Many babies and toddlers have lived their whole lives in lockdown and parents are understandably concerned. Here’s what not to worry about! 

While much of the world has experienced a dip in births over the course of the pandemic, Australia has had a bit of a pandemic baby boom! And that means that there are lots of babies and toddlers who’ve never experienced life without face masks, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders.

Many of those same tykes have yet to go on regular playdates, attend mummy-and-me classes, or enjoy in-person visits from extended family and parents are (understandably) worried.

But parents can take heart that the kids really will be alright – here’s why.

Your baby needs you the most! 

Infancy is an important period for social development, but you don’t need other babies for your bub to pick up all the skills they need. In fact, pandemic or not, children up to age 3 mostly interact with adults. What children truly need at this age is a caregiver who tunes into— and promptly responds to — their distinct coos, bleats, yelps and cries.

They also need a grown-up who talks to them regularly, always pausing to allow a natural back-and-forth filled with sweet babbles. Babies need to be read to. They need a caregiver who’ll play copycat with them, with words and games.

So, while all those mum-and-me classes are incredibly helpful for parents, the key to your baby’s social development lies with you.

Dr Harvey Karp reassures parents that what newborns need most is you.

Kids have time to catch up.

Learning is all about sharing, turn-taking, and conflict resolution are important for your toddler but developing these types of social skills is a process that’s learned over many years. That means that a pandemic-sized bump in the road won’t fully derail your child. To keep them on track, practice social-emotional skills at home.

For example, look for opportunities to share and take turns, using simple kid-phrases like, “It’s my turn,” “Do you wanna play?” and “Can I share?” Read storybooks together that address social-emotional themes and become a “good social skills” detective by calling out instances when your tot has made a good choice, like sharing a toy with you.

Take it a step further, and comment on other people’s good choices when your toddler is in earshot, too. These types of casual overheard comments easily side-door the important lessons to your tyke.

Video chatting is good for them!

While it can be tricky to get rambunctious toddlers to sit for a phone call with cousins and grandparents, it’s worth a try to start video chatting… especially when COVID-19 restrictions continue to keep little ones away from extended family.

A report in the journal Developmental Science found that when tots reach 17 months old they really start to get something positive out of video chats, so it’s a great idea to schedule some! Consider setting up a regular virtual story time with a beloved auntie or calling Gran during snack or play time, making sure that both grandparent and kiddo are “sharing” the same treat or toy, creating a shared social experience. 

“The key to your baby’s social development lies with you!”

Getting outside is the right move.

With COVID-19 still circulating, it can be scary getting out and about to play, but there’s no reason to feel guilty about it. Children, especially those between age 1 and 5, find being housebound particularly tough. They need to run and frolic and be silly!

Get them as much fresh air, sunshine, and get-your-wiggles-out time as you can manage while still feeling safe. (Guidelines say children aged 1 to 5 should be physically active every day for at least three hours, spread throughout the day.)

For older toddlers and preschoolers, consider coordinating weekly one-on-one or small group outdoor meetups to get some social skills practice in and to have some fun.

Just avoid activities where you’re tightly confined or in big crowds and have everyone wash hands and wear masks. You’ll be surprised how much scheduled outdoor fun can really turn a mood around — for everyone!