Children have brought the virus, social distancing, and lockdown restrictions into play-time, including references to death, handwashing or pretending to be ‘the coronavirus’ in chase games, new research has found.
Two-thirds of children between the age of four and five understand and have practiced social distancing, while very few one and two-year-olds understand the concept, the research also found.
Almost all young children miss playing with their friends due to Covid-19 restrictions, and 80% of children are spending more time on-screen activities, like TV, tablets, or i-Pads.
The findings are included in new research from Mary Immaculate College (MIC) that reveals the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on children, surveying more than 500 parents about the lockdown.
The Play and Learning in the Early Years (PLEY) Survey was conducted in May by researchers in the Cognition, Development and Learning Lab at MIC.
One-third of children between the ages of one and 10 have brought the virus into their playtime, with one parent surveyed reporting that their nine-year-old has created a Lego hospital with patients, a ventilator, and a test centre.
Another parent of a nine-year-old said that their child was pretending to be ‘the coronavirus’ in chase games.
Another parent of a ten-year-old said: “Her Sims world features social distancing and extra hygiene equipment."
Death has also become a feature of playtime, the study found, with one parent of a seven-year-old saying their child was “playing dead, playing doctors, pretend washing hands and pretending they were a teacher enforcing social distancing.”
A parent of a five-year-old told of how their daughter “pretends she has the virus and there is more death among her play figures.”
Many parents also reported how difficult lock-down restrictions have been on their children. One parent of a three-year-old said: “It is truly a desperate situation and I feel the pressure on working parents and impact on kids has been downplayed and not sufficiently acknowledged."
However, there have also been many positive impacts on children reported by parents, the study found.
Some parents reported their children being more content due to the lack of scheduled activities and the opportunities available for free play, while almost all children have spent more time playing outdoors.
While findings from the survey shed some light on the psychological impact of the current restrictions on children, more research will be needed to determine any negative effects on children’s health and well-being.
That is according to Dr Suzanne Egan, lecturer in the Department of Psychology at MIC and lead researcher on the PLEY survey.
“It is possible that these effects could continue over a longer time period or they may reduce as children begin to return to their normal lives.” “Children have experienced many changes over the last few months and the childcare settings they return to will be somewhat changed also.” Nurturing, high-quality care will be essential from both parents and early childhood professionals, she added.
The inclusion of the virus and restrictions in many types of children’s play shows their awareness of the crisis, according to Dr Egan.
“However, this is a very natural thing for children to do as children make sense of their world through their play and it helps them understand what is going on around them.”