Alarming Research about the Impact of the Pandemic on Children’s IQs

A woman in a medical protective mask takes care of her baby. Prophylactic protection of coronavirus and covid-19 during a pandemic.

There is some recent research about the impact of the pandemic on children that is alarming, research that we should all take note of. This past summer there were headlines stating that children born during pandemic have lower IQs. Not just lower IQs but substantially lower IQs. 

A headline from The Guardian states the following: Researchers blame lack of stimulation as parents balanced childcare with working from home.

According to another online article from EdSource they state that “a new study by researchers at five universities found that babies born during the pandemic may have lower IQ scores than those born before it. Babies who came into the world before the coronavirus had a cognitive score hovering around 100, according to this study. But the test scores of babies born during the pandemic fell sharply, to around 78. That’s 22 points lower than what’s considered normal….While the underlying causes of the lower cognitive scores are still unknown, experts suggest that the pressures of the Covid era may be having a profound impact on babies, their development and the very architecture of the brain.” 

Among the environmental factors that may have played a role are a decrease of stimulation from parents, a lack of engagement with other children and increased exposure to TV and computers, researchers say. These reduced social interactions may be the culprit. Experts say infants may be learning the wrong lessons just as the foundation of their brain is being laid. 

‘In this pandemic, the parents are present at home but they are unavailable to their children because of remote work,’ said Feldman. ‘If they cry or flirt or laugh, their parents may not respond as they had expected. That is so confusing to children.’” 

A newborn baby in a medical mask lies in quarantine at home during the coronavirus and covid-19 pandemic.

While the focus of some of this research is on infants and babies whose brains are rapidly developing and greatly influenced by how they are being stimulated, there seems to be many indicators that children of all ages are being impacted negatively by the pandemic. 

Carl Rogers is known for his theory of what he called Unconditional Positive Regard. This is described as “the experience of being treated with warmth, respect, acceptance and love regardless of one’s own feelings, attitudes, and behaviors.” He goes on to say that “Fully functioning people were usually raised with unconditional positive regard.” Rogers is known for creating what is called person-centered therapy, an approach that is very well respected for the positive impact it has on clients in which Unconditional Positive Regard is its cornerstone. 

As I read about the impact the pandemic seems to be having on children’s IQs, I wondered how much parents have slipped away from providing children multiple opportunities every day to experience unconditional positive regard. How much has the stress of the pandemic caused parents to conversations in which children can express their feelings and be acknowledged for them, i.e., times when parents put their full attention on what is happening for their child? We already live in a world where there are so many distractions that pull parents away from kinds of engagement that occur when there is unconditional positive regard— all the time spent staring at our phones or on computers with social media or being caught up with our jobs or other responsibilities. Throw in a pandemic and it’s a recipe for even greater reduction in giving children our undivided attention and unconditional positive regard. 

eighteen month aged blonde baby watching digital tablet and brunette woman mother at smartphone on white bed

Learning about this research with regard to diminished IQs can be alarming for parents. Maybe it should be seen more as a wake-up call combined with an invitation to actively reverse some of the negative impact of distracted parenting. Becoming more intentional about the power we all have to practice Unconditional Positive Regard, making sure we take time every day to engage in intentional, focused attention to the children in our lives can certainly be a way to open up children’s minds in ways that can improve IQ and in general overall mental health. 

Invitation for Reflection 

  1. If you are a parent, grandparent or someone who interacts with children, have you noticed that during this pandemic it has been harder to give your undivided attention to those children on a regular basis?  
  2. How does this research on the drop in children’s IQs make you feel? 
  3. Consider opportunities that may present themselves to you to show Unconditional Positive Regard to the children in your life. Consider ways you can be more intentional about making time for these children, and in fact for anyone in your circles who matters to you, to help promote their mental health and maybe even their IQ. 

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute