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17 December 2020

New project to develop an app that addresses the negative effect of COVID-19 on children's behaviour

The app Parent Positive aims to provide additional support to parents through light-hearted animations, practical resources and expert advice about managing children’s behaviour.

Woman looking stressed looking after two children at a laptop

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, reduced access to childcare, money- and health-related worries and extended confinement and social isolation have placed great pressure on many families. There is evidence that many parents have struggled to manage their children’s behaviour.

For instance, Co-SPACE, an ongoing nationwide study led by the Oxford University, found a significant increase in parents reporting behavioural problems in children and an increase in family-related stress in response to various local and national lockdowns. Co-SPACE has also found up to 70% of parents reported wanting additional support.

The study SPARKLE (Supporting Parents and Kids through Lockdown Experiences) was launched this week to address this pressing need. The study, led by Dr Kasia Kostyrka-Allchorne and Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke at King’s College London in collaboration with Oxford University and funded by UKRI, evaluates whether the negative effects of lockdown can by reversed by providing parenting advice digitally, using a mobile phone app.

The Parent Positive app will provide advice to parents, who need support with their children’s behaviour problems. The advice will be delivered through animations, delivering messages carefully selected by parents and experts in the field, and will be supplemented with practical parenting resources and an opportunity to network with other parents for peer support.

The animations, originally thought up by Professor Sonuga-Barke (the SPARKLE Principal Investigator) and the Parenting Under Pressure team, are light-hearted, humorous and non-judgmental and are delivered by eight high-profile celebrities who are also parents. The eight messages relate to: (1) staying positive and motivated (Olivia Colman), (2) making sure everyone knows what is expected of them (Sharon Horgan), (3) building your child's self-confidence and trust (Danny Dyer), (4) getting your child to follow instructions (Rob Brydon), (5) promoting better behaviour (Jessica Ennis-Hill), (6) limiting conflict (Holly Willoughby), (7) keeping calm when your kids act up (Romesh Ranganathan), and (8) careful use of sanctions (Shappi Khorsandi).

Right from the start of the first lockdown I have been concerned by the reports of parents struggling with their children behaviour and been thinking of ways to provide help and advice. Parent Positive, which aims to deliver evidence-based parenting messages in an engaging and digestible way, is our attempt to do that.

Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke, Professor of Developmental Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience and the Principal Investigator of SPARKLE

He added, ‘Working with our colleagues in Oxford, led by Professor Cathy Creswell, presents a unique opportunity to test whether giving parents access to this app can reverse the increase in behaviour problems they have seen in their cohort study’.

The study lead Dr Kasia Kostyrka-Allchorne added, “Apps are a great way to deliver advice and support to parents bringing up their children in difficult circumstances, whether this is during lockdown or other context when face-to-face help is not available. We know from previous studies that parenting support improves parents’ confidence and helps them to manage children’s problem behaviour. But many families can’t get access to that help. As nearly 80% of adults own a smartphone, digital parenting support not only can reach a large number of parents but can also be provided to families earlier when their difficulties are easier to address.”

The initial stage of the SPARKLE study will involve 616 Co-SPACE parents, half with access to the Parent Positive app and half without. A positive response to the app will allow the app to be nationally-distributed through collaboration with Public Health England and the Department of Education, in cooperation with commercial media partners.

The Parent Positive app will be launched on 11 May. Find out more on the SPARKLE web pages.


For interviews or any further media information please contact Louise Pratt, Head of Communications, IoPPN: / +44 7850 919020

For more information on Co-SPACE study, visit Co-SPACE website or contact study co-leads Prof Cathy Creswell or Assoc Prof Polly Waite

For more information on SPARKLE study, contact

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In this story

Edmund Sonuga-Barke

Professor of Developmental Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience