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Latest report from the Co-SPACE (COVID-19 Supporting Parents, Adolescents, and Children in Epidemics) survey highlights that for participating primary school aged children behavioural and restless/attentional difficulties increased between March and June. These difficulties generally decreased from July.

Group of primary school age children running.

More than 12,300 parents have now taken part in the Co-SPACE survey led by experts at the University of Oxford. Crucially, the study is continuing to collect data in order to determine whether this has changed as schools have re-opened and many children returned to the classroom.

  • Over the course of the first national lockdown when most children weren't physically in school (between March and June), behavioural and restless/attentional difficulties increased
  • Behavioural, emotional, and restless/ attentional difficulties generally decreased from July (i.e. when home schooling demands typically reduced), throughout the summer holidays, and also as children returned to school in September

Participating parents and carers reported that their children displayed increasing behaviour difficulties from March
to June 2020, including temper tantrums, arguments and not doing what they were being asked to do by adults. They also became more fidgety and restless and had greater difficulty paying attention. However, parents and carers reported a decrease in these difficulties from July to October. Since then, children have also been reported to display fewer emotional difficulties, such as feeling unhappy, worried, being clingy and experiencing physical symptoms associated with worry.

Professor Cathy Creswell, Professor of Developmental Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford, and co-lead of the study, said,

Our findings highlight the challenges that children and families faced during the first lockdown when most children were not able to attend school. We are pleased to see that things have generally improved for study families since the pressures of home learning have reduced, but our findings raise concerns about the impact of the ongoing disruption to schooling that many children are dealing with. We don’t yet know the impact of this second lockdown, although children being able to attend school could make all the difference. High rates of mental health difficulties among children in low income families also highlight the huge challenge faced as more and more families tackle the economic impacts of the pandemic.

Among participating young people of secondary school age, parent/carer reported mental health symptoms have been more stable throughout the pandemic.

The study also highlighted that children with special education needs and/or neurodevelopmental differences and those from lower income household (< £16,000 p.a.) displayed consistently elevated behavioural, emotional and restlessness/ attentional difficulties over the course of the pandemic.

The Co-SPACE survey is still open for parents and carers to share their experiences www.cospaceoxford.com/survey, especially at this crucial time with new local and national lockdown measures. This research is tracking children and young people’s mental health throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Survey results are helping researchers identify what protects children and young people from deteriorating mental health, over time, and at particular stress points, and how this may vary according to child and family characteristics. This will help to identify what advice, support and help parents would find most useful.

To see all reports from the Co-SPACE study.