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Pre-existing parental stress and youth internalizing symptoms predict parent-reported COVID-related stress in military families

APA Citation:

Drew, A. L., Gregus, S. J., Steggerda, J. C., Smith Slep, A. M., Herrera, C., Cavell, T. A., & Spencer, R. (2023). Pre-existing parental stress and youth internalizing symptoms predict parent-reported COVID-related stress in military families. Military Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/08995605.2023.2187165

Abstract Created by REACH:

This study examined how parental stress and child internalizing and externalizing problems 1 year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to families’ stress during the early stages of the pandemic. In early 2019 (i.e., baseline), 234 military-connected parents reported on their parental stress and internalizing problems (i.e., anxiety and depressive symptoms), as well as their child’s internalizing (e.g., depressive symptoms) and externalizing problems (e.g., behavioral problems). At the follow-up in spring 2020, just after schools had closed due to COVID-19, parents reported on child and family stress in adjusting to pandemic-related changes. Overall, more parental stress at baseline was related to more pandemic-related stress for both children and families 1 year later.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Multiple branches
Air Force
Marine Corps
Coast Guard

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Military families
Child of a service member or veteran


Childhood (birth - 12 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Longitudinal Study
Quantitative Study
Secondary Analysis


Drew, Alison L., Gregus, Samantha J., Steggerda, Jake C., Slep, Amy M. Smith, Herrera, Carla, Cavell, Timothy A., Spencer, Renée


Understanding the extent to which youth and families experienced COVID-related stress requires accounting for prior levels of stress and other associated factors. This is especially important for military families, which experience unique stressors and may be reluctant to seek outside help. In this prospective study, we examined the role of pre-pandemic family factors in predicting parent and youth stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were 234 families with at least one active-duty parent and a 3rd or 5th-grade child. Findings revealed that preexisting factors predicted youth and family COVID-related stress. Specifically, heightened pre-pandemic parental stress and youth internalizing symptoms were significant predictors of COVID-related stress. Implications for mental health professionals and other organizations supporting military parents and families during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other times of upheaval are discussed.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


COVID-19, internalizing and externalizing symptoms, military families, parental stress, youth

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  July 2023

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