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Supporting Parents And Kids Through Lockdown Experiences (SPARKLE) Trial

Dear SPARKLE parent & carer study participants,

With many of the COVID-19 legal restrictions now having been eased across the UK, we have now drawn the SPARKLE study to a close. Over 640 families have taken part and the study has now closed to new participants.

We'd like to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to you all for your continued support of the SPARKLE study and to let you know what we are planning next.

Thanks to you, we now have so much useful information on how children, adolescents, and their families have coped throughout the pandemic. We will now be continuing to look at this data to get new insights into what support families need and who needs particular support.


“I've looked at the little bite-size Boosters […] mainly when it's been the end of a difficult day, and I thought, ’Oh, I need a little bit of a boost’. So, actually, they're well-named in that sense. So, they’ve given me that little boost, and mainly the reassurance that, 'It's OK’, and you can just keep calm and do your best.”

“What I found most useful about the app are the little slides that you get to give you very short, very sweet tips, and I've favourited a few of them because I think, well, next time I'm in that situation, and I'm taking that 5 minutes to cool down, I can refresh my memory, and re-centre myself, and rely on that."

“It's interesting to listen to different people’s approaches and different people’s ideas.”

“We've been able to start implementing some of those into our daily routines as parents, and it sparked conversations between my husband and me as well.”

We will be in touch with a final update of our findings in due course.

Your involvement has made a real different to many children and their families - thank you!

What is the study about and who is leading it?

The SPARKLE (Supporting Parents and Kids Through Lockdown Experiences) Study team, based at King's College London and Oxford University, are looking for UK parent/carer participants to test their new specially-designed science-based ‘Parent Positive’ app which aims to provide parenting advice and multimedia resources developed with experts and celebrity parents to support UK parents and children during the transition out of the COVID-19 pandemic and various local and national lockdowns. Parent Positive aims to improve children’s behaviour and confidence and have a positive effect on parents’ wellbeing.

The app will also provide access to regular online sessions with parenting experts and the chance to join an online forum to meet parents/carers across the UK and share parenting advice and tips.

What are we focusing on?

The SPARKLE (Supporting Parents and Kids Through Lockdown Experiences) study trial was launched in December 2020 at King’s College London. The trial is led by Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke, Dr Kasia Kostyrka-Allchorne and Dr Melanie Palmer of the Experimental Psychopathology and Neurodevelopment (ExPAND) Research Group within the Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience.

We were motivated to launch the study by findings from the Oxford University ‘Co-SPACE: Supporting Parents, Adolescents and Children During Epidemics’ study – a UKRI-funded cohort study tracking changes in families’ mental health 2020 onwards, which found that up to 70% of parents reported wanting additional support to address behavioural problems in their children and an increase in family-related stress in response to various local and national lockdowns throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of a combination of reduced access to childcare, money-and health-related worries and extended confinement and social isolation, all of which have placed great pressure on many families in the UK.

What are our aims and what methodology are we using?

SPARKLE is a rapid-deployment randomised control trial evaluating whether a digital public health parenting intervention can help parents to manage their children’s behaviour problems, as impacted by the COVID-19 UK pandemic and lockdown.

We aim to evaluate whether the negative effects of lockdown can by reversed by providing parenting advice digitally, using a specially-designed mobile phone app, Parent Positive. The Parent Positive app will provide advice to parents through animations, delivering messages carefully selected by parents and experts in the field. The messages 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 (SPARKLE Principal Investigator), Professor of Developmental Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, and the King’s College London Parenting Under Pressure (POP-UP) 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).

Recently, these animations, via the work of the King’s College London Parenting Under Pressure (POP-UP) team, were included in resources shared with parents and carers across a mass multimedia campaign in West Australia by the Government of Western Australia Mental Health Commission as part of their 'Think Mental Health' programme. This campaign was a great success and an independent assessment by Kantar Public consultancy concluded that there was a demonstrated need for the campaign and parenting resources such as these, with 3/5 parents surveyed indicating that they think that learning more about social and emotional health in children will help build their confidence as parents.

The initial stage of the SPARKLE study will involve 616 Co-SPACE parents, half of whom will receive access to the Parent Positive app and half who won’t. If results from the trial are positive, the app will be nationally disseminated through our collaboration with Public Health England, the UK Department for Education and multiple other commercial media partners.

Who are our key partners?

Our study is working in collaboration with the Oxford Psychological Interventions for Children and Adolescents (TOPIC) Research Group, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford Medical Sciences Division as well as the Guy’s & St. Thomas’ Charitable Foundation-funded Centre for Child & Parent Support Led by Dr Crispin Day, and is funded by UKRI-ESRC.

In particular, the study will be delivered alongside colleagues at Oxford University responsible for the ‘Co-SPACE: Supporting Parents, Adolescents and Children During Epidemics’ study – a UKRI-funded cohort study tracking changes in families’ mental health 2020 onwards.

Want to get in touch with our research team?

For more information on the SPARKLE study, collaboration opportunities and enquiries about participating in the study if you are based in the UK, please contact the team at


2020 awards

UKRI/ESRC Grant - SPARKLE (Supporting Parents and Kids Through Lockdown Experiences) Trial

Grant Period:

November 2020 – May 2022

Grant Principal Investigator:

Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke


Supporting Parents & Kids Through Lockdown Experiences (SPARKLE): A digital parenting support app implemented in an ongoing general population cohort study during the COVID-19 pandemic: A structured summary of a study protocol for a randomised controlled trial

Useful links

You can find out more about our partner study, the ‘Co-SPACE: Supporting Parents, Adolescents and Children During Epidemics’ study, here and our partner King’s College London Parenting Under Pressure (POP-UP) team’s work here.

Find out more about the work of the Experimental Psychopathology and Neuro-Development (ExPAND) Research Group within the Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at King’s College London here.

Read about our partner, the Guy’s & St. Thomas’ Charitable Foundation-funded Centre for Child & Parent Support Led by Senior Lecturer Dr Crispin Day, based within the King’s College London Department of Psychology DISCOVER Research Group, here.

You can read our study data privacy notice here.

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Our Partners

University of Oxford

University of Oxford

Economic and Social Research Council

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)