Menu
covid stress toddler behavior

Living through a global pandemic has brought immeasurable levels of stress and anxiety into our daily lives. It's not just you, mama, it really is this hard. So many parents are worried about their jobs, finances and how to keep their children safe. Now, new research is warning that kids may be soaking up that stress if society doesn't start supporting parents.

Health experts are beginning to think about the impact parental pandemic stress is having on kids later in life and right now because many kids are acting out. Your toddler's tantrum may because of second-hand stress, mama. Parents need to know this and so do the politicians who represent them.

FEATURED VIDEO

"There's no question that if you can't buy food or you can't pay your rent, that you are experiencing the kind of stress that is going to be toxic to your children," says Phil Fisher, the director of the RAPID-EC Project (which stands for Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development Early Childhood).

Fisher told USA Today that he believes children under 5 will deal with long-term consequences from what they're going through in the age of COVID-19. "The national conversation is not focused nearly enough on early childhood and infancy, which is the period that we know is most important for brain development and in which the brain is most effected by what's going on in the world around it," he explained.

He's basing this on RAPID-EC's weekly survey of households with kids under 5, which they've been doing so since April. The idea is to track how children are doing by assessing their parents—since the kids are too young to voice the issues they're facing.


Those surveys have captured some concerning trends. Moms and dads are worried about how to meet basic needs, like keeping food on the table and paying their rent. When those financial burdens are coupled with a lack of emotional support (like families who are no longer able to visit grandma and grandpa due to coronavirus risks), parents report that their stress levels shoot up—and that eventually has negative effects on their kids' behavior.

Researchers say it's a chain reaction: Little ones who are absorbing their parents' stress are then displaying emotional difficulties of their own.

Interestingly, however, kids fare better when their parents have a strong emotional support system to lean on—even if the parents are still facing major financial struggles. Researchers says that emotional support serves as a buffer, protecting "households with young children from the effects of stress resulting from material hardship even during the uncertainty and numerous challenges posed by the pandemic."

They warn, though, that the buffer can't hold forever: "The longer caregivers are uncertain about their ability to feed their family, keep a roof over their head, and keep the electricity on, the less likely that emotional supports will prevent these experiences from negatively affecting caregivers or children." Their solution is simple—though that doesn't mean it will be easy to enact.

The group is calling on lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to give Americans more financial relief, as well as protections from evictions. They say those measures are "absolutely essential to insure the wellbeing of young children during the pandemic," and a failure to act will expose the youngest Americans to chronic, ongoing stress. The cumulative effects of that stress can mean those children will grow up to face higher risks of depression and stress-related health problems including heart disease, diabetes and addiction, according to Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child.

The first stimulus checks sent out back in April are long gone by now—and negotiations on a second-round have been at an impasse for months. Not knowing when or even whether they'll get more help is making parents lives harder, and this new data proves it's time for lawmakers to step up—for the health and well-being of children everywhere.

Here's what to do if your child is picking up on your pandemic stress:

Try to take care of yourself: This can be incredibly hard if you don't have access to your support people due to quarantining or if you don't have health insurance. Check with therapists in your area about low or no-cost rates and set aside time to connect with friends and family over the phone. You deserve to be heard, mama.

Offer more affection: As psychologist and parenting coach Dr. Rebecca Schrag Hershberg previously wrote for Motherly: "Children show their stress in different ways: throwing more tantrums, being more moody, irritable or defiant, or regressing in a particular area such as language or potty training. However your kids are showing that they're worried—or even if they are not yet—there is nothing more valuable than giving them a hug and letting them know you've got them and it's all going to be okay."

But sometimes mama needs a break: If you have a partner or another adult in your home this may mean that they take over caregiving to allow some alone time. If you don't have another adult in the home, try to steal a moment for yourself where you can, even if that means the laundry has to wait or the kids get a little extra screen time.

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


Keep reading Show less
Shop

Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play