Distance learning
Over 75 per cent of kids frequently told their parents that they miss going to school, says the study Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Behaviourial issues at some point have been reported in over 72 per cent of children in the UAE in the wake of home confinement amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a first-of-its-kind study has revealed, even as 75 per cent of the kids frequently told their parents that they missed going to school.

Disclosing the findings of the study exclusively to Gulf News, Dr Sam Hassan, consultant paediatrican at Dubai-based Mediclinic City Hospital and adjunct associate professor at Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences, who conducted the study, said the aim of the survey was to find out the impact of COVID-19 home confinement on children’s lives and schooling. The study, which covered 650 parents, was recently published in the American Journal of Paediatrics.

Dr Hassan said, “The study showed significant results due to the impact of COVID-19 home confinement on the life of children, their parents and schooling. More than 72 per cent of children were reported to demonstrated behavioural problems which were not there before the lockdown. More than half were reported to have new mental distress such as anxiety while 14 per cent were affected financially due to one or both parents losing a job or being on reduced pay.”

He said hyperactivity and inattentiveness were found in 36 per cent of the children, while loneliness and depression were reported in 18 per cent of the kids.

The majority of parents (72 per cent), he said, reported a significant impact on children’s physical activities, mainly due to lack of space at home (around 50 per cent) and others due to “cessation of outside sport”.

“At least 41 per cent of children suffered from sleep difficulties that did not exist earlier. Sleeping late and waking late were the most commonly reported difficulties, with disrupted sleep, talking during sleep, having nightmares and worrying about parents’ jobs also being talked about.

He said altered eating habits are one of the most important newly reported impacts of home confinement. Around 48 per cent of parents reported eating difficulties in their children that emerged during lockdown, with consumption of junk food, food refusal and picky eating being the common problems.

Despite these issues, 82 per cent of parents said no psychological support was enlisted from professionals such as a psychologist or educational counsellor.

More than 75 per cent of the children, cutting across age, cultural backgrounds and gender, frequently told their parents they were missing school, the study added.

COVID-19 infection in the family

About nine per cent of surveyed parents reported COVID-19 infection in one or more of immediate family living in the same house. Negative effects on children were reported more when there was COVID-19 infection in family.

Dr Hassan said, “Taking into consideration COVID-19 infection (COVID vs No-COVID), the results were: Behaviour (72 vs 52 per cent), sleep (72 vs 38 per cent), eating (72 vs 45 per cent) and depression (37 vs 16 per cent). Mental impact, parents’ feelings about long-term impacts beyond restrictions and fear of sending children to public places were more or less same in the two groups.”

He said, “One of the most affected aspects during home confinement was bringing children for vaccination to the health centres or hospitals and clinics. We assessed this issue by asking parents a direct question if the lockdown interfered with vaccinations and development assessment. A third of the parents (31 per cent) answered that fear of infection made them to postpone children’s vaccinations and or other health assessments.”

In addition to the fear of infection, other parents reported that the clinics were closed, the mother was pregnant and some lost their insurance.

Visiting public places

More than 70 per cent of parents were reluctant to visit public places and shopping centres with their children and/ or sending children for sports or to centres for children including schools, the study found.

During the confinement, when schools became virtual and education was provided online from homes, most parents said they were satisfied with the level of online schooling. “Some parents commented that online schooling produced more work for parents, parents took the role of the teacher, parents were tired, had difficulties when having more than one child, depending on the teacher online cannot replace coaching in school, do not know how to teach and difficult to keep the young child concentrated. Quite a few parents felt that the whole online learning system was introduced in a rush leaving a large burden on parents. A few parents reported that learning at home offered one-to-one teaching which gave positive outcome,” noted Dr Hassan.

When asked if home confinement due to COVID-19 may lead to long-term impacts such as boredom, fear of infection or stress, 63 per cent of parents answered in the affirmative.