The pandemic and the long-term emotional and social development of children


NatCen researcher Bea Taylor reviews results from a follow-up to the long-term SEED study, which examines children’s experiences during the pandemic.

Covid-19 has impacted the schooling, social life and general wellbeing of almost every child in the UK.

Stuck at home isolating themselves, in many ways each child has experienced their own version of the pandemic, influenced by their family situation, living conditions, economic disadvantage, access to technology, space to play safe and their special educational needs (SEN).

The longitudinal Study in Early Childhood Education and Development (SEED) has been collecting data on the lives and experiences of children and their families since 2013, when the children were two years old. In 2020, when the children were between the ages of eight and 10, he collected data on many of these children’s experiences during the pandemic, including asking about their schooling during the lockdown and the following months. Children included in SEED are currently in 5th or 6th grade. In their short period in primary school, they have already experienced two years of schooling interrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

SEED was created to assess the effect of early education on child outcomes, based on a representative sample of children in 2013. Covid-19 monitoring on SEED was not designed to assess the impact of the pandemic on children. However, the SEED results allow us to examine in detail how individualized childhood experiences of Covid-19 have been, particularly for children with SEN and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. By comparing the data with results from a previous wave of the study, we can also look at changes in children’s social-emotional development since age four.

Family and social life during the pandemic

Children’s home learning environment has played a crucial role in their ability to complete school work during the pandemic. Not surprisingly, we found that children with the strongest home learning environments were significantly more likely to complete all of their schoolwork than those with the poorest home learning environments.

For the purposes of our research, families were placed into three disadvantaged groups based on household income and receipt of benefits – either the least, moderately or most disadvantaged group. Disadvantage has a clear impact on children’s digital learning environment, with 22% of children from the most disadvantaged families having no access to a computer (shared or exclusive), compared to only 5% in the least disadvantaged families . Similarly, children with SEN were significantly more likely to not have access to a computer (21%) than children without special needs (11%).

However, the relationship between disadvantage and having a quiet place to study was less clear. It was the children in the moderately disadvantaged group who were significantly less likely to have access to a quiet place to study.

Most children exercised at least four times a week during the pandemic, regardless of their economic situation, and most saw or called family at least once a week and saw friends at least once a week. However, children with BEP were significantly more likely to never exercise, even when we controlled for having to protect themselves or having a disability, and significantly less likely to see family and friends regularly.

Social and emotional development from the early years

Seed results found increases in children’s socio-emotional difficulties between the ages of four and eight to 10 years. This is broadly consistent with previous research on changes in socio-emotional difficulties as children age. However, these increases were significantly greater for children with BEP, who showed acute increases in hyperactivity and emotional difficulties over this period.

While we saw the gap in difficulty between children with and without SEN increasing from four years to eight to ten years, the gap in disadvantage remained broadly the same between the two age groups. In other words, while disadvantage was already strongly linked to socio-emotional difficulties when the children were 4 years old, we did not observe a significant widening of the gap between the most and least disadvantaged children between 4 years and 8-10 years. .

Children’s educational attainment was found to be strongly related to their socio-emotional development. Children who made slower academic progress between the end of their reception year and the end of Key Stage 1 also experienced, on average, a greater increase in socio-emotional difficulties of various kinds than those who reached the levels expected at both the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile and Key Stage 1.

Although these data themselves did not allow us to discover a direct relationship between socio-emotional difficulties and experiences of the pandemic in this wave of the study, SEED will continue to monitor the effects of the pandemic on socio-emotional difficulties. -emotional children in waves to come.

Bea Taylor is a researcher at the National Center for Social Research (NatCen). the SEED COVID-19 Study was commissioned by the Department of Education and produced by NatCen, in partnership with the University of Oxford.

Joel C. Hicks