As COVID waxes and wanes, many parents are wondering, ‘How will lockdown affect my child’s development?’ We discussed social communication for adolescents, but what are the implications for the babies who were born in 2020? Some people claim masks impede infant/toddler development, while others say they receive enough face time at home… yet there is very little evidence to prove whether it does or doesn’t. 
The supports we had in place for babies were dismantled when the pandemic hit. Parents struggled with the lack of adequate medical care and the lack of means to monitor their child’s development. Therefore, social support from friends, family, community groups, and professionals is vital to providing adequate stimulation and opportunities for learning. 
A baby’s brains double in size during the first year of their life. We know a lot of early development depends on nature, but in this case, it is more so affected by nurture. A child’s environment should be stimulating, varied, and responsive to support the development of language, cognition, emotions, and social competencies.  In addition, parents can supplement this loss with additional stimulating activities at home. Don’t worry there is always hope!
When we’re problem-solving, it’s important to know why the problem occurs so we can figure out how we can change or solve it. That’s where psychology comes in!
The attachment theory notes that it is important for children to foster strong and secure attachments with parents/caregivers. These bonds support children’s social development. As such, the extra time parents have spent with their children has allowed for deeper bonds to be formed. Young children who develop strong relationships with their family typically become more independent, have more successful friendships, and experience less anxiety, and boy could we all use that!  It’s important to express gratitude for the time we were given to create stronger bonds with our children than ever, despite how devasting the pandemic has been.
The sociocultural theory, on the other hand, considers social interaction to be the primary form of learning rather than deep attachments to their caregivers. This theory is what has society concerned for the social development of coronials. While parents and caregivers can help their children foster appropriate social skills, there is a lot of research showing that children benefit from socializing with age-matched peers more than with caregivers, so that is definitely a downside of the pandemic. 
If you ask me, I think it’s a combination of the two amongst other learning theories. The world is never just “black and white.”
Consequences of the pandemic that impact social, emotional, and physical well-being of children
It is completely understandable to be concerned about infant/early childhood development. The lack of support structures, economic pressure, and an extreme decrease in professional contact with health visitors and social workers leaves many parents worried. A study from Oxford Brookes University explored how the pandemic is affecting infants and toddlers. Even though babies are a population with significant risk factors, their needs are almost always last to be addressed, AKA the Baby Blind Spot. 
Below we will discuss different consequences of the pandemic and how they have affected social, emotional, and physical health in young children.
While social isolation was completely necessary, it still had negative impacts like anxiety/stress in children since socialization is crucial for well-being. It also increases social behaviors and stimulates your synaptic connections to help aid in the construction of the social brain.  Many social skills are learned through peer modeling like sharing, turn-taking, and resolving conflict. However, developing social skills takes time and experience. In the future, the social isolation of this year or two will pass and present as a blip on the radar of our past life experiences.  Social isolation also has also increased the severity of separation anxiety in many children. Some children might feel scared going back to school after having had so much time with their parents/caregivers. Understand this clinginess is natural. 
Distance Learning, Reduced Social Life, Unhealthy Diet
During distance learning, extracurricular and socialization activities at school are lost due to lockdowns and distance learning. In addition, students no longer have access to a balanced and free food program, guidance about personal hygiene, sports projects, citizenship incentives, and more. 
Parental stress levels directly interfere with children’s quality of life. Emotions like anxiety, excessive concern with cleanliness, excessive fear of falling ill, concern for elders, increased domestic accidents, mood disorders, anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD are all things children and adolescence may experience in a response to chronic parental stress.  Depending on what supports are available to the child, high and continuous stress either becomes tolerable or toxic. However, under the right care, we can provide children with constant feelings of security and affection. This provides the child an opportunity to reorganize itself biomechanically and return to typical functioning. 
Common Parent Concerns
Speaking of parental stress, let’s discuss some of the top concerns parents have about their child’s social, emotional, and physical development during the pandemic.
Will Masks Impede Speech/Language Development?
Some parents are concerned that face masks interfere with speech and language development or social communication. The short answer is that there is no evidence that supports the above hypothesis. It would be typical to think, ‘Well the key part of learning to communicate is by watching faces, mouths, and expressions of the people closest to them.’ The concern about solid masks doesn’t take into consideration that parents or caregivers are most likely not wearing masks at home. You might also consider that visually impaired children still develop speech and language at the same rate as their age-matched peers. Even better, when one sense is taken away, the others become stronger. 
