'Anxiety' chosen by children as word of the year 2021

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The word 'Anxiety' was selected by children as their word of the year in 2021, Oxford University Press (OUP) research has found.

OUP's experts and academics have analysed the evolution of children's language and how it's used to reflect their emotions and experiences for more than a decade, drawing heavily on the Oxford Children's Corpus, the largest children's English language Corpus in the world.

And their selected research theme for 2021, prompted by the impact of Covid-19 on children's education and mental health both at home and in schools, was wellbeing.

Sad girl looking out of the window at home
Children voted 'Anxiety' as their top word for 2021 (Getty Images)

In a survey of more than 8,000 children aged between seven and 14, from 85 schools in the UK, the OUP asked them to choose the top words they would use when talking about health and wellbeing, revealing the impact of lockdowns and school closures.

Almost a quarter chose 'Anxiety' (21%) as their number one word, followed closely by 'Challenging' (19%), and Isolate (14%).

However, 'Wellbeing' followed closely with 13%, and 'Resilience' with 12%.

Joe Jenkins, Executive Director, Social Impact at The Children's Society, said, "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."

He said that while their Good Childhood Report (2021) found most children showed great resilience, 8% (almost 1 in 12) of 10-17 year olds reported they had coped less well with the changes to life.

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School boy learning form home
Children have been faced many rule changes during the pandemic, including virtual lessons from home, wearing masks in schools and having no school at all (Getty Images)

A total of 85 teachers from across the schools surveyed were also asked what word they would use most when talking to pupils about health, wellbeing and their experiences of the year. 'Resilience' was their top choice with 31%, followed by 'Challenging' with 19% and 'Wellbeing' with 18%.

Jenkins added, "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."

Helen Freeman, Director of Early Childhood & Home Education at Oxford University Press, echoed this with, "The research highlights 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.

"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."

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School children in uniforms in class with tablets
"It's important now, more than ever, that we invest in supporting children's language development at home and in school," says Helen Freeman (Getty Images)

The OUP plans on updating its dictionaries and other resources to further support teachers and pupils in both primary and secondary schools, with words like 'Bubble' and 'Lockdown' to be revised to reflect the current usage of the words in relation to the pandemic, adding new phrases like 'Self-isolation'.

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