly got worse and worse, I was in my house quite a bit more, believe it or not, so I decided to develop a plan. This would be my goal for this time, to get on track with my reading and studying of the scriptures. It started off a little shaky, but I set a time in the morning, and I have held true to the for the past month. As I’ve continued to do it, it’s gotten easier and easier. I’ve truly started to enjoy it instead of seeing it as a burden or a task. I definitely seen that my day seems to get started earlier and just my overall happiness is better for the day.
— Jacob E. ,Layton, UT
What Do You Think This Image Is Saying?
In our most popular Picture Prompt of the week, “ Carrying the Weight ,” we asked students to interpret and respond to this image from a letter to the editor .
They wrote about the important role of health care workers in the pandemic, the doctors and nurses in their own families and communities, and their gratitude for essential workers around the world.
An image heavy with symbolism
The image describes the effort medical staff across the world are putting in to help subdue the current pandemic. The picture reminds me of the statue of the greek titan Atlas, holding up the earth. The myth describes that it was actually the sky the titan held up, to prevent the sky from crashing down and destroying the earth. The doctors are the titan in this metaphor, and the virus is the sky.
I love this picture. It is really meaningful. First, let’s talk about the picture itself. A hospital being carried by 3 doctors/surgeons. One of them is black, one is mixed and the other is white. One of them is under the shadow of the building. Since we are all on the same page now. Let’s talk about meaning. The hospital can symbolize a list of different things. Society, workspaces or people in need. I would say it is the people in need. The doctors are huge compared to the hospital. Which makes sense because heroes are giants. This picture shows the literal part of this quote. They are spending their days just saving people’s lives.
— Ali, Galal
This image depicts doctors and nurses working as hard as hey can in poor condition. Their eyes are frowning and look tired of holding such a heavyweight they have to hold on their shoulders. They are exhausted and tired of having a myriad of coronavirus patients with a lack of supplies they need to treat them.
— Yumin, Maryland
I think this image represents the weight that is being put on healthcare workers right now. Our lives are resting on the ability of healthcare workers to do their job. I think the building they are holding up represents us, the patients in the hospital and our population as a whole. If they stop holding us up, our population will fall, and there is a lot of pressure on them at this time.
— Hannah Kesten, Bradenton, FL
I’m sharing for my daughter who says that this picture makes her think of the crushing cost of hospital and medical bills. She says that the green outfits worn by the people underneath remind her of money and the hospital appears to be very heavy. There are some people who may not even go to the hospital to seek help, choosing to take care of themselves and their kids by themselves because they can’t afford the bills.
— Alicia, Durham, NC
Not all heroes wear capes.
In my eyes, this picture is showing the weight of the world doctors are carrying, with little help. Especially in this time and age, they are risking their lives for others from the CoronaVirus and other illnesses. This is representing their hard works and how all heroes don’t wear capes. They work hours on end to serve others and it shows they need more recognition for their bravery. In my life, I have never seen them work as hard and restlessness as they do now … Thank you doctors and nurses.
— Bennett, PA
This picture represents the current events happening in our world. The picture seems to be showing medical professionals. They are holding up a hospital in the picture, but in reality, they are holding up society. Medical professionals are doing the best they can to save lives and keep the world/country up and running. They go to work everyday for hours longer than you can imagine. This image is very moving because the nurses and doctors cannot catch a break. They have all the weight on their shoulders, and they can’t miss a beat or something terrible could happen. We can’t do anything but thank the medical professionals putting their lives on the line for us. They are today’s heroes, and we say thank you.
— Ella M, King of Prussia, PA
I believe this image represents the hard work doctors and nurses are pursuing in result to this pandemic. Hospital workers risk their lives every day to care for patients who have the coronavirus. In the image, the nurses and doctors are also wearing masks. This is significant because hospital workers wear masks and gloves in attempt to not get the virus. I have seen many social media posts of nurses and doctors who have bruises on their faces due to the stress of the mask. This contributes to the meaning of the image because it shows the harsh circumstances they are in, and how hard they are working to try and overcome the virus. It’s important for us to acknowledge hospital workers.
— Aryssa Metzger, KOP
I think this image is portraying how a small group of people can support and help out a large population of people, putting themselves at risk to save others. Truly amazing people, just like food industry and grocery stores still working providing food and multiple other necessities.
— Ariana Lucero, Glenbard West HS, Glen Ellyn, IL
This picture reminds me of a movement going around social media right now. The pictures I see are usually nurses holding signs that say, “We go to work for you, stay home for us.” This picture is a powerful message of what healthcare workers are giving in order for our country to stay afloat.
— Emma McLaughlin, Hoggard High School Wilmington, NC
A duty, their colors reflect off of buildings, they carry us like a burden, no time to rest, the doors are always open, wrinkles engrave their faces, as we lounge in our homes, officers and firefighters are heroes, but so are the doctors and nurses, they wish for it all to end, to sleep, to hug their family, to express their love, but not until it’s all over.
— Saharsh Satheesh, Collierville High School, Tennessee
Health care workers at home
The personnel in the medical field are working day and night and are at risk of catching the Coronavirus at any time because they are working with the sick and the infected. I feel like this image is also saying that if it weren’t for our medical people and our first-responders, we would be in an even bigger outbreak. My mom and my grandma are Home-health nurses in Marion for St. Luke and they deal with all kinds of patients every day. They deal with a lot of older people and they have to be careful what they are bringing into that person’s home and what they bring home to their family.
— Isabelle Whorton, Hillsboro, KS
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