Analyzing the effects of confinement in Galician children: First results from the CONFIA-20 study
On September 24th, the paper “Testing the effects of COVID-19 confinement in Spanish children: The role of parents’ distress, emotional problems and specific parenting” (authors: Estrella Romero, Laura López-Romero, Beatriz Domínguez-Álvarez, Paula Villar e Xose Antón Gómez-Fraguela; all of them from the UNDERISK research group) was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
This is the first published study from the CONFIA-20 study (Effects of confinement on family and children), conducted by the UNDERISK research group on April 2020 with families – most of them from Galicia – who provided data on 1.123 boys (49.6%) and girls (50.4%) aged 3 to 12 (mean age = 7.29).
In the present study, we first analyzed the effect that the overall health crisis, and more specifically the COVID-19 related confinement, have had in children. To this end, a range of child negative (e.g., conduct problems, emotional problems and hyperactivity) and positive outcomes (e.g., routine maintenance, prosocial involvement, social-oriented reflections and social bonding) were analyzed. Results showed that, in comparison with the pre-confinement situation, most of children (around 60%) did not show any relevant change at the behavioral and emotional level. Nevertheless, around 30-40% of children did show a significant increase in problematic behavior, emotional problems and hyperactivity. As a novelty of this work, certain gains derived from the confinement situation were also observed, including greater involvement with family members when sharing tasks and activities, good routine maintenance, the development of more mature visions about society, and an increase in contact with close relatives and friends, mainly using electronic devices (e.g. video calls).
Being aware of the importance that family has in child development, as well as its key role in the adjustment of children to novel and risky situations, this study also aimed to analyze how the effect of the crisis on parents could influence the effects observed in children. In this regard, results showed that, indeed, child adjustment was closely related to parents’ adjustment to the crisis. Therefore, it was observed that a negative emotional state of parents when facing the crisis leads to experience more stress in the parental practice which, in turn, seems to lead to an increase in the emotional and behavioral difficulties in children. Parenting distress also affected the specific parenting practices displayed during the confinement, with these practices exerting a great impact on the child behavioral and emotional adjustment. Accordingly, results showed that maintaining fluid and open communication with the child about the situation, structuring the child’s time and activities, and providing affection and emotional comfort, favored a positive adjustment of the children, characterized by the reduction in emotional problems, the maintenance of daily routines, or showing greater family involvement. On the contrary, avoidant parenting practices, characterized by avoiding talking about the current situation, or even hiding its seriousness, seemed to hinder child adjustment.
In sum, these results showed that the effects of the COVID-19 related crisis on children were directly related with the effects of the crisis in their parents. Hence, the development of preventive strategies directly targeted to families will be a useful and necessary way to reduce the impact of the crisis on families and, more specifically, on children. From the UNDERISK research group, we remain committed to this need, and we will continue working to make the knowledge and tools derived from our research available to all of society.