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Young children of working parents had fewer tantrums in lockdown

Young children of working parents experienced a ‘small but significant’ improvement in their behaviour and attention during lockdown, a new study has found.

Their concentration improved and they had fewer tantrums, according to psychologists working on the Co-Spyce study, a collaboration between the Universities of Reading, Oxford and Southampton.

Researchers asked 972 families with children aged two to five to monitor changes in their emotions, disobedience, attention span and other behaviours over one month between April and July.

Around 15% of the parents/carers in the sample reported that they were unemployed, and this group did not report a reduction in their child’s behaviour or attention problems.

On average, children showed improvements in their attention, but very little change in their emotions or behaviour.

Boys showed significant improvements in their behaviour and attention, while girls did not.

There was very little difference between children in households with higher and lower incomes, and between those in families of different ethnicities.

Overall, the changes were subtle, suggesting the children remained relatively stable during the month.

Professor Helen Dodd, a child psychologist at the University of Reading, said the results suggest children are more resilient during times of stress than sometimes thought.

She added that it was ‘surprising, perhaps’ that the biggest reduction in attention and behavioural problems was seen in children with working parents or carers.

She said: ‘We hear a lot about the potential negative impact the lockdown may have had on young children while they could not go to school or nursery, but this study shows that, at least in some respects, things may not have been as bad as expected.

‘One possible explanation is that children benefited from having more time at home with their parents and carers. Even when it doesn’t feel like ‘quality time’ to the parents, it may benefit their children.’

‘An alternative explanation is that many of the daily pressures put on young children to conform to adult-led schedules were removed during lockdown, leading to fewer perceived behavioural and attention problems.

‘Any parent who has tried to get a young child into their shoes and out of the door on time in the morning will know this is a challenging point in the day!’

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