Survey on how the pandemic is affecting young children and their parents: more family time, but increasing challenges
Montréal, November 17, 2020 – The unprecedented health crisis currently affecting Québec and the rest of the world has had—and will continue to have—significant consequences for young children and their parents. Although the pandemic has created some positive changes in several families’ pace of life, it has also created many challenges for parents. Those were among the results of a survey conducted by the Léger firm and made public by the Early Childhood Observatory during Early Childhood Week. The Observatory was interested in taking the pulse of the situation to find out how young children and their families were faring during the second wave of COVID-19.
Seventy-five percent of parents of parents of young children in Québec reported that the pandemic has had a positive impact on their ability to spend time with their children. “This in itself is good news. The time parents spend with their children helps to create a secure attachment bond, which is essential for a child’s development of self-esteem. To strengthen this bond, however, it is important that the time parents spend with their children be quality time. The exceptional situation that Québec parents are currently dealing with is creating many additional stressors that can have a negative effect on parents’ mental health as well as their children’s development,” said Fannie Dagenais, director of the Early Childhood Observatory.
Growing sources of stress within families
A large proportion of parents surveyed (68%) considered that being a parent is more stressful now than before the pandemic. Although 51% reported high stress levels as a result of the COVID‑19 situation, there was a significant gap between men (44%) and women (56%). It is also important to point out that as respondents’ income decreased, the more they reported high levels of stress—up to 69% among parents whose household income before taxes was under $40,000.
“There is no doubt that the pandemic has intensified social inequalities. Vulnerable families are dealing with more sources of stress: low income, loss of employment, food insecurity, inadequate housing, and so on. More than ever, we need to work together to find solutions to provide concrete support for families under pressure. Housing access programs, financial support for low-income families, family-work balance measures, mental health services and support for parents are all examples of measures that could improve families’ living conditions and reduce stress,” explained Fannie Dagenais.
The Observatory’s survey shines a light on certain major sources of stress for parents during the second wave of the pandemic:
- 66% of parents of young children in Québec said that the possibility of their child’s school or daycare closing again was a source of stress for them.
- 61% said that public health measures requiring that children be kept at home if they had symptoms was a source of stress for them.
- More than one out of every four parents (26%) said that their levels of stress related to their financial situation had risen since the outbreak of the pandemic. This figure increased to 38% in the case of parents whose household income before taxes was below $40,000.
- 39% of respondents reported that the pandemic had had a negative impact on their ability to reconcile work and family responsibilities. Further, 44% of parents of young children said that the pandemic was negatively affecting their ability to remain calm when caring for their children.
According to Morneau Shepell’s most recent Mental Health Index, the mental health indicator of parents with children is much lower (-13.3) than those without children (-9.1), and has been declining consistently since April 2020. The situation is even more critical for young people, women, non-white people, and those who are experiencing financial uncertainty or isolation.
How the pandemic is affecting young children’s behaviour
The new realities caused by the pandemic that have had such an impact on families’ daily lives may also be influencing young children’s development and behaviour. Fifty-two percent of parents confirmed that the pandemic was having a negative effect on their children. More specifically, respondents reported the following changes in their children’s behaviour:
- 39% of parents of children between 0 and 5 had observed that their children were irritable more often or more prone to tantrums.
- 34% of respondents had noticed that their children were more agitated than usual.
- 23% said their children were crying more often.
A recent study out of Dalhousie University has also shown that parents’ financial stress levels exacerbated by the current health crisis are associated with increased anxiety in girls and hyperactivity in boys.
Support for families is critical
According to survey results, 43% of respondents reported that they could no longer count on the support usually received from family and friends because of physical distancing measures, while 15% said they had no one at all to count on to help them—even before the pandemic. “The loss of social support is a serious concern. We know how beneficial support from family and friends can be for parents and young children. Being able to count on a solid network of interpersonal social support is important for children’s physical, cognitive and social development when they are starting school,” explains Fannie Dagenais.
When asked about support services for parents, 79% of parents of children between 0 and 5 said that they had not used any support service or resource (including online or telephone services, community organizations, health and social service professionals, or services offered by childcare or schools). “We need to ask ourselves questions as a society: Why do so many families not take advantage of available resources? What can we do to make it easier for the most vulnerable parents (in particular) to access those services? We need to make sure they are supported in their role as parents to help ensure their children’s healthy development,” she added.
The Early Childhood Observatory has recently devoted a section of its website to the most current information on the COVID-19 situation, at https://tout-petits.org/publications/sur-le-radar/covid-19/ (in French only).
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Our survey was conducted online by Léger between October 29 and November 2, 2020. Respondents consisted of a representative sample of 501 Quebecers aged 18 or over who were parents of children between 0 and 5 years of age and who could speak French or English. Based on data from Statistics Canada, results were weighted according to sex and region to ensure the sample was an accurate reflection of the entire population being studied.
About the Observatoire des tout-petits / Early Childhood Observatory (tout-petits.org)
The mission of the Early Childhood Observatory, a project of the Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation, is to help ensure that the development and well-being of Quebec’s very youngest children has a place at the top of the province’s list of social priorities. To achieve this goal, the Observatory compiles the most reliable and relevant data on early childhood (from pregnancy to 5 years of age), disseminates that information, and encourages dialogue on possible collective action.