Psychological Flexibility and Inflexibility as Sources of Resiliency and Risk During a Pandemic: Modeling the Cascade of COVID-19 Stress on Family Systems with a Contextual Behavioral Science Lens


Psychological Sciences

Document Type


Publication Source

Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science. Volume 18, Pages 16-27.

Publication Date




The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the historic economic shutdown and stay-at-home efforts to slow its spread have radically impacted the lives of families across the world, completely disrupting routines and challenging them to adjust to new health risks as well as to new work and family demands. The current study applied a contextual behavioral science lens to the spillover hypothesis of Family Systems Theory to develop a multi-stage mechanistic model for how COVID-19 stress could impact family and child functioning and how parents’ psychological flexibility could shape those processes.


A total of 742 coparents (71% female; 84% Caucasian, 85% married, M = 41 years old) of children (ages 5–18, M = 9.4 years old, 50% male) completed an online survey from March 27th to the end of April 2020.


Path analyses highlighted robust links from parent inflexibility to all components of the model, predicting: greater COVID-19 stress, greater coparenting discord and family discord, greater caustic parenting, and greater parent and child distress. Parent flexibility was associated with greater family cohesion, lower family discord and greater use of constructive parenting strategies (inductive, democratic/autonomy supportive, positive). Results further suggested that COVID-19 stressors predicted greater family and coparent discord, which in turn predicted greater use of caustic parenting (reactive, inconsistent, aggressive), which in turn predicted greater child and parent distress.


The current results highlight parental flexibility and inflexibility as key points of intervention for helping families navigate the current global health crisis, highlighting the crucial role they play in the lives of families.


COVID-19, family, parents, children, psychological flexibility/inflexibility