Over 8,000 children across the UK were surveyed revealing the vital role language plays for children when it comes to self-expression, learning and wellbeing

Tuesday, 18 January 2022: Anxiety is the Children’s Word of the Year 2021 according to research by Oxford University Press (OUP). Over 8,000 children from across 85 schools in the UK, spanning Year 3 to Year 9, were surveyed and asked to choose the top words they would use when talking about health and wellbeing.

The research highlights the widespread impact lockdown and school closures had on children, with almost a quarter of all surveyed choosing anxiety (21 per cent) as their number one word, closely followed by challenging (19 per cent) and isolate (14 per cent). However, wellbeing (13 per cent) and resilience (12 per cent) closely followed as their top words, signalling children’s positive attitude in the face of recent challenges.

In addition, teachers from across the 85 schools were asked for the word they use most often when talking to their pupils about health and wellbeing in the context of the past year. Resilience came in as their number one choice (31 per cent) reflecting the importance of providing their pupils with positive direction in the face of difficult times. Similarly, challenging was their second choice (19 per cent), in acknowledgement of the changes schools and pupils navigated in the past year, and wellbeing came in third (18 per cent).

For over 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 their emotions and experiences. The research draws heavily on the Oxford Children’s Corpus, the largest children’s English language corpus in the world which contains language written for and by children at over half a billion words. 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 children’s mental health as a key concern at home and in schools.

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) 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. We run a number of well-being and mental health drop-in hubs throughout the country where young people have the space to talk about anything that is bothering them. We hope these kind of spaces become more widespread as we know how vital talking is for children and their well-being. 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 have published the Oxford Children’s Language Report 2021 and will be updating their 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.

For more information you can review the Children’s Word of the Year & Oxford Children’s Language Report 2021

Further Information

For further information, please contact:

Caroline McCourt, Senior PR and Communications Manager, Oxford University Press


Notes to Editors


Participant members ranged from classroom teachers and literacy coordinators to senior leaders who were asked to discuss with their pupils the words they would use when talking about their experience in 2021. Over 8000 children from Year 3 to Year 9 participated in the study, which was conducted in 85 schools in the UK through OUP’s Educational Research Forum. More information can be found in the report here.

About the research

For over a decade OUP children’s lexicographers, publishers and editors have teamed up with academic researchers and experts in children’s language acquisition at the University of Oxford, and other research groups, to track changes in children’s vocabulary and self-expression. The database of language developed by OUP to enable this research is the Oxford Children’s Corpus; Oxford’s unique electronic database of writing for and by children and the largest children’s English language corpus in the world. Oxford Children’s Corpus enables OUP’s in-depth, authoritative linguistic analysis of children’s reading and writing.

In previous years, OUP has analysed children’s writing submitted via the 500 Words creative writing competition with Chris Evans. This year, prompted by the global impact the coronavirus has had on children’s education and wellbeing, OUP conducted new research to track how the pandemic may have altered the way children use language and the impact on their vocabulary landscape. This report is one of several key papers published by OUP on children’s language research, which includes on-going research into understanding and closing the Word Gap. For more details see here.

Previous Oxford Children’s Word of the Year

The Children’s Word of the Year has reflected the influence and impact of media news stories and important topics of conversation in the grown-up world on young minds and imaginations.

2020      coronavirus

2019      Brexit

2018      plastic

2017      trump

2016      refugee

About Oxford University Press

Oxford University Press (OUP) is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. OUP is the world’s largest university press with the widest global presence.

It currently publishes thousands of new publications a year, has offices in around fifty countries, and employs approximately 6,000 people worldwide.

It has become familiar to millions through a diverse publishing program that includes scholarly works in all academic disciplines, bibles, music, school and college textbooks, children’s books, materials for teaching English as a foreign language, business books, dictionaries and reference books, and academic journals.

About The Children’s Society

The Children’s Society fights for the hope and happiness of young people when it’s threatened by abuse, exploitation and neglect. We see the hope and courage in young people every day, and it inspires us to support them through their most serious life challenges.