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Review 1: "Supporting Families to Protect Child Health: Parenting Quality and Household Needs During the COVID-19 Pandemic"

This study presents a generally reliable analysis of data on the effects of stressors on parenting practices during the pandemic, however, inherent limitations of the study design and the need for more detail may undermine its generalizability.

Published onOct 11, 2020
Review 1: "Supporting Families to Protect Child Health: Parenting Quality and Household Needs During the COVID-19 Pandemic"
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key-enterThis Pub is a Review of
Supporting Families to Protect Child Health: Parenting Quality and Household Needs During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Background: Supportive parenting is critical for promoting healthy child development in the face of stressors, such as those occurring during COVID-19. Here, we address a knowledge gap regarding specific household risk factors associated with parenting quality during the pandemic and incorporate first-person accounts of family challenges and needs. Methods: Mixed methods were applied to data collected between April 14th - 28th, 2020 from the “Parenting During the Pandemic” survey. Participants included 656 primary caregivers (e.g., mothers, fathers, foster parents) of least one child age 1.5-8 years of which 555 (84.6%) responded to at least one parenting questionnaire. Parenting quality was assessed across stressful, negative, and positive parenting dimensions. Household risk was examined across pandemic-linked (e.g., caregiver depression, unmet childcare needs) and stable factors (i.e., annual income, mental illness history). Significant correlates were examined with regressions in Mplus. Thematic analysis identified caregiver challenges and unmet needs from open-ended questions.Findings: Caregiver depression, higher child parity, unmet childcare needs, and relationship distress predicted lower-quality parenting. Caregiver depression was the most significant predictor across every parenting dimension, with analyses indicating medium effect sizes, ds = .39 - .73. Qualitative findings highlighted severe strains on parent capacities including managing psychological distress, limited social supports, and too much unstructured time.Interpretations: Lower quality parenting during COVID-19 is associated with multiple household and pandemic risk factors, with caregiver depression consistently linked to parent-child relationship disruptions. Focused efforts are needed to address caregiver mental health to protect child health as part of the pandemic response.

RR:C19 Evidence Scale rating by reviewer:

  • Reliable. The main study claims are generally justified by its methods and data. The results and conclusions are likely to be similar to the hypothetical ideal study. There are some minor caveats or limitations, but they would/do not change the major claims of the study. The study provides sufficient strength of evidence on its own that its main claims should be considered actionable, with some room for future revision.



This preprint, “Supporting families to protect child health: parenting quality and household needs during the COVID-19 pandemic” presents survey data from a large, predominantly Canadian sample of families. The sample is primarily composed of mothers and is of relatively higher socioeconomic status, which limit the generalizability of the findings. However, the study provides a snapshot of family stressors during the pandemic and their relations to parenting behavior.

The authors state that their study shows that several family-based risk factors, such as unmet child care needs and parent depressive symptoms, are associated with lower quality parenting (i.e., higher laxness and overreactivity, less support for child behavior). These findings are generally supported by the data and methods used. These findings are also very consistent with previous research and not unexpected. However, the qualitative data provides richness and context to the findings as they relate to the particular stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on families. The policy implications of the data are clear, particularly regarding unmet childcare needs, and decision-makers should consider the claims in this study actionable with limitations, based on the methods and data. Limitations are discussed below.

Race/ethnicity is not reported by the authors, which limits interpretability of the results. It is not clear why the 1.5-8 child age range selected – what are the unique aspects of parenting at these ages and how might they extend to other ages of children? Relatedly, parents were prompted to respond regarding their “most challenging child,” which makes sense when measuring stress but could be explicated more clearly. The quantitative findings are not presented in detail in the results section of the manuscript, and instead only referred to in Tables 2 and 3. More detail is needed in the text. Of the many regressions presented, relatively few are statistically significant, and there is limited discussion of what these patterns of findings do and do not. Relatedly, there are many variables used to assess parenting but clear hypotheses are not presented to distinguish them. It may be that combining these variables into composite parenting scores would yield similar findings in more interpretable ways. Finally, it is not clear if depression was present prior to the pandemic or if parents have experienced an exacerbation in depressive symptoms during the pandemic, which would have implications for the types of support that may benefit parents during this time.

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