Child's Play 'Lost' in Pandemic Fear


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.

StepUp Summary

An important part of children's self-confidence is to think of themselves as decision-makers. Play gives children opportunities to make decisions, to see the results of their decisions, and to learn from the consequences of their decisions.  As outdoor play opens up, we can provide appropriate opportunities for our children to choose challenges, to take acceptable risks, and to self-evaluate the consequences of their choices (with no adult coaching). The more times a child independently experiences this sequence of challenge, risk and consequence, the more decisions they own.  And the more consequences they experience, the more they come to see themselves as capable decision-makers.

Reposted with permission from Flinders University.