Scand J Public Health 50 (6) 693-702 [2022-08-00; online 2022-07-07]
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweden was one of the few countries that rejected lockdowns in favour of recommendations for restrictions, including careful hand hygiene and social distancing. Preschools and primary schools remained open. Several studies have shown negative impacts of the pandemic on children, particularly high levels of anxiety. The study aim was to explore how Swedish school-aged children aged 6-14 years, experienced the COVID-19 pandemic and their perceived anxiety. In total, 774 children aged 6-14 years and their guardians answered an online questionnaire containing 24 questions, along with two instruments measuring anxiety: the Children's Anxiety Questionnaire and the Numerical Rating Scale. A convergent parallel mixed-methods design was used for analysing the quantitative and qualitative data. Each data source was first analysed separately, followed by a merged interpretative analysis. The results showed generally low levels of anxiety, with no significant sex differences. Children who refrained from normal social activities or group activities (n=377) had significantly higher levels of anxiety. Most of the children were able to appreciate the bright side of life, despite the social distancing and refraining from activities, which prevented them from meeting and hugging their loved ones. These Swedish children generally experienced low levels of anxiety, except those who refrained from social activities. Life was nonetheless mostly experienced as normal, largely because schools remained open. Keeping life as normal as possible could be one important factor in preventing higher anxiety and depression levels in children during a pandemic.