Children who were born during lockdown have found to have poorer social and communication skills, according to new research.
Parents who were worried the lack of interaction their babies had with other kids, grandparents, family and friends during the early days of the pandemic were right to be concerned, as the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences found these children have met fewer communication milestones during their first year of life.
Professor Jonathan Hourihane, head of the department of paediatrics at RCSI, said: “Lockdown measures may have impacted the scope of language heard and sight of unmasked faces speaking to them, while also curtailing opportunities to encounter new items of interest which might prompt pointing, and the frequency of social contacts to enable them to learn to wave.”
In the study, 309 ‘pandemic’ babies were assessed at 12 months old, as part of the CORAL (Impact of CoronaVirus Pandemic on Allergic and Autoimmune Dysregulation in Infants Born During Lockdown) project.
They were compared with BASELINE (Babies After SCOPE: Evaluating the Longitudinal Impact using Neurological and Nutritional Impact) babies, who were born between 2008 and 2011 in Ireland.
It was found that 97.5 per cent of CORAL children were able to crawl at one years old, compared with 91 per cent of BASELINE babies. However, 77 per cent of CORAL infants could say one definite word, in comparison with 89 per cent of BASELINE kids. Similarly, 88 per cent of CORAL babies could wave bye-bye, while 94.5 per cent of BASELINE children were able to do so at 12 months of age.
Dr Susan Byrne from the RCSI Department of Paediatrics and FutureNeuro commented that social isolation during the first few months of the babies’ lives has “impacted more on social communication skills than motor skills”.
The children are now undergoing two-year assessments to determine what the social and communication outcomes for CORAL kids has become over time.
While Dr Byrne is confident their communication skills will improve as they are allowed to spend more time with people and can play with other toddlers, she asserts lockdown children will “need to be followed up to school age to ensure that this is the case”.
There are many ways parents can increase children’s social circles at this age, even if they do not attend another childcare setting. Local libraries, for instance, often run Storytime sessions for toddlers and babies where they can meet other children their age.
You could also find music or sports classes, such as football, gymnastics, or rugby, aimed at toddlers that can help them develop their social abilities. Soft play centres and museums also frequently hold events for pre-schoolers that include activities and playing.
Alternatively, there are plenty of things you could do with your child at home. For instance, role play games, such as having a teddy bear’s picnic, going shopping, or playing with dolls, helps encourage talking.
Making up stories together develops imagination and expression, as well as understanding social situations and etiquette. Playing charades or with puppets teaches them more about gestures and facial expressions, instead of relying solely on words.
What’s more, simply playing games helps them learn how to take turns and that it is okay to lose.
Try to take your children to as many social events as possible, such as bringing them along to their older siblings’ friends’ parties, if you can. This will give them a taste of big crowds, lots of chatter, and social gatherings.
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