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31 Family Stress Examples And Coping Strategies

| Examples | How Does Stress Affect A Family | Effects of Family Stress | How to Cope |

What Is Family Stress

Family stress is anything that disturbs, upsets, or puts pressure on the family system, creating a demand-resources imbalance. It can be as mild as spilling milk on the kitchen floor or as severe as having a house burned down.

Stress does not always cause damage. It can affect a family’s equilibrium in positive or negative ways.

There are two types of family stress – positive stress and negative stress.

Positive stress is eustress, such as getting married. Eustress leads to positive feelings and a healthy body.

Negative stress is distress, such as family discord. Distress is associated with negative emotions and impairments.

Stress can be external (natural disaster, war, recession) or internal (divorce, moving, or conflict).

Some families can bend under pressure and grow stronger, but some do not survive stressful situations.

family stress parents stressed out while daughter watches

Family Stress Examples


Here are some of the positive and negative examples of family stress.

These positive stressors can bring families closer, strengthen them, build shared experiences, and help them overcome new challenges.

  1. Starting a new job or business
  2. Moving to a new house or city
  3. Planning a wedding or other special event
  4. Welcoming a new baby to the family
  5. Planning a family vacation
  6. Organizing gatherings for holidays and traditions
  7. Starting a new hobby or activity as a family
  8. Celebrating a milestone or achievement, such as a graduation or anniversary.
  9. Renovating the family house
  10. Supporting a family member through a major accomplishment, such as a sports tournament


Some common examples of family stress can challenge a family’s resilience. These stressful events can lead to difficult emotions and reactions within the family unit.

  1. Divorce or separation of parents
  2. Injury or chronic illness of a family member
  3. Death of a family member or close friend
  4. Financial difficulties or job loss
  5. Domestic violence or abuse
  6. Substance abuse or addiction within the family
  7. Academic or behavioral problems with a child
  8. Legal problems or incarceration of a family member
  9. Infidelity or betrayal within the family
  10. Mental health challenges or diagnoses within the family
  11. Cultural or generational conflicts within the family
  12. Homelessness or housing instability
  13. Blended family challenges or adjustment difficulties
  14. Unemployment of a parent
  15. Immigration or cultural adaptation challenges
  16. Caregiving responsibilities for an aging or ill family member
  17. Natural disasters that impact the family or community
  18. War
  19. Recession
  20. Family estrangement
  21. Parental burnout

How Does Stress Affect A Family

Stress comes in many different forms and sources, and family dynamics vary.

A family’s resources, strengths, and coping skills can influence how members of the family respond to stressful life events differently.

Knowing what helps families bounce back and what breaks them apart allows you to adapt to distress.

There are several factors that can affect whether a family stressor can become a family crisis​1​.


First, a stressor event needs to take place to cause familial stress.

A family stressor can impact a family, causing interaction, roles, or values to change. It could be a crisis-provoking event or related hardship.

For example, changes in parents’ busy schedules, conflicts between members of the family, or disruptions in the marital relationship.

Family Resources

A family’s resources are the capabilities for meeting demands and needs during distress. Adaptive resources include existing resources and expanded resources.

Existing resources that can minimize the impact of a stressor include characteristics of families, cohesiveness, flexibility, shared values, and emotional support from friends.

Expanded resources emerge from the stressful situation, such as assistance from extended family, family therapy, investment club, and community-based support group.


Another factor that determines a stressor’s effect on the family is how the family views and gives meaning to the event.

Stressors tend to be coped with and adapted better by families that redefine the situation as a “challenge” or an “opportunity for growth” rather than an “obstacle” or a “failure.”

Degrees of stress

Stressors can take different forms.

They can come from internal or external sources. They can also be normative or catastrophic events, predictable or unexpected circumstances, ambiguous or clear situations, chronic or acute conditions, and cumulative or isolated incidents.

They all possess different degrees of stressor potential.

Each of these four factors contributes to a stressor’s impact on a family.

Effects of Family Stress

Stressful times can have ripple effects on family life.

Stressors cause psychological distress in parents

Most family stresses influence parents directly more than children.

Family stress researchers believe that family stress can lead to psychological distress in parents, disrupting their ability to parent effectively and leading to maladjustment in their children​2​.

For example, for mothers living in rural poverty, economic pressure is significantly associated with their symptoms of depression, hostility, anxiety, and somatization​3​.

Parents’ psychological distress leads to disrupted parenting and couple relationships

Psychological distress in parents is linked to disrupted parenting, such as insensitive parenting, decreased time spent together, overcontrolling behavior, and punitive discipline.

These families are at a higher risk for child abuse and neglect in young children.

Parental mental issues are associated with more marital conflicts and less support from spouses. They can lower relationship satisfaction for both husbands and wives​4​.

