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Parents’ pandemic depression boosted kids’ anxiety


March 5, 2021
By University of Michigan

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Parent depression and stress early in the pandemic negatively contributed to their young children’s home education and anxiety, a new study suggests.

Some parents may still experience that stress as their kids transition back to school while COVID-19 remains a danger. Both parents and children may need continued support, researchers say.

The findings, published in Children and Youth Services Review, report on the parent-child dynamics during initial COVID-19 related school closures, based on data collected last April.

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The 405 participants recruited for the study lived throughout the United States and had at least one child age 12 and younger. Most parents indicated their children used online tools for at-home education, including educational apps, social media, and school-provided electronic resources.

About 35% of parents says their child’s behavior had changed since the pandemic, including being sad, depressed, and lonely.

Due to school closures and ramifications of social distancing measures, it’s not surprising that parents had more involvement in daily caregiving activities, the researchers say. One in four parents reported an employment change related to the pandemic.

These changes affected parents’ mental well-being. Two out of every five adults met the criteria for major depression and at least moderate anxiety, which were negatively associated with their perceived preparation to educate at home, the study shows.

Parents also reported high levels of daily schedule disruptions, as well as stressors such as lack of access to free and reduced-price school meals.

“Overall, study results suggested that parents’ mental health may be an important factor linked to at-home education and child well-being during the pandemic,” says lead author Shawna Lee, associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan. “Research suggests that, unfortunately, the high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression among parents remained high through the summer and early fall.

“One implication is that the return to school may be challenging for many families. Schools may need to consider providing services to address students’ mental health issues and the aftereffects of stress and trauma resulting from social isolation and economic uncertainty during the pandemic.”

Two positive outcomes: parents hugged and showed more affection to their children and ate meals with their kids.

Lee notes that one limitation of the study is that it did not encompass experiences of marginalized kids, such as those with physical and learning disabilities, the homeless, and communities of color. The sample was mostly white (70%), middle-income parents.

Original Study DOI: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105585


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