Many parents with babies under two years old who have spent the majority of their young lives socially distanced from relatives, friends and importantly other children of their own age, are worrying about the long-term consequences of the COVID pandemic on their social development. Of course, in truth, we can’t know for definite if there will or won’t be long-term effects as this is an unapparelled situation, but according to experts, we should not worry too much.
An article in Today’s Parent magazine relays the opinion of psychologist Sheri Madigan, an expert in child development and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Calgary. She explains that for babies and children up to the age of three, the most important primary social interactions they have are with caregivers – this is where they learn the foundations of their future social skills. Parents model how to engage in social interactions and these behaviours and learned skills are then applied later in life in interactions with other children, caregivers and teachers. A six-month-old baby doesn’t need to interact with other six-month-olds to learn how to be social – they will learn those skills from interacting with parents and siblings.
When do children normally start to engage with other children?
Children under three years old rarely get involved in cooperative, interactive play with each other. They will be interested in what other children are doing but will largely concentrate on their own toys and play in parallel with others. In normal circumstances, this is still valuable to a child’s development as they learn social interaction skills by watching and learning from their peers, but it isn’t until they reach the age of three, that most children become more active in social interchanges.
Are virtual, online baby groups worthwhile?
There is less direct benefit of virtual classes for young children, but the groups can be really helpful for parents to help keep them socially connected, especially during times when normal family and friend support groups are not available.
Is talking to grandma or cousins on Facetime beneficial to babies?
While it is important for children to connect with friends and family socially, research shows that they find it difficult to apply concepts learned from a two-dimension screen to their real three-dimension lives. It is helpful if the adult interacting on the other side of the screen follows the child’s lead and makes the communications as reciprocal as possible. For example, reading a story book and sharing and discussing the pictures; or maybe sharing the same snack and talking about ‘the colour of the apple and how crunchy it is.’
Does wearing face-masks impact a child’s ability to read facial expressions and communicate effectively?
It is without doubt that reading cues and expressions will be far more challenging for young children when half a person’s face is covered. For example, they won’t be able to see that a person is smiling. However, adults can help by responding to children’s cues through eye contact and enthusiasm – make sure that your smile reaches your eyes!
How can I cope with a baby or toddler in isolation?
Many new parent’s set themselves extremely high expectations (not helped by the pressure of social media!), but in these difficult times they should really give themselves some slack. The fact that they are worrying shows that they are already in tune with their child’s needs – but should concentrate on what is in their control – rather than worrying about things they cannot change. Having quality interactions with their child will help to optimise their social, language skills and well-being later on.
Importantly, if you feel that you are struggling, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help from family and friends. You can get outside for socially distanced walks and talks and often a trouble shared is a trouble halved.
CLICK HERE to read the full Today’s Parent article by Delaney Seiferling: ‘will all the under-socialised babies born in 2020 be OK?’