COVID-19 distress, negative parenting, and child behavioral problems: The moderating role of parent adverse childhood experiences

Child Abuse Negl. 2022 Aug;130(Pt 1):105450. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2021.105450. Epub 2021 Dec 23.


Background: Heightened familial stress and distress during the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to increased negative parenting practices, particularly for parents with substantial adverse childhood experiences (ACES).

Objective: To determine whether families' COVID-19-related distress is associated with young children's emotional/behavioral functioning via negative parenting, and whether these relationships vary based on parents' ACEs.

Participants and setting: Participants were 267 parents of children ages 1.5-5 years recruited from five primary care sites across the United States.

Methods: Participants completed internet questionnaires including measures of demographics, parent ACES, negative parenting, parent mental health, and COVID-19 distress. We used regression analyses to test a moderated mediation model in which the relationship between COVID-19 distress and child emotional/behavioral problems is mediated by negative parenting, and both the direct and indirect effects of COVID-19 distress on child emotional/behavioral problems is moderated by parents' ACEs.

Results: Negative parenting significantly mediated the relationship between COVID-19 distress and child emotional/behavioral problems (indirect effect β = 0.07). Parents' ACEs moderated the associations between COVID-19 distress and both negative parenting and child emotional/behavioral problems, such that each relationship was stronger in the context of higher parental ACEs. The model accounted for 42% of the variance in child emotional/behavioral problems.

Conclusions: Findings have implications for managing risk and promoting well-being in young children during periods of significant stress and routine disruption. This study advances understanding of factors influencing negative outcomes in children during the pandemic's acute phase and may have implications for the development of targeted interventions to improve families' adjustment in the future.

Keywords: Adverse childhood experiences; COVID-19; Child emotional and behavioral problems; Family stress; Parenting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Pandemics
  • Parenting
  • Parents