Am I stressing my child out?
Depending on what supports are available to the child, high and continuous stress either becomes tolerable or toxic. However, under the right care, we can provide children with constant feelings of security and affection. This provides the child an opportunity to reorganize itself biomechanically and return to typical functioning. 
Am I impeding my child’s social/emotional/physical well-being by continuing to adhere to social distancing?
While social isolation was completely necessary, it has obviously had negative impacts like anxiety or stress in both adults and children since free socialization is extremely beneficial to our well-being. Socialization also increases social behaviors, stimulates your synaptic connections to help aid in the construction of the social brain.  Many social skills are learned through peer modeling like sharing, turn-taking, and resolving conflict. However, developing social skills takes time and experience. As mentioned above, in the future, the social isolation of this year or two will only be a blip on the radar of our life experiences. 
What can I do to help foster my child’s social, emotional, and physical well-being?
The power of play…
Play is how a child learns. There are many documented research studies that show just how many benefits play has for children’s development. Play improves language skills, early math knowledge, peer relations, social and physical development. When a child is unable to play, toxic stress creeps back in. Play with parents is important, but play with other children doubles the positive effects! Playing with peers helps develop skills like cooperation, communication, negotiation, conflict resolution, and empathy. 
Children need both guided indoor play and free play outdoors. Digital devices can allow kids to play together online, even if they can’t meet in person. In-person play is the most effective, but we ask that you follow CDC guidelines to keep your family and others safe. 
Tips for Play… 
- Make time for play every day
- Set boundaries for screen time
- Go outside whenever you can
- Be a role model
For social skills…
Back and forth interaction between babies and their caregivers (or each other) is one of the biggest precursors to language development. And it all starts with babbling! Have you ever heard a baby attempt to have a full-blown conversation in nonsensical babbles? If not, please watch the video below:
Babies learn the rules of intonation before most speech sounds. Some other examples of back and forth interaction include :
- Following a child’s lead when they are interested in some item
- Naming objects
- Safe play dates
- Safe playground play
Additional ways to foster social skills in the absence of peers include: Coaching your child to practice social skills like turn-taking, answering questions, emotion/self-regulation, etc. Many of these skills are taught through books and stories, so pick up a good social storybook, discuss the moral of the story, how the characters feel, guess how they’ll solve a problem, what you would have done if you were the main character, etc. 
While it’s definitely not the same as real-life playtime, virtual playdates are a great way to encourage positive social interaction. The added bonus is that children LOVE screen time! Try to organize an e-playdate, even if it’s just to practice greetings or to have show and tell with their friends/family.
For smoother transitions…
Talk positively with your child about the people they’re going to see, such as teachers and friends. Let them know it’s okay to ask questions and it’s okay to miss each other when we part.
How to better communicate with a mask… 
- Get child’s attention before talking
- Speak slowly and louder
- Use body language and changes in tone of voice
- Ask if they understand
- Reduce noise and distractions
Another way to boost your child’s communication skills while masks make their way back into our lives is to increase the amount of face-to-face time with family members without masks. 
Remember, masks are not the scapegoat…
If your child is displaying early signs of a language or speech delay, head to your pediatrician. Speech and language delays and disorders are very common but highly treatable. Always remember the earlier the better. 
In the face of this pandemic, the creation of activities to promote health and healthy development and prevent toxic stress becomes a priority to improve the overall health of children, their families, and their community.
Remember, there aren’t rights and wrongs to parenting if you’re doing the best you can with the knowledge you have at a time. Children vary significantly. Discussing your experience with other parents is a great place to start, but remember that children vary significantly. What might work for one child, may not work for another.
If you have concerns about your child’s social interaction, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to hear more about our online social skills groups!
- COVID-19 Parental Resources Kit – Early Childhood
- How to help young children regulate their emotions and behaviours during the pandemic
- Worried About Your Kids’ Social Skills Post-Lockdown?
- A year without play: Parents and experts worry about loss of social skills during pandemic
- How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting toddlers and babies
- A support guide for parents raising babies and toddlers through the coronavirus crisis
- Pandemic babies: how COVID-19 has affected child development
- The potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on child growth and development: a systematic review☆
- Do Masks Delay Speech and Language Development?
- Baby Talks: Parent Coronavirus Questions Answered
- Will COVID lockdowns hurt your child’s social development? 3 different theories suggest they’ll probably be OK
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