Will lockdown affect my kids’ social skills development?

“Young children are social beings; they love social activity and this is a huge part of their early development and learning about life. Not being able to meet with friends and family will have been unusual for them and they would be questioning what’s going on,” says Professor Eric Atmore, director of the Centre for Early Childhood Development.

However, says Prof Atmore, children are resilient and if you’ve explained the coronavirus and lockdown to your child in a way that they understand, they should come through this lockdown and pandemic unharmed.

ALSO SEE: How to talk to your kids about the coronavirus and the lockdown

There might be some behaviour changes though, says educational and counselling psychologist, Rosalind Macnab. “Toddlers aren’t able to express their emotions and often act out when they don’t understand what’s going on.” A sudden change in routine and lack of structure can affect your little one’s socio-emotional development, so if she’s not back at day care yet, try and get her back in a routine.

ALSO SEE: Building a routine for your kids during COVID-19

Rosalind adds that many children may become needy and seek attention, or display inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour at times. “Remember, negative attention is better than none and a child’s adjustment will be dependent on your understanding of how the change in the daily routine has influenced your child,” she explains.

What long-term effects does social distancing have on toddlers?

It’s been more than 120 days since we were allowed to visit family and friends – and early childhood development centres only opened in July. How has this affected our children’s social skills, and what lasting impact will it have on them? This is a question that’s top of mind for many parents.

Rosalind says children can still connect to significant others, including friends, and have short, regular conversations with them through technology – whether it’s using face-time, a Zoom call or WhatsApp video call. “Although this doesn’t equate to real-life interaction, it will allow for some form of ‘bridging’ and thereby connection/interaction with others,” she says. “This, however, may not be possible for some families in which case, the emotional effect on children will be more significant,” she adds.

Before you start thinking your toddler will turn into a recluse once lockdown ends, take a deep breath and take into account the resilience children have. “This will serve as a buffer in terms of the emotional effect of the present situation, their ability to adjust and their experience thereof,” says Rosalind. Prof Atmore agrees saying: “Initially there will have been disappointment and uncertainty because kids are very social, but this will wear off as children meet up with friends and family again as the lockdown levels are eased.”

Separation anxiety may set in

“Unfortunately, the current inability to see significant others will influence a child’s relationship with family members and friends. Many will experience separation anxiety when they have to return to school or have long visits/sleepovers with grandparents and other family members,” says Rosalind.

She adds that many children are reluctant to return to school at present and prefer online lessons. “Your attitude and fears will also influence your child’s willingness to return to their former means of contact with others,” Rosalind adds.

ALSO SEE: Dealing with childhood separation anxiety

How to develop your child’s social skills at home

“In terms of our new normal, we have to teach our children new practices, such as greeting friends and family without hugs,” says Rosalind. She adds that emphasis on hand washing, sneezing into their elbows and so on, and the repetition and practice of these methods will help toddlers to socialize accordingly.

Parents should be role models for their children, but at the same time be aware that their own fears about COVID-19 will influence their children’s social skills. “Remember children pick up on your anxiety and concerns and toddlers don’t understand the reasons or magnitude of the current situation,” says Rosalind.

ALSO SEE: How to stop your lockdown frustration from affecting your kids

Keep your little social butterfly aflutter with these tips from Rosalind and Prof Atmore:

  • Make time for that face-time call with family and friends – especially if your tot is not back at day care yet.
  • Have regular conversations with your kids – this will encourage their interaction with others. Tell them stories about when you were a child. They love that!
  • Sing with your little one and read to them.
  • Build puzzles together and have a tea party or treasure hunt with imaginary friends.

“Children will adapt to this in their own unique way and once again, their personalities will determine the success of adapting so that they don’t become introverted,” says Rosalind.

More about the experts:

Professor Eric Atmore is an associate professor in Education Policy Studies at Stellenbosch University and director of the Centre for Early Childhood Development. Learn more about Prof Eric Atmore here.

Rosalind Macnab was a pre-school, primary and high school teacher for 20 years before switching careers and establishing a psychology practice (educational and counselling). Rosalind’s specialities include child and adolescent therapy, family therapy and guidance as well as neuropsychological and Educational assessments. Visit The Psychology and Wellness Centre for a list of psychologists and other experts.

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