Children and Families’ mental health during the first COVID-19 lockdown in Italy

Laura Ferraro, Caterina La Cascia, Marco Daino, Giada Tripoli, Giuseppe Maniaci, Crocettarachele Santorio, Fabio Seminerio, Rosa Lo Baido, Daniele La Barbera


Background: This study aimed to screen a wide range of emotional and behavioural variables emerging during the first COVID-19 pandemic-lockdown in a sample of parents and children, residents in the southern part of Italy, and explore which variables could predict children’s wellbeing. We hypothesised that difficulties in adapting routines to pandemic restrictions, parents’ emotional wellbeing, and attitude towards the pandemic could influence the children’s behavioural attitudes.

Methods: 221 parents completed the survey and gave information about 246 children. Ad hoc questionnaires were created and then exploratory reduced in factors. Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) for parents assessed positive and negative behavioural attitudes in children. Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (Italian DASS-21) scored depression, anxiety and stress in parents.

Results: Children presented higher emotional distress (Mean difference (Mdiff)=0.6, 95% C.I. 0.2, 0.9, p=0.013) and better prosocial behaviour (Mdiff=0.5, 95% C.I. 0.1, 0.9, p=0.011) than the Italian normative sample. Parents were more depressed than expected in the general population (Mdiff=1.0, 95% C.I. 0.3, 1.6, p=0.005). Having developed a morbid attachment to an adult (B=0.37, 95% CI 0.05, 0.69, p=0.024), a higher parental depression (B=0.1, 95% CI 0.02, 0.18, p=0.014), and children’s suffering from nightmares (B=0.35, 95% CI 0.03, 0.67, p=0.032) explained the 31.9% of the total variance in children’s emotional distress. Children’s anxiety was related to parents’ fear of the pandemic effects (r=0.32, p=0.001) and avoiding communicative approach (r=0.24, p=0.011).

Conclusion: The first lockdown determined emotional distress and regressive mechanisms in children in the contest of higher parental discomfort, fear of the infection and avoidant communication. Following parents’ indications, it could be helpful to provide families with informative and age-appropriate support.


COVID-19; Children; Communication; Anxiety; Depression; Emotional distress; Parents; Regression.

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