Almost half of children saw their social and emotional skills worsen during the pandemic – and economic turbulence played a role

Nearly half of parents (47%) reported that their child’s social and emotional skills had worsened during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By contrast, just one in six children saw their social and emotional development improve over this period. These statistics highlight that the pandemic’s impact on children stretches well beyond lost learning.

These results are drawn from a unique survey run by IFS and the UCL Institute of Education in February 2021, funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The researchers asked parents 13 questions about their child’s behaviours (for example, how often the child appeared worried, easily lost confidence, or had tantrums) both in February 2021 and, retrospectively, a year earlier. 

While children from all backgrounds saw their social and emotional skills worsen, some groups were more affected than others. Children aged 4 to 7 years were 10 percentage points more likely to have seen their social and emotional development worsen than 12- to 15-year-olds (52% versus 42%). And, unlike previous research into academic learning loss, the study finds no evidence that children in disadvantaged families fared worse.