The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global health crisis with significant effects on families everywhere, including those in Windham County, Vermont. On March 7, 2020, “The Vermont Department of Health announced the state’s first case of COVID-19,” followed on March 19 by the announcement of the first coronavirus deaths in the state. (Vermont Department of Health, 2020) As of April 22, there were 823 total cases in Vermont, 65 of which were in Windham County, resulting in 40 total deaths in the state (two in Windham County).” (Vermont Department of Health, 2020)The most significant changes to daily life have been the closures of schools, childcares, and non-essential businesses, as well as the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, intended to minimize people leaving their homes unnecessarily.
On March 26, Vermont Governor Phil Scott “directed schools to remain dismissed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year.” (Office of Governor Phil Scott, 2020, March 26). Governor Scott declared a State of Emergency on March 13, which was subsequently extended to May 15, along with the Stay Home, Stay Safe order. (Office of Governor, 2020, April 10). In short, most people in Vermont were expected to be sheltering in place until at least mid-May.
There are a number of services currently offered in Windham County to support families throughout the pandemic, such as those providing food and childcare. For example, Windham Southeast Supervisory Union (WSESU) and other local school districts are offering free breakfasts and lunches to community children. “As of March 23, the [WSESU] school district’s staff and volunteers provided meals to 1,823 students in [the Brattleboro area], according to Superintendent Lyle Holiday. …Holiday said all children in the district younger than 18 are eligible for the meals, even if they don’t attend one of the local schools.” (Peters, 2020) In WSESU, over 1200 students qualify for free and reduced lunch, just under 50% of the student population (Vermont Agency of Education, 2019), indicating a large number of low-income families in the area.
I conducted a survey of Windham County parents using Google forms, shared via two local Facebook groups with questions about the ways in which COVID-19 has affected people’s family life (see below for survey questions). Fifty-five local moms responded, and all respondents said they felt like they had access to enough food for their families (though a few said that could change). Roughly 38% of respondents said they had participated in a local free meals program. Below is a short clip from a longer interview on Brattleboro Community Television (BCTV) of Connor Floyd, our local Food Connects Farm To School Program Manager, discussing free school lunch programs (from 7:22-8:04).
Brattleboro Community TV. (2020, April 14). Call To Action COVID-19: Feeding Children [Video].
In addition to affecting families’ access to food, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a range of effects on families, including increased stress, more time together, disruption of regular routines, and behavior changes. Psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory (see diagram below) is one perspective on how COVID-19 may affect children on multiple levels. For example, the microsystem is made up of the daily “home, school or daycare, peer group and community environment of… children. Interactions within the microsystem typically involve personal relationships with family members, classmates, teachers and caregivers.” (“What is Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory,” 2020) These relationships have all been affected by the pandemic, from fewer in-person interactions with friends and relatives to increased time with certain family members.
The mesosystem and exosystem (“people and places that children may not directly interact with… such as parents’ workplaces, extended family members, and the neighborhood”) have certainly been disrupted as well. (“What is…,” 2020) Many parents have lost their jobs, or are working from home while also parenting and facilitating distance learning in most cases. Roughly 75% of the people who completed my survey said that they are currently not leaving home at all for paid work, and 60% of respondents said they are getting paid to work from home in some capacity. All but three people who took the survey said their child(ren) are currently home with them 75-100% of the time (and the remaining respondents said 50-75% of the time).
[Visual of Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/itsyourfirstyearteaching510/self-social-and-moral-development/bronfenbrenner-s-social-development
The effects of COVID-19 have also spread to the macrosystem and chronosystem, to use Bronfenbrenner’s terms. The macrosystem refers to “cultural patterns and values, specifically… dominant beliefs and ideas, as well as political and economic systems,” while “the chronosystem may include a change in family structure, … parents’ employment status, as well as immense society changes such as economic cycles and wars.” (“What is…,” 2020) COVID-19 would certainly count as an “immense society change,” that has significantly affected our political and economic systems (increased unemployment, closed schools), societal interactions and physical movements. People, states, and countries are responding differently, but globally nearly everyone is aware of the pandemic and its effects are far-reaching.
The emotional and relational effects of the pandemic are the aspects that are most interesting to me, and some psychologists who have theorized about emotions include Magda Arnold and Richard Lazarus. Their Appraisal Theory of Emotion “proposes that emotions are extracted from our ‘appraisals’ (i.e., our evaluations, interpretations, and explanations) of events. … Different people have different perceptions of and emotional reactions to the same situations.” (Boundless Psychology, n.d.)
