Parenting under pressure: Parental transmission and buffering of child fear during the COVID-19 pandemic

Jessica P. Uy, Chloe Schwartz, Kristen A. Chu, Emily Towner, Alejandra Lemus, Natalie H. Brito, Bridget L. Callaghan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current study investigated the impacts of parental behaviors (threat communication and comforting) on children's COVID-19 fears and whether effects differed by age. Caregivers of 283 children (5.5–17 years, M = 10.17, SD = 3.25) from 186 families completed online measures assessing children's and parents’ COVID-19-related fears, children's sources of COVID-19 threat information, and parents’ engagement in behaviors to reduce child distress (i.e., comfort behaviors). Higher COVID-19 fear in parents was associated with greater communication of COVID-19 threat information, which was associated with higher COVID-19 fear in younger, but not older, children. Over and above parental fear and threat communication, greater exposure to COVID-19 threat information from community sources (e.g., media, school, friends) was associated with greater COVID-19 fear in children, regardless of age. Greater engagement of parental comfort behaviors buffered the association between community sources of COVID-19 threat information and COVID-19 fears in older, but not younger, children. These findings suggest that younger children might be more vulnerable to developing heightened COVID-19 fears as a result of increasing sources of COVID-19 threat information in their lives. This study highlights the importance of supporting the socioemotional well-being of children and families through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22253
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • COVID-19
  • adolescents
  • children
  • fear transmission
  • pandemic
  • parental buffering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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