Coronavirus: One in 10 parents experienced 'high levels' of burnout during lockdown - survey

Coronavirus: One in 10 parents experienced 'high levels' of burnout during lockdown - survey
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New Zealand's lockdowns caused one in 10 parents to experience high levels of burnout, according to a new study, but others felt it was a positive experience that gave them more time with their children.

Dr Cara Swit from the University of Canterbury surveyed parents across New Zealand as part of a global study assessing levels of parental burnout during lockdowns.

Dr Swit found 10.5 percent of parents experienced severe parental burnout, which she says is defined as a combination of chronic stress, exhaustion, feeling like their parenting isn't as good as it was, loss of pleasure or fulfilment in parenting, and emotional distancing from children.

"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," Dr Swit said.

But lockdown itself wasn't a strong predictor of parental burnout, she added.

"For some parents, lockdown was a positive experience that gave them more quality time with their children. Forced restrictions allowed time for family, creativity, and exercise and some parents valued this time," Dr Swit said.

"For others, they missed the natural break that regular childcare arrangements and social activities provided. Parenting during lockdown was constant, parents didn't get a break. Lockdown seemed to exacerbate existing challenges for some whānau."

The study said 83.7 percent of parents found COVID-19 had a positive impact on their parenting, compared with 26.8 percent of parents who said it had a negative impact.

Dr Swit said parents who had a negative experience were already facing challenges 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 relatively disadvantaged neighbourhoods were at highest risk for parental burnout during the lockdown period."

Dr Swit believes these findings show there are strategies parents can learn to help protect them from burnout, such as promoting independence in their children and developing skills to regulate their thinking and emotions during stressful situations. She said parents can address potential stressors before a pandemic, or other major changes, hit.

"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," she said.

"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."

There were 132 participants in the survey, 87 of which fully completed the questionnaire.

The international results will be available in the coming months.