Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected each of our social lives as adults, it has also affected the social lives of young children. Early on in life, children learn how to interact with other people, including their peers. They build their communication, language, speech, and social skills by watching and listening to their peers, older children, their parents, and other adults in their lives. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, young children have not had access to many natural opportunities to interact with others and develop these essential skills.
At Budding Voices, we have noticed a trend of young children who have atypical social skills and/or language delays. This is most likely an effect of the pandemic. Young children have had fewer chances to meet and play with other children in their community. Preschools are mostly shut down, and play groups are not meeting. During some of the most critical phases of their development, children are not getting to see peer models of play skills or practice communication skills with their peers. Their interactive play skills and social skills typically develop when they have meaningful play time with other children. Without that opportunity to see peers in action and interact with them, their only play and communication partners are their parents and possibly their siblings.
Since there have not been as many gatherings with family and friends, children have not had as much opportunity to spend time with adults other than their parents. While parents are the most important communication partner for young children, especially in the early years, it is also important for children to communicate with unfamiliar listeners. Parents tend to both anticipate their child’s needs and understand their child better than an average listener. This tends to allow the child to meet their needs without having to speak much, if at all.
When communicating with other adults, it forces children to use their full range of speech and language skills to communicate what they want or need, rather than utilizing the “shorthand” that they can use with their parents. Family gatherings also allow for children to be surrounded by many models of speech and language, since people speak differently.
Finally, children have not had as many in-person experiences that typically elicit language or provide opportunities for more varied language. These could include things such as programs at the library, trips to the zoo or aquarium, vacations, sports and more. The non-tangible, virtual experiences that have replaced so many in-person experiences do not benefit a child’s development as thoroughly. As the vaccines continue to be developed for younger ages, and as more activities are opening up, the opportunities for these language-rich experiences will grow. Any opportunity for children to safely be around their peers, new people, or new experiences will help fill the developmental gaps caused by the pandemic. Their development will not be instantaneously fixed by socializing with peers; it may take a while to make up for the deficit of social experiences in their young years.
Pediatricians and speech-language pathologists are both good resources for any parent who is concerned about their child’s social, speech, or language development. We are all still discovering the various ways that the pandemic has affected each of us in life; in the field of speech-language pathology, that is no different. Each day, we are learning more about how the pandemic has affected development, and we are looking to address that as best we can.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here