Children’s imaginative play is reflecting pandemic experiences, study finds

A new report by Public Health Scotland found that children’s play began to mirror their experience of COVID-19 factors such as ‘isolation, curtailment of access to services and even death’ being apparent in their imaginative play.

Public Health Scotland (PHS) has released a new report into the effects of the pandemic on the wellbeing and development of 2-4-year olds.

The report found a number of studies that ‘flagged the different ways in which COVID-19 was impacting directly on children’s orientation to the world around them’.

One survey undertaken in the Republic of Ireland found that a 4-year-old’s play featured a doll with a mask, and they would “play nurse or doctor to make dolls or pets better, washing dolls hands.”

The same study saw an example of a 2-year-old “pretending that she's going to the park with her friends but that the playground is closed.”

The study also found a high level of awareness among even very young children of the ‘restrictions’.

The report is the first in a series of papers considering the possible positive and adverse consequences of the pandemic on children’s and young people’s development 4 and wellbeing at different ages.

The report found that there were some positives to draw from the pandemic, including most parents feeling that lockdown had enabled them to maintain good relationships with their children, children ‘largely remaining active’, and parents seeing an increase in their children’s imaginative play.

There were warnings, however, that pre-existing inequalities were exposing additional problems in children’s physical development, social development and wellbeing.

The health board advised that “not all children were able to access good quality outside space easily, and this was associated with household income.”

The purpose is to provide evidence to support planning and action to reduce or prevent negative outcomes (including in the event of future ‘lockdowns’) and promote positive futures for this generation of children and young people.

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