In many ways, the pandemic has turned our lives upside-down. Here at ICT, we certainly had to reinvent our day-to-day to continue serving children and families! Over a year into it, we’re meeting parents of toddlers and preschoolers who are asking us an important question: Will the pandemic have long-term effects on my child’s language and social development? 

Concerns About Covid19’s Effects on Language and Social Development

We know that the first five years of development are a critical window, and that interactions with caregivers (especially during years 0-3) drive foundational skills during that time. Within the context of warm, secure and interactive relationships with caregivers, children learn language, social skills, emotional regulation, and countless other foundational abilities. 

In many cases, these critical caregiver-child interactions have been disrupted by pandemic-related stressors such as parents struggling with worry, illness, unemployment, working from home without childcare, and loss of social support. While research is needed, it’s possible that some children’s skills may be delayed as a result. And this could be more pronounced for children with pre-existing developmental delays.  

Interestingly, for parents with fewer stressors, the pandemic might have increased their interactions, having a positive effect on their children’s development. 

Should Parents Worry? 

First – any time you’re worried about your child’s development, it’s a good idea to get an evaluation. Early intervention means you start tackling issues during that critical 0-5 window, so a wait-and-see approach can lead to missing out on some of that unique time when the most long-lasting changes can take place. 

When looking at the pandemic in particular, it is possible that changes in daily life have affected your child’s language and social milestones. However, we believe in the resiliency of children, and if you act on worries now, the chances of your child catching up are higher. 

Aside from seeking an evaluation from a speech-language pathologist, here are some things you can do at home to support your child’s language and social skills: 

  • Take advantage of natural moments of togetherness to talk with your child. If you’re finding that it’s difficult to spend dedicated time with your child due to pandemic stressors, make the most of daily routines such as a meal or bedtime to talk to your child. Try to keep this time distraction-free. Look at your child, listen to them, and TALK! If they’re not speaking yet, narrate routines and initiate back-and-forth with gestures, facial expressions and sounds.
  • Try to find brief opportunities to play together. When you have a lot on your plate, sitting down to play with your child for half an hour isn’t always doable. But even 5 minutes of fully-engaged playtime can be powerful!
  • Fit in a book a day. Reading with your child is one of the most important things you can do to support their language development. Bedtime is a natural time to do this, and while your child may love to read book after book, if you can only fit in one that’s ok and still has great benefits!
  • Say yes to video chats. While we advise limiting traditional screen time for many reasons, research shows that video chats with grandparents or other people close to a child support language development. During the past year video chats have become the norm in many ways, so feel free to keep those in the mix for your child.

The big takeaway is that if you’re worried about your child falling behind in language or social development during the pandemic, act now, and don’t underestimate the power of even brief but meaningful interactions with them.