Closed schools, limited social time and quarantine has led parents and caregivers to question how the pandemic will impact their child’s development in the months and years to come.
After a year of masking, social distancing and limited social contact, many have wondered if there will be deficits in the social development of toddlers and children.
According to Dr. Laura Sices, a specialist in developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Cottage Children’s Medical Center, a lot remains unknown about the pandemic’s long-term impact on childhood development.
Yet experts do have a few educated guesses.
“We think that for many children, they’ll be resilient and bounce back through it,” Dr. Sices told the News-Press. “The populations, I think, that we’re most concerned about are the ones who have been impacted because … their parents or other caregivers had to be absent because of their work. And they were not in a supportive environment or were isolated and really on their own during schooling during the day.”
Dr. Sices’ concern lies with children whose parents or caregivers were not available during the pandemic to temper anxiety and provide support. She believes these children may require some additional support to make up for learning loss and lags in social development.
“I think some kids will be just fine,” Dr. Sices said. “And then other kids, we really need to plan for additional support. The most impacted communities where there were more deaths due to COVID, especially among younger individuals, the communities (where) there were just fewer resources for parents or caregivers to be around during the school day to make sure that the learning was happening — I do have a lot of concerns for those kids and families.”
Dr. Sices said developing infants depend upon their caregiver for nurturing confidence in the world around them, and toddlers rely on parents or caregivers to provide structure and guidance.
She said she believes children in both groups will be fine if a caregiver was available to manage their stress and give them support. But she added they may just need time to readjust to pre-pandemic life.
“I think parents need to be patient and have initially kind of lower expectations and not feel that pressure to be back instantly,” Dr. Sices said. “So you have to give a little bit of time for kids to get used to the new normal, and that’s going to be a changing new normal.”
“I think for most kids, they’ll be flexible,” she said, but added children might need a couple weeks to adjust after not having been to school or in a childcare program.
Dr. Sices said it can be hard to succinctly pinpoint what’s “normal” for a child’s development because the “child development is a moving target.”
But she said there are few things parents can look out for.
One possible concern is if a child has lost interest in the things they used to enjoy, or if a child can no longer do some of the things they used to be able to do. In these cases, Dr. Sices recommends parents call their pediatrician.
In addition, Dr. Sices recommends that parents make sure they are taking care of their own mental health too because young children respond to the state of the caregiver.
“I think kids really respond to how the parent or lead caregiver is setting the tone,” Dr. Sices said.
She said parents stressed by the pandemic should take care of themselves first and seek resources through their primary care physician or mental health services if needed. “Children are really, at that age, responding to that authentic caregiving environment and to how (mentally) well the parent or the caregiver is.”
Dr. Sices said she hopes that schools and child care programs will institute more supportive programs to help kids who experienced learning loss and lags in social development during the pandemic. She said she hopes the pandemic will spark a national conversation about supporting child development.
Dr. Sices said she hopes society will make services and resources available, including temporary, enhanced services to help kids catch up.
“My hope is that as a society, we will figure out how to invest in kids.”