Kids' heart rates have been rising since the coronavirus pandemic started (Andrea Michelson)
·4 mins read
child in remote school
  • Children have experienced an increase in average heart rate since the start of the pandemic.

  • Data from Mightier, a biofeedback therapy program, show an increase of 2 beats per minute between March and July.

  • This increase is well within the normal range, but it’s a statistically significant physical indicator of how the pandemic has disrupted kids’ lives.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Parents are familiar with the toll the coronavirus pandemic is taking on their kids. Children who once slept through the night are climbing back into bed with them, and toddlers might be regressing on their toilet training progress, child development psychologist Tovah Klein told Insider.

These behavioral and emotional changes are accompanied by some physical ones. Data from Mightier, a company that designs biofeedback-driven video games to help kids develop emotional regulation skills, shows a small but statistically significant increase in average heart rate since the start of the pandemic.

The company gathered data from more than 17,000 children aged 6 to 14 in the first week of playing a Mightier game, before they would learn the skills to keep their heart rates low during gameplay. Among those kids, the average heart rate rose from 90 to 92 beats per minute between March and July.

With a change as small as 2 BPM and rates remaining within the normal range, "the heart doesn't really care," Mark Alexander, pediatric cardiologist at Boston Children's Hospital, told Insider. But even a small change is significant when it's coming from such a large sample.

"There's no question it's a statistically strong change, and it probably represents a much bigger change in a small number of the kids too," Alexander said.

Children, like everyone else, have seen their lives disrupted by the pandemic

By publishing this data, the Mightier team was hoping to call attention to the emotional stress children have experienced throughout the pandemic, Jason Kahn, co-founder and chief scientific officer of the company, told Insider.

"We know a kid's heart rate goes up when they are faced with stress," Kahn said. "We were interested in telling the story about how that stress is measurable."

kids heart rates during the coronavirus pandemic
According the data from Mightier, kids' heart rates have increased during the pandemic.

Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, said a loss of routine during the pandemic can cause children extra emotional stress, even if they're too young to fully understand what's going on.

"First, daycare and school closed," Klein said. "Then they weren't seeing their little neighborhood friends, maybe they're not seeing grandparents now who they might have seen regularly."

However, Alexander said it's hard to be sure about whether the increase in heart rate has to do with anxiety or physical health.

Mightier's heart rate graph corresponds with several other "visually striking" changes in what could be long-term health trends, Alexander said. Dramatic drops in daily activity levels and increases in body mass index — both of which could impact heart rate and physical fitness — are on his radar.

Parents can act as a buffer for kids by maintaining a routine at home

Klein said parents can mitigate their children's stress by creating a stable home environment with a new routine, especially as school starts up again and many kids begin learning from home.

But she acknowledged that there's only so much parents can buffer. It's hard to tell your kids everything is going to be OK if you're not so sure of it yourself, she said.

"Parents have to take care of themselves, even if it's in little ways," Klein said, suggesting drinking a cup of tea or meditating in the morning before the kids wake up. "Because parents' stress is just soaked in by children."

Klein also suggested "letting some things go" and focusing on reassurance during this time. There's a reason why your child might be melting down or wetting their pants, she said, so let the child know you'll help them instead of responding punitively.

Similarly, Kahn said parents should exercise patience and shift their efforts to developing their children's emotional skills — something that schools may not be able to attend to this year.

"Allow emotional health and emotional development to take center stage and be okay with the fact that we don't have to go right back to math and reading," Kahn said.

Read the original article on Insider