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COVID-19 Increases Stress on Families

Have you held a newly born baby recently? Wondered, “What are you thinking? What’s happening inside your mind?”

That brain is born with 100 billion neurons – each with 2,500 synapses. And, in a nurturing, safe and connected environment – blooming to some 15,000 synapses per neuron by 2 and 3 years.

We all understand the pure vulnerability of a newborn, and the wonderful and profound responsibility of supporting their development. It is a complex task – and we don’t do it in a vacuum. Certainly, the circumstances of our lives – including the communities within which we live and the resources we do/do not have, naturally all directly influence the attention each parent and caregiver can give to the task of supporting the development of their children. It’s a heavy lift.

And COVID-19 has certainly affected families in so many ways.

Recently, The Center for Translational Neuroscience at The University of Oregon sent surveys to several thousand U.S. parents, asking about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. I’d like to share a handful of their findings with you.

Due to and since COVID-19, parents expressed:

  • Significant concerns about financial and housing security – including wide loss of income, especially among families within 150% of the federal poverty level (many thousands Lane County families).
  • Loss of access to childcare – and in many cases, families have experienced a 100% loss of childcare access
  • Significant reduction in social support and respite care
  • Much lower access to free and low-cost school-based meals
  • Significant increases, relative to pre-pandemic levels, in spousal conflict, parent-child conflict and overall household tension
  • Significant increase in adult emotional distress and child behavioral problems.

AND:

  • Among parents/caregivers who lost childcare, they reported significantly higher rates of stress and anxiety.
  • Those whom reported losing childcare, over 70% said that they were worried or uncomfortable about being able to return to those centers – due to safety concerns and affordability.
  • Many worried about permanent closure of childcare services.
  • The loss of free, school-based meals was the single most consistent determinant of elevated levels of adult anxiety, depression, and stress for families within 150% of the federal poverty level.

 So what does this all mean?

Parents, especially of young children, need support to enable them to reduce their families’ stress and be more responsive. Check in on the families you know with young children. Reach out to a parent today – Ask,” Hey, how are you? What would be most helpful for you right now?” Tell them about Parenting Now! and other local resources, including United Way’s LaneKids and low-cost telehealth services for couples and families, such as the University of Oregon’s Center for Healthy Relationships.

Early childhood years are so important as they set the foundation and trajectory for a child's lifelong learning and health. Babies learn how to create relationships and gain foundations for social intelligence. These are the most fragile years, and we know that parents and primary caregivers have the most impact during those early years. You can help by supporting the families in your life, whether it’s offering to pick up diapers at the store, listening to your friend talk about what it’s like to be a new dad, or by bringing a tired mom coffee. Even the smallest gesture can make a difference.

Dr. Jeff Todahl, the Co-Founder of 90by30, an initiative to reduce child abuse by 90 percent by the year 2030 in Lane County, and Associate Professor at the UO College of Education. Amanda Bedortha is the Communications Coordinator for Parenting Now.

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