Something I can relate to: Child’s play is ‘lost’ in pandemic fear

Today we saw a new step in loosening the lockdown in Belgium, but kids still aren’t allowed to play. And this hurts. While this new study by Jennifer Fane and colleagues wasn’t conducted during the pandemic, it does show why losing the ability to play is a bad thing.

From the press release:

Social and community disruptions caused by the COVID-19 restrictions could have a lasting effect on child wellbeing, Flinders University researchers warn.

While health, safety and education responses are the focus of restrictions, the needs of childhood independence, self-determination and play are less acknowledged, Flinders University experts explain in a new publication.

“Play is a key aspect of children’s wellbeing from their perspectives,” says lead author Jennifer Fane. “The closure of playgrounds, schools and the fear and worry associated with being in public spaces has likely had significant impacts on children during this time.

“As children return to school, and life starts to resume as it did pre-COVID-19, focus and attention to children’s opportunities for play – and their ability to exercise reasonable ‘agency’ during this time of significant transition – are two key aspects that can support their wellbeing during this difficult time.”

While everyone’s freedoms have been impacted by COVID-19 pandemic, children’s agency, or ability to make choices and decisions within adult-imposed constraints, has never been more apparent.

“Young children interviewed in the study told us of the importance to their lives of trying new things and having a say about play,” says Flinders Professor of Public Health Colin MacDougall, a co-author on the Child Indicators Research paper.

“As the world takes baby steps to ease these life-saving restrictions, and move into an uncertain future, we must take the time to think about very young children.

“This research can be used to help chart a course for the multiple transitions these children are undergoing.”

Ms Fane, whose PhD at Flinders focused on communicating with preschoolers, says these perspectives can support child wellbeing in future, including as government restrictions on people’s boundaries affects where children play and how much they can have a say.

Abstract of the paper:

Despite increased efforts within child wellbeing research to include children’s perspectives in our knowledge of child wellbeing, young children’s voices continue to be largely excluded. As the transition to school is widely understood as a key time to assess child wellbeing, preschool aged children are a frequent target of child wellbeing indicator use, making their exclusion from child wellbeing knowledge problematic. This study sought to redress preschool aged children’s exclusion from child wellbeing indicator research through investigating their perspectives of wellbeing. Using a citizen-child approach to participatory research, three-to-five-year-old children attending eight diverse early childhood education and care services in Australia shared their experiences and understandings of wellbeing. Children’s accounts were compared to adult derived child wellbeing frameworks to determine the way children’s accounts accorded and differed from current conceptualisations. The findings evidenced that young children’s accounts further validated current adult derived child wellbeing indicators. Additionally, children’s accounts uncovered two novel indicators yet to be explored in relation to child wellbeing social indicator frameworks: opportunities for play, and young children’s agency. The role of agency and play in children’s conceptualisations of wellbeing are considered in light of contemporary empirical research and will be of keen interest to those education and public health professionals and policy-makers concerned with improving child wellbeing outcomes.

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