Kids Continued to Cope Well Two Months After Schools Closed

Peter Gray Ph.D. Freedom to Learn

Two large surveys, a month apart, revealed family benefits of school closures.

Two weeks ago, I published an article summarizing the results of a survey of 800 parents and 800 children (ages 8 through 13) that was conducted in April of 2020, approximately a month after most schools had closed because of the pandemic. I noted that a second survey, of another 800 parents and 800 children, was conducted a month later, in May, using the same methodology. Both survey samples were demographically representative of the U.S. population, across geographic area, gender of the child, race, and family income. (For more about the method, see the previous post.)

Since then I have had a chance to look more closely at the May results and compare them with April’s. My overall conclusion is that little changed. Children and parents appeared to be doing at least as well in May as they were in April. Here I will present the comparative data on those questions that are most relevant to the conclusions presented in the previous post. Further discussion of each conclusion can be found in that post.

Conclusion 1: Overall, children’s psychological wellbeing seemed to improve after school closure.

Specific findings supporting this conclusion include the following:

• In April, 49 percent of the children agreed with the statement, “I have been more calm than I was in regular school,” and only 25 percent disagreed. (The rest were neutral). In May, the percentages were 51 percent agreed and 25 percent disagreed.

• In April, 43 percent percent of the parents agreed with the statement, “My child is less stressed now than before school closed,” and 29 percent disagreed. (The rest were neutral). In May, the percentages were 39 percent and 32 percent.

• In April, 85 percent of parents described their child as Happy during the previous week (rating of 6 or above on a 10-point scale). In May, that was 90 percent.

• On a list of adjectives to describe themselves over the past week, in April, 62 percent of children checked Happy, 20 percent checked Sad, and 10 percent checked Angry. In May, the percentages were 60 percent Happy, 17 percent Sad; and 12 percent Angry.

Conclusion 2: Children appeared to gain a greater sense of independence and personal responsibility after school closure.

Specific findings supporting this conclusion include:

• In April, 71 percent of the children agreed with the statement, “I have been finding new things to pass the time” and 13 percent disagreed. (The rest were neutral). In May, the percentages were 74 percent agreed and 12 percent disagreed.

• In April, 71 percent of the children agreed with the statement, “My parents have been letting me do more things on my own,” and 10 percent disagreed. In May, the percentages were 72 percent agreed and 8 percent disagreed.

Image by Francis Ackson Soko on Wikimedia Commons
Source: Image by Francis Ackson Soko on Wikimedia Commons

Two weeks ago, I published an article summarizing the results of a survey of 800 parents and 800 children (ages 8 through 13) that was conducted in April of 2020, approximately a month after most schools had closed because of the pandemic. I noted that a second survey, of another 800 parents and 800 children, was conducted a month later, in May, using the same methodology. Both survey samples were demographically representative of the U.S. population, across geographic area, gender of the child, race, and family income. (For more about the method, see the previous post.)

Since then I have had a chance to look more closely at the May results and compare them with April’s. My overall conclusion is that little changed. Children and parents appeared to be doing at least as well in May as they were in April. Here I will present the comparative data on those questions that are most relevant to the conclusions presented in the previous post. Further discussion of each conclusion can be found in that post.

Conclusion 1: Overall, children’s psychological wellbeing seemed to improve after school closure.

Specific findings supporting this conclusion include the following:

• In April, 49 percent of the children agreed with the statement, “I have been more calm than I was in regular school,” and only 25 percent disagreed. (The rest were neutral). In May, the percentages were 51 percent agreed and 25 percent disagreed.

• In April, 43 percent percent of the parents agreed with the statement, “My child is less stressed now than before school closed,” and 29 percent disagreed. (The rest were neutral). In May, the percentages were 39 percent and 32 percent.

• In April, 85 percent of parents described their child as Happy during the previous week (rating of 6 or above on a 10-point scale). In May, that was 90 percent.

• On a list of adjectives to describe themselves over the past week, in April, 62 percent of children checked Happy, 20 percent checked Sad, and 10 percent checked Angry. In May, the percentages were 60 percent Happy, 17 percent Sad; and 12 percent Angry.

Conclusion 2: Children appeared to gain a greater sense of independence and personal responsibility after school closure.

Specific findings supporting this conclusion include:

• In April, 71 percent of the children agreed with the statement, “I have been finding new things to pass the time” and 13 percent disagreed. (The rest were neutral). In May, the percentages were 74 percent agreed and 12 percent disagreed.

• In April, 71 percent of the children agreed with the statement, “My parents have been letting me do more things on my own,” and 10 percent disagreed. In May, the percentages were 72 percent agreed and 8 percent disagreed.

• In April, 63 percent percent of parents indicated that their child had developed new interests or skills over the past week, 86 percent that their child had been fully immersed in some activity they enjoy, 78 percent that their child had helped with chores around the house, and 67 percent that their child willingly undertook activities that were new and/or a stretch for the child. (In each case agreement was a rating of 6 or above on the 10-point scale). In May, these percentages were 67 percent, 82 percent, 78 percent, and 70 percent, respectively.

Conclusion 3: Parents gained a heightened appreciation of their children’s capabilities.

Specific findings supporting this conclusion include:

• In April, on the checklist addressing “How does seeing how your child is coping with this period make you feel?”, 49 percent checked Proud, 45 percent checked Grateful, and 45 percent checked Impressed.” In contrast, only 8 percent checked Annoyed and 6 percent Disappointed. In May, these percentages were 63 percent Proud, 53 percent Grateful, 48 percent Impressed, 6 percent Annoyed, and 4 percent Disappointed. So, in May parents were even prouder of their children than they had been in April.

• In April, 73 percent agreed with the statement, “I am gaining a new appreciation of my child’s capabilities” and only 5 percent disagreed. In May 58 percent agreed and 12 percent disagreed. (Perhaps the decline here, in May, is because they had already gained that appreciation the previous month, so in May it wasn’t so much a “new appreciation.”)

Conclusion 4: Contrary to what many might expect, parenting for this sample was not notably more difficult than parenting when children were in school.

Specific findings supporting this conclusion include:

• In April, 73 percent percent of parents disagreed with the statement, “During the past week my child and I are having more conflicts” (indicated by a rating of 5 or below on the 10-point scale). In May, that was 82 percent. This is perhaps the most interesting finding of all. With school closures, conflicts between children and parents diminished, and they continued to diminish even more over time after schools closed.

• In April, 47 percent of parents disagreed with the statement “Pandemic parenting is easier than parenting during normal times,” 24 percent agreed with it. (The rest were neutral). In May, 42 percent disagreed and 27 percent agreed. In other words, in both samples fewer than half of the parents reported parenting to be more difficult during the pandemic than before.

Conclusion 5: Regardless of everything else, most children were looking forward to going back to school—because they missed their friends.

• In April, 70 percent of the children agreed with the statement, “I have been looking forward to going back to school,” 18 percent disagreed. (The rest were neutral). In May, 73 percent agreed and 15 percent disagreed.

One of the open-ended questions invited children to write about what they missed most about regular school. Of the 206 who responded to that question in April, 82 percent said they missed seeing their friends; 13 percent said they missed one or more of their teachers; 7 percent missed recess or sports; 3 percent missed music or art; 3 percent mentioned some other type of class they missed or said they missed classes in general; 2 percent said they missed nothing at all; and 1.5 percent said they missed lunch. I don’t yet have the list of kids’ responses to this question in May, but I have no reason to think it would be much different.

Overall Conclusion

As I said in the first post of this two-part series, I have no doubt that the pandemic has had devastating effects for some families. But these two surveys indicate—contrary to many reports that are not based on systematic studies—that the closing of schools and other adult-organized activities for children, overall, benefitted more children than it harmed.

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