Parents’ perceptions of children's emotional wellbeing during spring 2020 COVID-19 restrictions: a qualitative study with parents of young children in England

Stephanie Chambers*, Joanne Clarke, Ruth R Kipping, Rebecca Langford, Rachel E Brophy, Kimberly Hannam , Hilary J Taylor, Kate J Willis, Sharon Anne Simpson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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During COVID-19 restrictions in England in spring 2020, early years settings for young children were closed to all but a small percentage of families, social contact was limited and play areas in parks were closed. Concerns were raised about the impact of these restrictions on young children’s emotional wellbeing. The aim of this study was to explore parents’ perceptions of young children’s emotional wellbeing during these COVID-19 restrictions.

We interviewed 20 parents of children 3-4 years due to begin school in England in September 2020. Interviews were conducted via telephone (n=18) and video call (n=2), audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Interviews focused on childcare arrangements, children’s behaviour and transition to school. A sample of transcripts were coded line-by-line to create a coding framework, which was subsequently applied to the remaining transcripts. Coded data were then analysed using a nurture lens to develop themes and further understanding.

Participants were predominantly mothers (n=16), White British (n=10), and educated to degree level (n=13), with half the sample living in the highest deprivation quintile in England (n=10). Five were single parents. Three themes developed from nurturing principles were identified: creating age-appropriate explanations; understanding children’s behaviour; concerns about school transition. Parents reported that their children’s emotional wellbeing was impacted and described attempts to support their young children whilst looking ahead to their transition to primary school.

This study is one of the first to examine in-depth perceptions of COVID-19 restrictions on young children’s emotional wellbeing. The longer-term impacts are not yet understood. Although young children may be unable to understand in detail what the virus is, they undoubtedly experience the disruption it brings to their lives. The wellbeing of families and children needs to be nurtured as they recover from the effects of the pandemic to allow them to thrive.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1071-1080
Number of pages10
JournalChild: Care, Health and Development
Issue number6
Early online date15 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
information This work was funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR-PROG-CYP-WP3) and NIHR funding for the NAP SACC UK trial (Public Health Research Programme [2019-3426]). SAS and SC were supported by the Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00022/1) and the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates (SPHSU16).We are very grateful to all the parents who took part in the research interviews and to the nurseries who helped support recruitment. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily any of the funding bodies listed.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Child: Care, Health and Development published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • COVID-19
  • Children
  • Emotional Wellbeing
  • Early Years
  • qualitative
  • nurture


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