Study: Parents experienced severe burnouts during COVID-19 lockdowns

Study: Parents experienced severe burnouts during COVID-19 lockdowns

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A study by Dr Cara Swit from the University of Canterbury surveyed parents around the country as part of a global research project. The study was also conducted in 15 other countries and focused on assessing levels of burnouts that parents had while parenting thorough COVID-19 lockdowns.

The study found that 10.5% of parents in New Zealand had higher levels of parental burnout, as a combination of chronic stress, exhaustion, and feeling like their parenting was just not good enough.

Loss of enjoyment and fulfilment in parenting was more common, where parents wanted to distance emotionally from their children.

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“Any levels of parental burnout are concerning, so we need to understand the influences behind these figures and what can be done to support parents who are struggling,” says Dr Swit.

On the positive part of lockdowns, some parents from the study said that lockdown was a good experience that game them more of a quality time with their children. The lockdown restrictions allowed time for family, creativity, and exercise. Some of those parents valued that time with their children while others missed out on the natural break that conventional childcare arrangements and social activities implemented.

“Parenting during lockdown was constant; parents didn’t get a break. Lockdown seemed to exacerbate existing challenges for some whānau,” says Dr Swit.

The study results returned that 83.7% of parents said that COVID-19 had more of a positive impact on their parenting, while 26.8% said COVID-19 had more of a negative impact and outcome. 

“Those who had a negative experience were typically already challenged before lockdown. Parents who used violent parenting behaviours, parents who had difficulty shifting focus from themselves to their child, parents who were not working or in paid employment, and those parents living in a relatively disadvantaged neighbourhoods were at highest risk for parental burnout during the lockdown period,” says Dr Swit.

“What is great about these findings is that it shows that there are strategies parents can learn to protect them from burnout. We can teach parents ways to promote independence in their children and to also develop skills and strategies to regulate their thinking and emotions, particularly during times of uncertainty and heightened stress.

“To prevent parental burnout, parents can address potential stressors before a pandemic hits, or other major changes land. If they are pre-prepared with strategies to manage their own emotions and behaviours and they have helped their children to become more independent, they have already protected themselves from the possible negative effects that can come with chronic stress or burnout during a pandemic. In fact, parents’ emotional regulation and children’s independence can be preventive factors of parents experiencing burnout, not just in a pandemic but at any time.”

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