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How has the pandemic changed children?

A young boy with a glass of milk Source: AAP

Psychologists and education specialists around the world have been examining how the pandemic has affected children.With 2022 marking the third year of the pandemic, researchers are starting to better understand how prolonged social isolation has affected the developing minds and bodies of children.

Viren D'Sa is a neurodevelopmental paediatrician at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Rhode Island, which continues to be one of hardest-hit US regions.

At Brown University, Associate Professor D'Sa has been studying a group of 290 children from around the age of one for several years since before the COVID-19 pandemic started.

He noted a significant reduction in verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance - which was more marked in males and children from lower socioeconomic families.

"When I say the motor skills, I don't mean the gross motor walking, running, jumping, crawling, those sorts of skills, more around the fine motor, you know how they can actually manipulate some objects, move things around, sort of use some of those processing skills to manipulate objects in their environment. And some of those skills have dropped down by a standard deviation, sometimes by close to two standard deviations. Similarly, with some of the more global early learning composites, those skills had dropped down as well. And I think it was to do with the fact that they likely didn't have as much of a sort of a structured opportunity to kind of gain those skills."

According to the children's organisation UNICEF, the impacts of the pandemic are expected to be "most damaging for children in the poorest countries, and in the poorest neighbourhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or in vulnerable situations."

And as children return to school, research is showing how difficult it has been for students learning remotely. Dr Anthea Rhodes is a paediatrician at The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne, and director of the hospital's National Child Health Poll.

Dr Rhodes says children from poorer, vulnerable homes were most at risk.

"Children who may already have some underlying difficulties with their learning, or their social skills having really deteriorated because they have had long periods of time at home. They might have lost the ability to build on their skills. They have developed perhaps increased anxiety. They might have been in a home environment that is incredibly stressful that might be related to financial stress. As we've seen around a quarter of families across Australia during the pandemic."

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SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at https://www.sbs.com.au/language/coronavirus

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