Approximately 8,000 school pupils – ranging from year three to year nine – were asked to choose the top words they would use when discussing their mental health and experiences during lockdown.
Teachers from the 85 schools taking part in the study were also surveyed on the words they use most often when talking to children about their physical and mental health.
More than one in five (21 per cent) students said “anxiety” was the word they identified with most during the past year, closely followed by “challenging” (19 per cent) and “isolate” (14 per cent).
Experts said the findings highlight the impact that lockdown and school closures had on children, and the “vital role language plays for children when it comes to self-expression, learning and wellbeing”.
“It’s important now, more than ever, that we invest in supporting children’s language development at home and in school,” Helen Freeman, director of early childhood and home education at OUP, said.
“The findings demonstrate the role we all play in making sure children have the words they need to be able to express themselves and that, as adults, we are aware the language we use around children can significantly influence their learning and wellbeing.”
The news comes as OUP prepares to update its dictionaries and resources for schools with new phrases and definitions for popular words during the pandemic, such as “bubble”, “lockdown” and “self-isolation”.
Of the teachers who took part in the survey, 31 per cent said “resilience” was the word they used most when talking to their pupils about the pandemic, a finding which lexicographers said reflects the importance of providing children with positive direction.
The second most used word was “challenging”, followed by “wellbeing”.
Joe Jenkins, the executive director of social impact at The Children’s Society commented: “It’s concerning that ‘anxiety’ is the number one word but it isn’t surprising when you consider all the restrictions and changes children had to endure.
“Having conversations and using the right language is incredibly important when supporting children if they are feeling anxious, isolated or going through tough challenges, and it’s also crucial children are able to express how they are feeling.”
The charity’s Good Childhood Report, published in August 2021, estimated that more than 300,000 children in the UK felt unhappy with their lives in 2018-2019.
While most children surveyed said they had adjusted well to changes to daily life under lockdown and social restrictions, they coped less well with not being able to take part in hobbies and see friends and family.
Last year’s Children’s Word of the Year was coronavirus, and in 2019 it was Brexit.
Additional reporting by PA