Coping with family stress and social isolation: Virginia Tech expert says one size doesn’t fit all

The resources that families can draw on during these challenging times varies greatly, and a one-size-fits-all model is not going to work, according to Virginia Tech’s Cindy Smith, an associate professor and the director of graduate studies for the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Virginia Tech. She also runs the Children’s Emotions Lab.

“Often the families that might be feeling the most stressed are the families where parents may have less flexibility in their jobs,” said Smith. “With the added stress of caring for children who are not currently in school, everyone is facing a different set of circumstances.

Lower-income families, who may already be low on resources, might be even more taxed than other families, and single-parent families face different challenges as well, according to Smith.

“Some families might feel more isolated because of a lack of technology available to them. As teachers try to continue to provide learning opportunities for children, the ability of families to support their children’s learning will greatly depend upon the resources available to the families,” she said.

For example, if families do not have access to internet, children might not be able to keep up with the school work being sent home.  Or, if parents lack flexibility in their jobs, they may not be able to support children’s learning as needed.

“Research has shown that parents who are feeling more stress tend to engage in less optimal parenting behaviors,” said Smith. “Some of the research that I have done has emphasized the importance of positive affect. If parents are able to still have interactions with their children that are high in positive emotions, the effects of stress that the parents are feeling might not be conveyed as strongly to their children.”

[More: Find additional Virginia Tech expertise related to COVID-19 here.]

About Cindy Smith

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