This can be seen in the variety of survey responses, where just over half of the respondents said that they personally feel moderately (36%), slightly (13%) or not at all worried (4%) about the pandemic, while the other half feel considerably (38%) or significantly/extremely (9%) worried. Also, several people said COVID-19 has had “no noticeable change” on their family life, while another expressed, “It has positively affected us because we are able to have more family time,” and others wrote responses like, “Everyone is stressed and fragile. We have more highs and lows emotionally than normal.”
This range of responses can be seen in the case study of Sage, a White, middle class 2-year-old in Windham County who normally goes to childcare while their parents are at work. Sage loves being with their friends, so when their childcare was closed because of COVID-19, they were happy to be home with mom, but also missed seeing their classmates. For the first few weeks after school closures, Dad went to work and Mom attempted to parent and work from home (see image below). Now that Mom and Dad are both deemed “essential workers,” Sage is back in childcare, though the transition has been rough. Mom felt stressed and stretched thin by trying to balance working from home, parenting, and taking care of all of the regular household tasks, so in a way, going back to work was a welcome change.
Coronavirus And Parenting: What You Need To Know Now [Photograph]. (2020, March 13). Retrieved from https://www.vpr.org/post/coronavirus-and-parenting-what-you-need-know-now#stream/0
Sage can tell that their parents are stressed and their focus is split, and has been demanding more attention, especially from Mom. Also, Sage’s behaviors are less compliant than usual, with more whining and emotional outbursts, and they have frequently been pretending to be a baby. This reflects what Lisa Tolin explained:
Stress and anxiety can show up in all kinds of ways in children: irritability, defiance, clinginess. But one of the most common responses is regression. …[P]sychologists say all children (and adults) may regress in times of stress. …As the threat of coronavirus disrupts school, daycare and other activities for children, many parents are noticing a sudden resurgence of… tantrum-like meltdowns. Some kids are clingy even if parents are always around, use more baby talk or pout and cry when they can’t have what they want.” ((Tolin, 2020, April 08)
Roughly two-thirds of my survey responses reflected similar stress, anxiety, and regressive behaviors in children. For example:
“Both children have regressed emotionally,”
“Increased bed wetting and tantrums in both kids, they are feeling our stress,” and
“[Child] is a little needier, some re-emergency of more ‘baby-like’ behaviors.”
Studies show that such stress can have “adverse physical and mental health outcomes over time” (Garfin et al., 2020), and Judy Rollins (2020) addressed how the pandemic may likely affect young people, especially in low-income families, over the long term:
[I]mplications of the indirect impact on [childrens’] well-being from efforts to slow the spread of the virus is enormous. …Two of the most concerning issues are school closings and parental lack of paid leave, the latter of which, like many issues, has a greater impact on children of parents with low-paying jobs and those living in poverty.
Given all of the changes in Windham County due to COVID-19, and considering the survey responses, it is clear that the pandemic has had both positive and negative effects on local families, though low-income families seem to have been hit harder.
Hopefully the stress and anxiety will be balanced out by some of the benefits of having more family time. As one survey respondent expressed, “We have been able to spend quality time together. It has also shown us to slow down and enjoy the simpler things in life.”
Boundless Psychology. (n.d.). Theories of Emotion. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-psychology/chapter/theories-of-emotion/
Brattleboro Community TV. (2020, April 14). Call To Action COVID-19: Feeding Children [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/pbu_vtJfF60?t=442
Bronfenbrenner’s Social Development. [Visual of Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory]. (n.d.). Understanding Your Students. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/itsyourfirstyearteaching510/self-social-and-moral-development/bronfenbrenner-s-social-development
Garfin, D. R., Silver, R. C., & Holman, E. A. (2020). The novel coronavirus (COVID-2019) outbreak: Amplification of public health consequences by media exposure. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/hea0000875
Kamenetz, A., & Turner, C. (2020, March 13). Coronavirus And Parenting: What You Need To Know Now. [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.vpr.org/post/coronavirus-and-parenting-what-you-need-know-now#stream/0
Office of Governor Phil Scott. (2020, April 10). Governor Phil Scott extends state of emergency in Vermont. Retrieved from https://governor.vermont.gov/press-release/governor-phil-scott-extends-state-emergency-vermont
Office of Governor Phil Scott. (2020, March 26). Governor Phil Scott dismisses schools for in-person instruction for remainder of 2019-2020 school year. Retrieved from https://governor.vermont.gov/press-release/governor-phil-scott-dismisses-schools-person-instruction-remainder-2019-2020-school
Peters, O. (2020, March 25). School district, students adapt to a crisis: For families turned upside down by COVID-19, educators rapidly figure out how to serve kids remotely, from teaching to food. Retrieved from http://www.commonsnews.org/site/sitenext/story.php?articleno=32130
Rollins, J. A. (2020). The Coronavirus: Exposing Our Nation’s Vulnerabilities. Pediatric Nursing, 46(2), 57–59.
Tolin, L. (2020, April 08). This is why your child is acting like a baby right now. TodayShow. Retrieved from https://www.today.com/parents/child-regression-signs-regression-kids-what-do-about-it-t177861?fbclid=IwAR0S0paGErbAa0Rzq959dG4JoW-tTUBviZK5MVZOlcmTKk4VStRzbY
Vermont Agency of Education. (2019, November 15). Child Nutrition Programs: Annual Statistical Report – Percent of Students Eligible for Free and Reduced Price School Meals. https://education.vermont.gov/sites/aoe/files/documents/edu-nutrition-2019-free-reduced-eligibility-report.pdf
Vermont Department of Health. (2020, April 14). Current Activity in Vermont. COVID-19 in Vermont. Retrieved from https://www.healthvermont.gov/response/coronavirus-covid-19/current-activity-vermont
What is Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory? (2020, February 15). Retrieved from https://www.psychologynoteshq.com/bronfenbrenner-ecological-theory/
Survey Questions – survey created with Google forms, shared on April 12, 2020 to Brattleboro Area Parents & Moms Networks, closed on April 15, 2020, after 55 complete responses.
- How old are you (in years)?
- How would you describe your gender?
- How many children do you have?
- What are the ages of your children? (Please designate “Child 1,” “Child 2,” etc, if you would like to refer back to each child separately later in the survey)
- Do you live/parent with any other adults? If so, please describe your relationship to them.
- How worried do you personally feel about the current COVID-19 pandemic? (Not at all, Slightly, Moderately, Considerably, Significantly/Extremely)
- How worried do you think your child(ren) are about the current COVID-19 pandemic? (You may pick one child about whom to answer the questions if needed, or for multiple children use the “Other” option) (Not at all, Slightly, Moderately, Considerably, Significantly/Extremely)
- To what degree do you feel that the current COVID-19 pandemic has affected your child(ren)? (You may pick one child about whom to answer the questions if needed, or for multiple children use the “Other” option) (Not at all, Slightly, Moderately, Considerably, Significantly/Extremely)
- Do you feel that the current COVID-19 pandemic has affected your relationship with your child(ren)? If so, how?
- Have you conversed with your child(ren) in any way about COVID-19? If so, what information was exchanged? (Please specify Child #1, #2, etc. if applicable)
- Are you currently leaving home for paid work outside the house at all? (yes/no/other)
- Are you currently getting paid to work from home in any capacity? (yes/no/other)
- What percentage of the week is/are your child(ren) at home with you? (0-25%, 25-50%, 50-75%, 75-100%)
- How has your child(ren)’s amount of screen time changed since schools and childcares have been closed in Vermont? (decreased significantly, decreased somewhat, stayed roughly the same, increased somewhat, Increased significantly)
- Roughly how many hours of screen time per day (on average) would you say your child(ren) currently get? (You may pick one child about whom to answer questions if needed – please specify child’s age if applicable)
- Do you feel like you have access to enough food for your family? (yes/no/other)
- Have you participated in the Windham Southeast School District (WSESD)’s universal free meals program at all? (This program is supposed to be available to any children 18 & under in WSESD)
- How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your child(ren) and family, especially in relationship to behavior and emotions?
- Are there any negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that you have seen for your child(ren) and/or family? If so, what?
- Are there any positive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that you have seen for your child(ren) and/or family? If so, what?
- Any other comments, questions, or things you would like to share about changes in your family life due to COVID-19?
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APA cite in text as: (Koplinka-Loehr, 2020a)
APA cite in full References as: Koplinka-Loehr, A. (2020a). Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on families in Windham County, Vermont. Vermont Psychology. Retrieved from https://wp.me/p4elXk-D5
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Anne Koplinka-Loehr was born and raised in Ithaca, New York, and has spent summers in Vermont her whole life, on the shores of Lake Champlain. She has been living in Brattleboro, Vermont, since 2008, when she moved to the area to attend the SIT Graduate Institute (formerly known as the School for International Training).
At SIT she completed her M.A. in social justice education, and subsequently received a M.A.T. and her teaching certification through the Spark Teacher Education Institute. After working as a middle school social studies teacher for roughly 10 years, she had a son of her own (who is now two) and became more interested in Early Childhood Education. She now works at a local Head Start center.
When she’s not in the classroom, Anne is usually spending time with her husband, son, and other family and friends. She loves languages, and is fluent in French, proficient in Wolof, and has a basic level of American Sign Language (ASL). She also loves people, learning about new things, dancing, singing, writing, photography, good conversations, and working together towards social justice. Anne is passionate about using education as a tool to both humanize the world and eliminate oppression.
View Anne’s other article about Parenting for Social Justice: Angela Berkfield.