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A young girl in Thailand learns how to clean her hands with hand sanitiser to protect from coronavirus
26 March 2020

Coronavirus: UK children are scared

Survey finds UK children are lonely, scared, and stressed

One in three UK children between five and 18 years old (36%) have told parents they are lonely since the government shut schools, a survey reveals.

The YouGov survey also finds that almost a third of parents (32%) of five to 18-year-olds have noticed negative changes in their children’s behaviour since lockdown. They include behaviours such as tantrums, meltdowns, nightmares, stomach aches, fighting and crying. Over one in five (22%) children are concerned a family member or close friend could die from catching coronavirus.

The poll of parents, for international children’s charity World Vision, shows that younger children are more likely to worry about catching coronavirus. They are also the most likely to tell parents they are lonely and missing friends and family. Children 5-11 years old are more likely than older children to become clingy, cry and have tantrums and disturbed sleep. Children over 12 years old are more likely to become withdrawn.

"Our survey opens a worrying window on children’s emotional turmoil at this bleak time. It shows how the global pandemic is taking a toll on children’s mental well-being – leaving them frightened, insecure and isolated. Children experience a crisis like this differently to adults. They pick up on anxiety around them and get destabilised by dramatic changes in their daily routines and strict restrictions on their movements. Their emotions become disturbed and confused. Many begin to act out their tension through challenging behaviour or withdraw into their shells.

- Daniela Buzducea, World Vision Global Advocacy Leader

How parents can help

The survey found that girls tend to show their distress at the coronavirus upheaval in a different way to boys. Girls are more likely to become more easily upset and complain of ailments like stomach aches and headaches. Boys are more likely to become fidgety and fight more.

Daniela Buzducea adds: “The impact of a crisis like this on children’s emotional well-being is easily overlooked, but it should never be underestimated. Children can suffer acute anxiety when their lives are turned upside down. Coronavirus disruption is unsettling even for children of preschool age.

Parents can give their children emotional support, reduce their stress levels, and help them feel safe and secure. It is important that parents find out what their children have heard and listen to their concerns. They should talk calmly and explain what is happening in a way appropriate to their children’s level of understanding. It may be easier for young children to draw a picture rather than talk about something scary. Offer them crayons and paper so they can do this.

World Vision has decades of experience helping children cope with disasters and emergencies across the world. More tips for parents on how to talk to children about coronavirus can be found by watching the video at the top of this page.

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