Understanding Dynamics of Risk and Protective Factors and Children’s Mental Health During the COVID‑19 Pandemic

Aitken, Madison | $141,613

Ontario Centre for Addiction and Mental Health 2021 CIHR Operating Grant

Canadian children have experienced deteriorations in their mental health during the COVID‑19 pandemic. Recent studies have shown that many factors are contributing to worsening mental health in children, including increases in parent stress and harsh parenting, more screen time, and less social contact. On the other hand, several important protective factors have been identified that are supporting children’s coping, such as physical activity, healthy sleep routines, and positive parenting. At present, we know little about how these risk and protective factors work together to predict children’s mental health, information that is needed to guide recovery efforts. We will recruit 500 parents and children age 9-12 years from the CHILD Cohort Study to participate. The CHILD study has followed over 3400 children from birth to present in four sites across Canada (Vancouver, Edmonton, Manitoba, and Toronto). We will ask parents and children to answer questions twice daily for 2 weeks about parenting, parent stress, social contact, physical activity, sleep, screen time, and children’s mental health. We will analyze the data using a new method called dynamic network analysis, which can identify chains of association between items we are measuring. For example, we may learn that reducing parent stress leads to more consistent parenting, which is in turn associated with less screen time and fewer child behaviour problems; or, that more anxious feelings lead to children seeing friends less, creating a cycle of sadness and less social contact. We will also test whether risk and protective factors operate differently depending on child age, parent or child gender, and geographic region. By identifying chains of association and feedback loops between risk and protective factors and mental health, we will provide new information about the most important factors to target in efforts to support children’s mental health during the pandemic.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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