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Parents’ stress increased in lockdowns, study finds

By Caitlin Doherty
Lockdowns increased stress issues in parents and carers, a new study suggests.

Parents reported elevated levels of stress in the spring, which then reduced in the summer, before peaking again in November and December, according to the data from the University of Oxford.

In total, more than 6,000 parents were questioned for the survey, which asked them about various concerns to do with their own lives and their children’s wellbeing between April and December 2020.

Overall, 49.2% of parents or carers questioned were worried about their children’s wellbeing, and 45.5% were concerned about their child’s education in April.

These figures rose to 51.5% and 49.7% respectively by June.

Problems with behaviour also increased over this period, with 35.3% of parents worried about it in April, up to 35.8% in June.

These markers all dropped in the summer months, with only 37.9% of parents worried about their child’s wellbeing in August, and 32.9% worried about education.

However, they began to climb again towards the winter when more lockdown measures were introduced, with up to 39.1% worried about wellbeing, and 24.7% worried about behaviour, up from a low of 23.3% in September.

Schools stayed open during the November shutdown, and concerns about education were lower at this time than in the spring, with 29.9% of parents reporting worries in November, and 27.3% in December.

Higher levels of stress were detected particularly in low-income families, as well as single-parent households and those with children with special educational needs.

Almost two thirds of parents (64.5%) in households with an income of less than £16,000 a year were worried about their children’s wellbeing in April, compared with fewer than half (48.1%) in households earning more than that amount.

Low-income households were also more concerned about their child’s education, with 53.9% worried in April, dropping to 47.6% in August.

These compared with rates of 44.7% and 31.4% respectively in higher income households.

Cathy Creswell, professor of clinical developmental psychology at the University of Oxford and co-lead of the study, said: “Our data highlight the particular strains felt by parents during lockdown when many feel that they have been spread too thin by the demands of meeting their children’s needs during the pandemic, along with home-schooling and work commitments.”

The scientists also raised concerns about the disparities between low-income households and others.

Prof Creswell added: “We are particularly concerned about the level of strain felt by parents in low-income families, those in single parent families, and those supporting children with special educational needs.”

John Jolly, chief executive of Parentkind agreed and called on policymakers to listen to parents on issues that affect them and their children.

Mr Jolly said: “The negative mental health consequences of lockdown are revealed to be most acute among single parents, parents of children with Send (special educational needs and disability) and those on low incomes.

“Policymakers must give urgent consideration into how additional support for families most in need can be provided, before the disadvantage gap grows wide enough to create a lost generation.”

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