It’s no doubt that 2020 and the impact of COVID-19 has affected virtually every person on the planet. For infants and children under 2, the influence of the pandemic may not be very apparent as their routines likely didn’t change and they won’t remember it in the future. But what about toddlers and young preschoolers? Many children of this age may have previously been attending preschool or play dates and other planned activities, but now they experience social isolation.
“Early childhood represents a critical time period of brain development. For toddlers and preschool-aged children, brain development and learning are accomplished through a child’s everyday experiences,” said Lauren Soberon, PhD, a local licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in Haile Village. “When something disrupts that learning environment such as stress, illness or trauma, children can become at risk for negative developmental consequences. The current pandemic certainly represents a significant stressor for many households with young children.”
According to psychologists at the Sharp Mist Vista Hospital, children begin to develop more socially between the ages of 2 and 3 which help them understand lessons of life “that help prepare them for difficult transitions.” These interactions they have set the stage for the next stage of life like PreK and kindergarten and help ready them for the classroom environment. The lessons they learn from play and socialization including how to take turns, dealing with frustration and expressing their emotions in a positive way.
Not only has the pandemic affected young children but it has greatly impacted the family structure and put stress on parents and siblings. For Laura L., a local mom with three children, it has been extremely difficult dealing with her now 4-year-old, who is her oldest child.
“Being trapped at home has been tough for my very social 4-year-old. He had been in preschool for two years and should have been in pre-k this year,” Laura said. “He has ended up spending way more time in front of a screen than I ever thought would happen, but he has younger siblings and I can’t be full engaged with all three 24/7.”
It’s been mentally and emotionally taxing for Laura since she feels like she may not be doing what’s best for her son.
“I find I have a lot less patience with him when I don’t get a ‘break’ from him while he is at school. I am a better mom when I have a little time away from him especially with my younger two.”
It’s important for families to weigh all of the consequences of distancing young children home, Soberon said.
“Prior to COVID-19, studies of the effects of social isolation in children suggest that isolation is a risk factor for mental health difficulties, lower educational attainment, and physical health issues. Healthy family relationships and school connectedness have been found to be protective factors in developing children,” Soberon said. “It is essential that every household weigh their family’s personal risk benefit ratio when making decisions about schooling for their children. There are certainly current circumstances where in-person schooling is not appropriate for some households.”
Soberon recommends that parents explore the myriad of resources available online from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harvard University and organizations like the Collaborative on Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning which provide helpful articles and resources for parents and families.
Some of these organizations’ recommendations include enhancing back and forth intentional conversations with your children, maintaining social interaction with those outside of your household (virtually or socially distanced), establishing consistency in daily routines to promote a sense of stability, and incorporating information regarding social relationships and emotions into daily learning,” Soberon said. “All these strategies may facilitate continued appropriate development for those children currently not in school. Fostering social and emotional connectedness even in the midst of a pandemic is essential for our growing and developing children.”