Disrupted parenting results in child adjustment problems

Psychologically distressed parents may resort to inconsistent or harsh discipline practices, monitor their children less frequently, or withdraw their support and affection.

Disrupted parenting practices are linked to externalizing behavior, drinking problems, conduct disorders, poor academic performance, and internalizing symptoms.

For specific strategies on dealing with individual family issues, check out: 

Parenting, Temper Tantrums, Child Discipline, Behavior Issues, Temperament, Parental Burnout

How To Cope With Family Stress

The following protective factors can help a family mitigate the negative effects of stress.

Seek Social Support

Parent can seek social support from their circle of friends, extended family, neighbors, and the local community.

During times of difficulty, social support is one of the most valuable resources that can help a depressed family overcome major crises and restore stability.

Parental social support is associated with less stress, more effective parenting practices, and positive child outcomes​5​.


Experiencing a difficult family situation can be distressing for parents. 

Engaging in active problem-solving may resolve the issue, but more importantly, taking the initiative to change a situation is associated with stress relief​6​.

For instance, parents can seek help from various sources, including their extended family, friends, or neighbors. They can also analyze the root cause of the problem and devise strategies to change or prevent its occurrence.

Mental adjustment

Psychological distress can be relieved by mentally adjusting to the situation.

There are a variety of techniques to do that –  downgrading expectations, accepting limitations or perceiving benefits from an otherwise adverse experience​7​.

Positively reevaluating the situation is associated with better mental adjustment and greater stress relief.

Conversely, avoiding the topic, denying it, or wishing it away may seem to work in the short term but may have negative long-term consequences​8​.


Engaging in physical activity and exercise on a regular basis can maintain good health in parents and children.

Adapting to stress and being resilient is easier when the entire family practices healthy living​9​.

Activities for families can include going for a walk, jogging or riding a bike together, playing sports or games as a family, or participating in exercise classes or fitness challenges. They give the family breathing breaks in the midst of a stressful time.

From family stress to family strengths

Turn the experience with family stress into a family bonding opportunity.

Strengthen the family relationship by attending to the emotional connection between family members. 

A family under stress can benefit greatly from mutual support and understanding. Showing empathy, providing a listening ear, or giving a hug can help ease stress.

By approaching stress as a team and working together towards a common goal, families can weather the storms of stress and may come out even stronger on the other side​10​.


  1. 1.
    McCubbin HI, Patterson JM. The Family Stress Process. Marriage & Family Review. Published online April 27, 1983:7-37. doi:10.1300/j002v06n01_02
  2. 2.
    Masarik AS, Conger RD. Stress and child development: a review of the Family Stress Model. Current Opinion in Psychology. Published online February 2017:85-90. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.05.008
  3. 3.
    Newland RP, Crnic KA, Cox MJ, Mills-Koonce WR. The family model stress and maternal psychological symptoms: Mediated pathways from economic hardship to parenting. Journal of Family Psychology. Published online 2013:96-105. doi:10.1037/a0031112
  4. 4.
    Warren EJ, Font SA. Housing Insecurity, Maternal Stress, and Child Maltreatment: An Application of the Family Stress Model. Social Service Review. Published online March 2015:9-39. doi:10.1086/680043
  5. 5.
    McConnell D, Breitkreuz R, Savage A. From financial hardship to child difficulties: main and moderating effects of perceived social support. Child: Care, Health and Development. Published online December 9, 2010:679-691. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2214.2010.01185.x
  6. 6.
    Hall NC, Chipperfield JG, Perry RP, Ruthig JC, Goetz T. Primary and secondary control in academic development: gender-specific implications for stress and health in college students1. Anxiety, Stress & Coping. Published online June 2006:189-210. doi:10.1080/10615800600581168
  7. 7.
    Hall NC, Perry RP, Chipperfield JG, Clifton RA, Haynes TL. Enhancing Primary and Secondary Control in Achievement Settings Through Writing–Based Attributional Retraining. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Published online April 2006:361-391. doi:10.1521/jscp.2006.25.4.361
  8. 8.
    Santiago CD, Etter EM, Wadsworth ME, Raviv T. Predictors of responses to stress among families coping with poverty-related stress. Anxiety, Stress & Coping. Published online May 2012:239-258. doi:10.1080/10615806.2011.583347
  9. 9.
    Rone-Adams SA, Stern DF, Walker V. Stress and Compliance with a Home Exercise Program Among Caregivers of Children with Disabilities. Pediatric Physical Therapy. Published online 2004:140-148. doi:10.1097/01.pep.0000136006.13449.dc
  10. 10.
    Leske JS. Comparison of Family Stresses, Strengths, and Outcomes After Trauma and Surgery. AACN Clinical Issues: Advanced Practice in Acute and Critical Care. Published online February 2003:33-41. doi:10.1097/00044067-200302000-00005

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *