Elementary school children involved in pandemic-related remote learning faced greater disruptions in sleep habits and behavior than children learning in person, according to a new small study.
Researchers surveyed close to 300 parents with children ages 5-10 throughout Michigan between February and March 2021, as some schools returned to the classroom and others opted to stay online, noting their focus was to uncover pandemic-era learning’s impact on children’s foundational period.
“We’re now seeing the manifestation of these disruptions in families’ lives and how different school formats affected our kids, not only academically but emotionally and socially,” Kimberley Levitt, a developmental behavioral pediatrician at University of Michigan Health, said in a news release.
“Our findings reinforce challenges families faced during the pandemic and suggest children in virtual school had more behavioral issues at home, social challenges with peers and may have potentially been less motivated to learn,” Levitt added.
Researchers discovered an overall increase in hyperactivity and other behavior issues, which they believe are associated with learning adjustments due to changing expectations and fewer outlets to release their energy.
The children were also more susceptible to sleep issues — such as falling asleep later or sleeping with their parents — when compared to those who attended class in person. Researchers said it could be linked to increased screen time and stress over domestic issues.
“We can’t say for certain why these sleep disruptions are more prevalent among kids who attended remote school. There are several possible factors at play,” Levitt said.
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Students’ mental health has been a major point of emphasis throughout the pandemic, and recent data from the Education Department show an uptick in students needing mental health services. The data show that more than two-thirds of public schools reported an increase in students’ mental health visits.
But the Michigan study also measured parents’ mental well-being, finding no difference between parents’ mental health states regardless of their child’s learning format. Yet more than two-fifths of parents reported symptoms of depression, which they said could be associated with pandemic restrictions and potential financial hardships.
“Children being home more due to remote learning was among several factors that likely impacted parental stress,” said senior author Jenny Stillwaggon Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician and researcher at Michigan Medicine.
“This school year, we hoped that things would improve with consistent in-person learning and increased educational funding,” she added. “However, some children are still struggling behaviorally, and unfortunately, we are hearing that schools are not able to staff positions that support social-emotional health.”
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