Critical negative impacts of pandemic on babies and toddler development
Emerging research shows that babies born during the Covid lockdown are falling behind on their talking and reading milestones. Parents with babies and toddlers are struggling with how to help their children now to avoid future negative impacts.
Babies learning journeys begin the day they are born, not their first day of school. After babies are born, their brains continue to develop physically, but they are also growing intellectually and emotionally. Studies reveal that 90 percent of brain development happens before five years old. Babies need experiences to strengthen the neurons in their brains that are still connecting. The first step in the process of bonding and in a child’s ability to communicate is by making these neural connections in the brain early. Simple activities of touching and massaging gently, rocking, and cuddling help to stimulate growth which enhances brain development. If a child is deprived of stimulation and enriching experiences during these critical early years, they may have difficulties in many areas of their life when they are older. While many factors influence brain development, early interactions have the most significant impact.
During the pandemic, there were few to no opportunities for babies and toddlers to engage in social interactions and minimal chances for conversation (babbling or words) which has adversely impacted their talking and reading development. This can in turn negatively affect future academic performance, ability to communicate with others and self-confidence. Many parents are looking for ways to make up for lost time, and boost language and reading skills – but they don’t know how.
Studies reveal that children who spent their first years at home during the pandemic, isolated from other children and other environments, are less likely to be able to vocalize and are growing at a slower pace. This creates problems for the child now, such as decreased language skills and reduced ability to recognize facial expressions because of mask wearing. They also demonstrate lower ability to focus and pay attention and less comfort with others besides those that have been caring for them. The lack of social interaction can also create difficulties for these children as they get older with their ability to socialize with others because of feelings of discomfort and lack of trust around others which could lead to separation anxiety. This may negatively affect their ability to develop problem solving skills which could lead to more defiant and aggressive behavior.
What to do
Stimulating babies brains through different senses is critical during these early years. For newborns and infants, visual stimulation with black and white colors are best and then adding more colors as they grow. Moving objects slowly around the eyes and face encourages eye contact and the ability to learn to understand different facial expressions. Stimulation through the hearing sense can be by talking, singing, playing music, and reading as exposing babies to different sounds creates different experiences for their brain development. Introducing different textures for the tactile (touch) sensory input such as soft, bumpy, or rough helps the brain learn how to process different information.
Tips for improving talking
Reaching language milestones are necessary for children’s social, emotional, and mental development. As communication is both verbal and non-verbal, it is essential to be able to communicate wants, thoughts, needs, and ideas at any age. Communication is quite different from infants to children, to adolescents to young adults, and then adults to the geriatric population. Communication is critical and it is learned from a very young age.
- Talking, talking and more talking to babies and toddlers is the number one way to increase their speech and language development. Point to objects around and name them. Give everything a label.
- It is important to read to children from birth and how you read to them changes as they grow. Using sing-song intonations and exciting facial expressions will help maintain their interest. Touch, point, and naming pictures and objects while you read is more important than the storyline at this age because it helps build vocabulary.
- Singing is another way to encourage talking. Singing a familiar song and then pausing before the last word allows babies and toddlers to fill in the word producing a babble, squeal, first sound or full word.
- During play use lots of body language, facial expressions, and exaggerated tones of voices to entice babies to watch during play and absorb all of the non-verbal and verbal information.
There is no “extra time” needed to be able to help stimulate baby’s young brains. Providing engaging, fun, interactive experiences throughout natural daily routines such as dressing, feeding, bathing, riding in the car and grocery shopping increases brain stimulation so babies can always be blooming!
Listening, understanding, stimulating, and forming strong attachments with love and security are essential for baby’s brains as well as their social and emotional development. The time spent with babies should be the most enriching and inspiring. Babies blooming journeys strongly depends upon continuous participation and strong active involvement.
Michelle Mintz, M.S., CCC-SLP, is the creator of Baby Blooming Moments™, a unique, one-on-one parent coaching experience empowering parents, siblings, grandparents, and nannies to enhance the way they interact with their babies and toddlers. She helps transform everyday in-the-moment interactions into fun, dynamic moments to increase communication and brain connections during those crucial early formative years. As The Early Development Expert, Michelle develops personalized, proactive strategies and hands-on activities to integrate throughout the day which enrich early attachments and social development, and helps all babies and toddlers bloom. She is also the author of All Done Binky!, a book to help support families with babies and toddlers weaning off pacifiers. Instagram; Facebook; LinkedIn