How are our preschool children coping post-Covid?

Words by Robyn McCorkelle

The first five years of our children’s lives are important for laying the foundations for development. Adverse circumstances during this time can have a significant effect on health and developmental outcomes. Have our children attending kindergarten or early childhood centres been affected socially and/or behaviourally by the COVID-19 pandemic?   

You could say that this pandemic is unlike previous ones judging by the public health measures that were placed on our community with lockdowns. No kinder, no playgrounds, no sports, no playing with friends and no seeing extended family. This has had a direct impact on our young ones, causing disruption to routines and potential feelings of isolation. Parents were trying to work from home while juggling their children’s home schooling. This was an unpleasant, stressful time not just for the children, but for the families of our community.

Resulting negative outcomes on child behaviour needs highlighting to effectively address these issues in the current and future health crises. Studies have indicated some changes in emotional-behavioural functioning in children five and under, and not just in Australia (Frontiers in Psychology article 643057). In one study, providers of kindergartens were asked what they thought children would struggle with the most as a result of the pandemic. The most common responses included children’s personal, social and emotional development, followed by children’s communication and language (Bower-Crane et al, 2021).

Proof is limited to the exact impact on our children due to Covid-19, but some evidence is arising. Australian and international studies suggest that the public health measures and the impact on family dynamics have led to worsening behaviour and moods, increased clinginess, anxiety and levels of stress; increased hyperactivity and inattention; increased abuse and neglect; decreased physical activity and increased screen time; and possible disruptions to the length and quality of sleep in children 0-5 years. (The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne).

Re-introduction to the learning setting has also proven concerning to our teachers. Some children experience apprehension about hygiene and contracting the virus – causing increased anxiety which affects their desires to socialise and participate in activities with friends and in learning to take direction from teachers and caregivers.

A local preschool teacher says that teachers are seeing the fallout with children who have little resilience and staying power; who have had lots of screen time (no blame intended, this is just how it was). Parents coped the best they could. Not only children were dysregulated during Covid-19, but often their parents were as well. It was a perfect storm of dysregulation, with limited support.

Our children need stability and security for healthy growth and development. Some Australian parents have and are experiencing a high degree of stress, and this affects our children’s health and development. Children who have experienced increased levels of mental distress and anxiety will also require additional support as they readjust to new routines following public health measures. More research and data is needed on the impact of the pandemic on young children, including the likely length of these effects. (The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne 2022).

However, it is very important to remember that children are resilient and that they are capable of adapting to new situations. Persistence, patience & consistent parenting are the keys here. We can all help by creating a supportive and nurturing environment for children, and by providing them with opportunities to express their feelings and engage in creative activities. By working together, we can help to overcome these challenges of the pandemic and to develop the skills and resilience that they need to thrive for their futures.