The impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on the mental health and lifestyle changes of primary school children and families

  • Evren Morgul

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The COVID-19 pandemic had extensive impacts, significantly affecting the mental health and wellbeing of children and caregivers globally. To address the study aims, both quantitative and qualitative methods were used in two phases. The thesis included four distinct studies (Study 1-4) that collectively provided a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted impact of the pandemic on children and caregivers.

Study 1 examined the caregiver-reported emotional and behavioural changes experienced by children in the UK and Turkey during the first national lockdown in 2020. The findings showed a significant change in children’s emotional and behavioural states, including boredom, loneliness, and frustration, accompanied by increased irritability, restlessness, anxiety, and sadness. Disruptions to daily routines, including increased screen time, reduced physical activity, and shorter sleep durations, exacerbated these challenges.

Study 2 delved into the interplay of caregiver worry regarding COVID-19 infection and family coexistence difficulties on children’s outcomes, comparing the experiences of caregivers in the UK and Turkey. While caregivers in Turkey expressed higher levels of worry, both countries showed similar patterns in the impact on children's emotional and behavioural difficulties. Family coexistence difficulties emerged as a significant predictor of children’s emotional and behavioural problems, transcending cultural boundaries. The importance of cultural dynamics among caregivers during the health crisis was also discussed, taking into account the individualistic and collectivistic features of the UK and Turkey, respectively.

Study 3 specifically focused on children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and their caregivers’ experiences during the lockdown. The findings revealed that children with SEN experienced more significant difficulties in their behaviour compared to their peers without SEN. However, this difference diminished when accounting for the child's mental health difficulties. It suggested the critical role of mental health in shaping behaviour during the lockdown. The study highlighted the impact of family adversity and the child’s poor mental health (not the child’s SEN itself) on children’s outcomes.

Study 4 used a qualitative approach to examine the long-term experiences of caregivers, of children with SEN in England. It identified the enduring challenges and opportunities stemming from the lockdowns and highlighted differences in coping strategies between the caregivers of SEN children and typically developing children.

Collectively, these studies offered an in-depth understanding of the varied consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s wellbeing and the critical role of caregiver mental health and family dynamics in shaping these outcomes. They underscored the importance of a range of measures and support systems to help children and their families during challenging circumstances. The studies also highlighted the need for further research to inform effective policies to mitigate the long-term consequences of the pandemic on families’ wellbeing.

Date of Award12 Mar 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorCecilia Essau (Director of Studies) & Angeliki Kallitsoglou (Co-Supervisor)


  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • child mental health changes
  • children’s emotional and behavioural functioning
  • children’s internalising and externalizing difficulties
  • caregiver mental health
  • parenting stress
  • worry of COVID-19 infection
  • COVID-19 infection risk
  • family co-existence difficulty

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