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Teaching methods and their impacts on children’s behavioral health during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the education of more than 1 billion children worldwide, with many experiencing shifts between remote, hybrid, and in-person learning.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and interruptions to learning continue, researchers at Harvard University have underlined the need to understand their consequences for children’s behavioral health to inform response efforts. Researchers used longitudinal data to examine how children’s behavioral well-being differed by learning format.

Online surveys were administered 4 times to 405 parents of children participating in the broader Early Learning Study at Harvard, a population-based cohort study of children in Massachusetts approved by the institutional review boards of Abt Associates and Harvard University.

Harvard researchers used regression analyses with child fixed effects to estimate mean within-child differences in outcomes associated with learning formats.

By comparing children’s outcomes in each wave with their own outcomes in other waves, the approach accounted for all time-invariant factors explaining between-child differences in learning experiences.

Analyses also included several time-varying covariates likely to account for differences in both learning formats and child outcomes across time.

Most children (203 [57.0%]) switched learning formats at least once across the 4 waves.

Child fixed-effects analyses indicated that children’s behavioral outcomes tended to be worse during remote schooling than during in-person schooling.

Parents reported that when learning remotely, their child exhibited worse general behaviour, more maladaptive behavioral changes, and more dysregulated behaviors than when learning in person.

Children experiencing hybrid learning fell in between; they exhibited better general behavior than when remote and worse behavior than when in-person.

In this cohort study, parents reported that their children’s behaviors at home were worse during remote learning than during in-person learning.

Although the analyses of the researchers at Harvard accounted for all between-child factors, they did not account for all time-varying factors that might explain children’s learning format and parents’ perception of their well-being at any given time.

Therefore, results should not be interpreted to mean that remote learning caused worse behavioral health; rather, the results illustrate that parents perceived their children’s behaviors as having shifted systematically through the COVID-19 pandemic’s educational interruptions.

The ongoing and ever-changing public health situation means that clinicians and others working directly with children and families should address not only the likely academic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic but also its consequences for children’s social, emotional, and behavioral well-being.


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