How lockdowns hurt your child’s socialisation ability

By Jasmine Atieno
Wednesday, April 7th, 2021
Mother-child relationship.
In summary
    • Researchers are beginning to gather data on how Covid-19 pandemic will affect children, though, it is still too early to tell.
    • There is a huge void for children as they learn about how to reciprocate relationships, respect other opinions and maintain a conversation through peer interaction.
    • This ability to understand others’ perspectives, viewpoints and emotions is referred to as ‘theory of mind.’ Children who develop these social-cognitive ‘mind-reading’ skills are more altruistic, empathetic, and kind to others than those who fail to develop an understanding of others’ thoughts.

Little ones thrive on interactions. So, what happens when a pandemic puts socialisation on the back burner? We talk to parents on how they have been coping.

Yes, we are living in unprecedented times. We have never encountered such dynamics in our lives; therefore, there isn’t any script to lean on when it comes to the effects of a pandemic on the well-being of children.

We cautiously perceive life through a lens of fear and uncertainty and this can be a double-edged sword when it comes to how we nurture our infants and toddlers. 

Kauthar Wanjiku’s eight-month-old-son, Yaseen, was born right in the middle of Covid-19 pandemic.

The only people that he came in contact with during this time were his mum and grandmother.

As Kauthar shares, this has brought along its own challenges. “Two months after he was born, he got used to only two voices.

My mum and I. If any other visitor came to the house, he would cry till the person left.

So, even after things eased up and we could allow our close people to visit, he would not let any other person carry him except my mum and I.

Right now, he is making some adjustments to my nephews because of the playful nature of children, but is still resistant towards adults. My challenge is I can’t even go out with him for a long time.

If two hours pass, he will cry nonstop until we return back to the house, I can’t go out to eat in a restaurant because again, it is strange for him.

He got so used to being in his home environment,” shares the new mum.

Delayed skills?

For Sophia Karan, things were slightly different as her one-year-old daughter was introduced to the extended family right from birth. She shares the lockdown might have come in handy.

“I live with my parents and unfortunately, I still did not have my own house when my child came.

My siblings were home and a few of my nieces were brought to spend the lockdown with their grandparents.

So my daughter found a full house. It helped a lot because she would play with grandpa and the other children while I got time to rest and do other things.

I am sure it helped a lot,” says the 24-year-old fashion blogger and mother of one.  

Experts say that children born and raised during this pandemic will have delay in social skills.

Additionally, this is an age where children learn how to share and we are kind of encouraging no sharing.

But interpersonal skills such as sharing or learning how to work in a group are not the only areas of concern. Paediatricians have noted delays in speech and language.

But as child psychologist Faith Mutegi shares, in spite of the restrictions on movement and social interaction, it is important and possible that parents nurture the emotional and social component of development by having or creating safe spaces within which loved ones can interact with the child.  

“The main strategy that parents and guardians can put in place that will relieve or mitigate against a sense of overwhelm when thinking of a child’s future is a reliable and flexible routine for the child and themselves too.

Routines foster a sense of security and discipline and gradually help a child to navigate through the uncertainties that life may throw their way every now and then. 

Children process change best if it is expected and occurs in the setting of a familiar routine.

Routines allow children to feel safe, and to develop a sense of mastery in handling their lives no matter how young they may be,” says Faith.  

In the formative years, the child’s sense of safety and security come from their immediate caregivers.

With this in mind, the parents and guardians of the children play a vital role in how they mirror the world to the child.

This means that the caregiver’s self-care strategies need to be put in place and continually reviewed as they are the main foundation of a child’s sense of belonging.

 Important lessons

Somewhere between ages two and three, children begin to notice each other — and learn important life lessons that prepare them for difficult transitions.

The interactions they have at this foundational age make it easier for them to move into kindergarten, as they can better integrate into a group learning environment.

It is also around this age where children begin to understand the value of friendships.

It won’t be until middle or high school when peer groups become influential, helping them develop a sense of identity.

“Children can sense when things are not right through how they are cared for and related with. So it all boils down to how the parents of infants and toddlers are navigating the pandemic.

Parents should continually evaluate if they are refuelling their “emotional tanks” since they are continually giving and giving, but hardly take an extended period to recharge.

This is where, even though they are meant to social distance, parents should not navigate parenting as lone rangers, but actively create a network/ village/community of people that in turn becomes their child’s community in due course,” says the expert.   

“All in all, the effects, (both positive and negative) of the pandemic will keep being unravelled as days go by.

Meanwhile, there is a quote parents can tap into: “In times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.”

Restrain yourself from viewing the world from a lens of fear and anxiety and build routines that will gradually reduce the overwhelm that this pandemic keeps throwing your way,” Faith advises. 

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