ANN ARBOR – Parents who experienced depression and stress at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic negatively contributed to their children’s home education, according to a new study by the University of Michigan.
Continued support for families will be needed as some parents may still be stressed as their children transition back to school buildings while COVID-19 is still spreading, researchers said.
Published in the March issue of Children and Youth Services review, the findings are based on data collected last April of parent-child dynamics during the first school closures.
The researchers recruited 405 participants who lived across the United States and had at least one child up to age 12. Most of the parents said that their children learned online from home, using school-provided electronic resources, educational apps and social media.
Roughly 35% of parents reported that their children’s behavior changed since the pandemic began, including feelings of sadness, loneliness and depression.
The research team said they were not surprised to learn that parents had taken a more active role in daily caregiving activities due to school closures and strict social distancing measures. Additionally, one in four parents reported a change in employment due to the pandemic.
Among the participants, two out of five adults met the criteria for major depression and moderate anxiety. The study shows that these factors negatively impacted their readiness to educate at home.
Daily schedule disruptions and a lack of access to free and reduced-price meals from school were significant stressors, parents reported.
“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,” Shawna Lee, U-M associate professor of social work and the study’s lead author said in a news release. “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.”
However, two positive outcomes were that parents said they ate meals with their children and showed them more affection.
Lee noted that the study was limited and did not cover the experiences of marginalized children, including those experiencing homelessness, those with physical and learning disabilities and communities of color. Participants were mostly white, middle-income parents.
Co-authors on the study are U-M doctoral student in psychology and social work, Kaitlin Ward and U-M undergraduate research assistants Kasey Downing and Olivia Chang.