Family Resilience and Psychological Distress in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed Methods Study

Lauren Eales, Gail M. Ferguson, Sarah Gillespie, Shelby Smoyer, Stephanie M. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Many changes were thrust upon families by the COVID-19 pandemic, including mandated quarantines, social distancing, transitions to distance learning for children, and remote work. The current study used mixed methods to examine the challenges and resilience of families in the United States during the pandemic (May–July 2020), as well as predictors and moderators of parent/child psychological distress. Our sample included 469 parents (459 mothers) of children aged ~2–13 years (239 girls, 228 boys, one nonbinary child, one “prefer not to answer” selection), who completed an online survey with closedended and open-ended portions. The sample had middle-to-high socioeconomic status and 86% of families were White/non-Hispanic. Qualitative (content and thematic analyses) and quantitative (descriptive statistics and regressions) findings revealed that, even in this relatively privileged sample, parents and families were experiencing struggles in many life domains (e.g., family, school) and shifts in family dynamics and routines, which were related to emotional and mental health. Families experienced many changes in their lives, some positive and some negative, and often exhibited resilience through managing these changes. Our moderation analyses indicated that COVID-19’s daily impact was significantly associated with psychological distress for children and parents, and this association was stronger for older versus younger children. Less active/instructive parental media mediation was also related to lesschild psychological distress. Moving forward, practitioners can focus on preventive efforts includingpsychoeducation regarding healthy outlets for negative emotions during COVID-19, and practical help troubleshooting childcare and health care challenges impacting many families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1563-1581
Number of pages19
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Lauren Eales was supported by a predoctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award T32 MH015755. Data collection was supported by funds awarded to Gail M. Ferguson by the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. We thank the participating parents for their time and salute their resilience in finding ways to survive and thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Reece Alstat in the organization of data for this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Psychological Association


  • COVID-19
  • family dynamics
  • family routines
  • parenting
  • psychological distress

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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