Lockdown fallout: young children need social skills for better mental health

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Children who learn to play well with others in preschool tend to have better mental health as they age, according to a new study from the University of Cambridge.

The findings, based on data collected from Australian children, provide ‘the first clear evidence that ‘peer play ability’, the ability to play successfully with other children, has a protective effect on mental health. “.

It is a good optimistic study, particularly related to children from poorer and more difficult social backgrounds, and we will come back to it.

What school teachers say

The reality is that teachers already know this to be true. And the COVID-19 lockdowns have underscored this reality.

Teachers, in Australia and overseas, are dealing with the consequences of young children starting school this year or last, with many having spent much of 2020 and 2021 in lockdown.

According to a report published last week in The areaan Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) news outlet: “Teachers of children who started school this year have noted the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on children’s social skills. children, observing that children who have not been in early childhood education and care settings struggle.

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The area quote a story from sun herald in which a Melbourne primary school teacher reportedly said, “It takes longer to teach them these basic skills. We have lowered our expectations of these children by increasing the “brain breaks”.

Professor Louise Paatsch from Deakin University’s School of Education was also quoted, who said preliminary research has shown that students don’t know how to interpret peer behavior or cooperate during group work. .

None of this will come as a surprise to parents of children in prep or first grade. The COVID generation takes time to find its feet.

The story is the same abroad.

In a US survey of educators administered by the EdWeek Research Center in January:

  • 39% of teachers said that “compared to before the pandemic in 2019, the social skills and emotional maturity levels” of their current students are “much less advanced”
  • 41% said their students were “a little less advanced” in these areas, and 16% said they were “about the same” as their pre-pandemic peers.
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The new study

What we hear from teachers are some of the consequences of lack of social skills in young children.

On the positive side, research from the University of Cambridge details the benefits when children are successfully socialized.

The researchers used data from 1,676 children in the Growing Up in Australia study, which tracks the development of children born in Australia between March 2003 and February 2004.

The data was collected when the children were three and seven years old.

The researchers found:

  • Those who had better play ability with their peers at age three consistently showed fewer signs of poor mental health four years later
  • They tended to have lower hyperactivity, parents and teachers reported fewer behavioral and emotional problems, and they were less likely to argue or argue with other children.
  • This link generally held true even when researchers focused on subgroups of children particularly at risk for mental health problems.
  • This also applied when they considered other risk factors for mental health, such as poverty levels or where the mother experienced severe psychological distress during or immediately after pregnancy.
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The results suggest that “giving young children who may be vulnerable to mental health problems access to well-supported opportunities to play with their peers – for example, in play groups led by early childhood specialists – could be a way to significantly improve their long-term mental health”.

Dr Jenny Gibson, from the Play in Education, Development and Learning (PEDAL) center at Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education, said: ‘We believe this connection exists because by playing with others, Children learn the skills to form strong friendships as they get older and start school. Even though they may have poor mental health, these friendship networks will often get them through.

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