Understanding at-the-moment stress for parents during COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

Social Science and Medicine






Rationale: In spring 2020, many states in the United States enacted stay-at-home orders to limit the spread of COVID-19 and lessen effects on hospitals and health care workers. This required parents to act in new roles without much support. Although studies have asked parents about stress before and during the pandemic, none have examined how stress may have fluctuated throughout the day and the characteristics related to those daily changes. Objective: Our study assesses how time-varying (e.g., presence of a focal child) and day-varying (e.g., weekend vs. weekday) factors were related to parents’ level of stress. Methods: We use Ecological Momentary Assessment to examine stress three times a day (10 a.m., 3 p.m., and 9 p.m.) for 14 days. We include two different dates hypothesized to be related to parents’ stress levels: (1) when Ohio announced schools would go virtual for the rest of the academic year and (2) when most retail businesses were allowed to re-open. Our sample of 332 individuals, recruited via Facebook, Craigslist, and word of mouth, completed 13,360 of these brief surveys during April–May 2020. Data were analyzed using generalized ordered logit models. Results: Parents report lower levels of stress when completing the 9 p.m. survey, but higher levels when they were at work, during weekdays (compared to weekends) or when they were with the focal child. COVID-19 milestone dates were not related to stress levels. Conclusions: Parents need some form of respite (e.g. child care, child-only activities) to reduce stress, especially during the week when parents are juggling their outside employment and their child(ren)'s schooling. Providing parents with skills and tools to identify and reduce stress, such as apps monitoring heart rate or providing deep breathing techniques, may be one way of helping parents cope with extremely stressful situations.

Funding Sponsor

Ohio State University


COVID-19, Ecological momentary assessment, Generalized ordered logit models, Parents, Stress


Social Work