Although it would seem that the COVID-19 pandemic is a thing of the past, there is much about its consequences that we have not yet sized up.
For example, a new study from the University of California found that, over the first ten months of the COVID-19 pandemic, children from Latino families who cut back the most economically showed more externalizing behaviors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to high-stress levels due to social isolation, fear of infection, and economic hardship, especially for low-income and minority families.
Latino families, in particular, have faced the brunt of these hardships, with higher rates of unemployment and morbidity and mortality caused by the virus compared to non-Latino white individuals.
The family stress model (FSM) describes how stressors such as these have the potential to initiate a cascade of problems for family well-being. Specifically, stress jeopardizes parents’ psychological functioning, undermining the quality of the parent-child relationship and increasing punitive and controlling parenting.
As the researchers explain, family stress in early childhood due to economic hardship may contribute to the emergence of externalizing behaviors, such as misbehavior or arguments. Over time, a higher incidence of externalizing behaviors can lead to a range of social-emotional problems, such as delinquency, substance use, and concurrent internalizing disorders, with the potential to continue across generations.
This pandemic has been an ever-changing crisis and has caused massive fluctuations in family life, underscoring the importance of examining the unique impact of pandemic-induced instability on mothers and children.
The University of California study thus provides insight into pandemic-related stress — and stress in general — in Latino families, as well as its development over time and the ability of families to adapt.
The findings suggest that structural disparities in economic mobility and health outcomes made Latino families particularly vulnerable to the volatile nature of the pandemic.
“Throughout the pandemic, federal and state aid provided a lifeline to families who were struggling to make ends meet, yet Latino families experienced fewer improvements in economic conditions compared to non-Latino White families,” the researchers explain.
“Each day, these families were employed in situations that increased the risk of illness, the greater stress placed upon mothers, which explained more behavior problems from their children,” they concluded. “Had these parents been guaranteed better paid sick leave, the periods during which virus cases were increasing may not have created the same levels of stress in mothers that spilled over into their family relationships.”