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Alex Hendry's latest report shows that during the first year of the pandemic, the more time parents were able to engage in a range of activities with their child, the better their executive function skills.

Mother reading a book to a toddler in the kitchen

The theme for this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week (7-13 February) is Growing Together.

Oxford University researcher Dr Alex Hendry has been investigating the important role that parents play in supporting their children’s emotional growth, right from infancy. Her latest report shows that during the first year of the pandemic, the more time parents were able to engage in a range of activities with their child, the better their executive function skills (which includes a child’s ability to control their impulses, hold information in mind, respond flexibly to the world around them, and work towards goals). These skills are important for children’s long-term mental health, as well as academic success. High infant screen use was associated with lower executive function skills and more difficulties with regulating emotions.

This observation prompted Alex to team up with colleagues at the Oxford Brookes Babylab to run a series of online workshops. They shared the findings of their research directly with parents and Early Years practitioners, asked parents and carers what activities worked well for them, and what barriers parents faced to engaging in a range of activities with young children during the pandemic.

With support from an ESRC Impact Acceleration Grant and book publisher Faber, and input from charities Peeple, Home-Start Oxford and the National Literacy Trust, Alex and colleagues used the learning from these workshops to put together 2 free activity packs for families, including a book, craft materials and suggestions for ways to use them. The packs are currently being shared with children’s centres and other organisations across Oxford that work with families with young children. The team hope these activity packs will help parents to build up their confidence and give them new ideas for ways to grow together.

Read the full report: Not all babies are in the same boat: Exploring the effects of socioeconomic status, parental attitudes, and activities during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic on early Executive Functions

To request a set of activity packs to distribute to families contact babylabscommunitypartnership@psy.ox.ac.uk.

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