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News: Anxiety named Children's Word of the Year

Posted 18 January, 2022 by Jennifer Drummond

'Anxiety' is the Children’s Word of the Year 2021 according to research by Oxford University Press (OUP).

More than 8,000 children from 85 schools across the UK were asked to choose the top words they would use when talking about health and wellbeing. Almost a quarter (21 percent) chose anxiety as their number one word, followed by challenging (19 percent) and isolate (17 percent).

However, there were some indications of positivity with wellbeing and resilience also featuring as top words, signalling children’s positive attitude in the face of recent challenges.

For more than a decade experts and academic researchers in the Children’s Language department have analysed the evolution of children’s language and how it is used to reflect emotions and experiences. For 2021, wellbeing was selected as the research focus, prompted by the widespread impact Covid-19 is having on children’s education and the growing awareness of and concerns relating to children’s mental health.

Helen Freeman, Director of Early Childhood & Home Education at Oxford University Press, said:

“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.”

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. Our Good Childhood Report (2021) (link opens in new tab) found that most children showed great resilience but, worryingly, 8% (almost 1 in 12) of 10-to-17-year-olds reported that they had coped less well with the changes to life.

“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.”

In response to the latest findings, the Children’s Language department at OUP has published the Oxford Children’s Language Report 2021 and will be updating its dictionaries and resources to further support teachers and pupils in both primary and secondary schools. Words such as ‘bubble’ and ‘lockdown’ will be revised to reflect the current usage of the words in relation to the pandemic and new phrases such as ‘self-isolation’ will be included.

Click here to read the Oxford Children’s Language Report 2021