Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on families with children

CIVITTA, through its research arm in Belarus — SATIO — together with UNICEF and the World Bank, сonducted a series of studies on the impact of the pandemic on various aspects of families with children’s lives in Belarus. The research was carried out by a panel survey method in six waves to better understand the dynamics of the situation. In this case, the information collected during the first and second waves is presented. During first and second waves the team examined data in the following areas

  • The impact of isolation on the emotional well-being of family members
  • The need and challenges of transitioning to distance education
  • Children’s safety on the Internet
  • Attitudes toward sports and lifestyle
  • Health care needs; knowledge, attitudes, and practices of COVID-19 preventive measures
  • Desired protective measures against epidemiological and economic risks
  • Personal problems related to the crisis

At the beginning of the pandemic, information about the symptoms of the virus was widely circulated through various sources and the media. Awareness of the symptoms of the disease increased as the study continued. Thus, in April 2020 more people mentioned symptoms that appear in the common cold or flu, and in May the share of those who mentioned COVID-19 specific symptoms (loss of smell, difficulty in breathing, low temperature) increased. Men were less likely to report the correct symptoms than women, so the emphasis in information should be aimed at them.

In order to be protected against coronavirus infection, parents began to wash their hands more often or use antiseptics, and to wear masks in public places much more often. Moreover, one in two noted that they had difficulties buying masks and were afraid to go to health care facilities because of the infection possibility there. Most parents were concerned about their children’s health. At the same time children were not particularly worried about COVID-19, although as they were getting older, the worries became more pronounced. 

Social distance usually appears in keeping a distance of 1.5-2 meters between people, as well as less frequent use of public transport and less frequent shopping. However, only 80% of those who are aware of the concept of social distancing adhere to these measures. The least awareness is expressed by residents of small towns and cities and people without higher education.

In addition to the actions related to COVID-19, attitudes towards healthy lifestyles in general were also surveyed. In Belarus, most families have at least one person involved in sports, and both adults and children do it more often. Physical activity is more common if parents have higher education. The pandemic had the greatest impact on those who preferred gyms to exercising at home or outdoors; almost all respondents stopped attending them, as well as going to group training. However, most people did not stop exercising; they just changed their location. The positive impact of sports was expressed not only in the influence on physical fitness, but also on the psychological state – those who stuck to physical activity were less susceptible to depression, while more than a third of the parents noticed symptoms of depression.

Not the least impact on emotional well-being was a change in financial well-being – more than half of parents noted a decrease in income. And unemployed or part-time workers were most significantly affected.

Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic affects the shift to distance work and learning, and consequently, the time spent online. This is especially pronounced among teens – half or more spend 4+ hours online, which is facilitated by greater access to technical devices. And although parents try to control the time and content (especially they are wary of dangerous online games and challenges, as well as “adult content”) that their children watch online, this is not the most successful tactic. It would be more effective to motivate children to spend their time more usefully (e.g., using the Internet to study or watch interesting and informative content).

In order to see more information, please visit the Unicef page.