How your little one can adapt (and even thrive!) in this new reality.
COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of daily life, including your little one’s social calendar. While it’s natural to worry about whether missing preschool or music lessons affect your child’s development, many experts say that staying home isn’t always as bad as it might seem. Studies show that even during “normal times” the most important thing you can give your child is lots and lots of time with you.
“For kids under 5, this may actually be great for them,” developmental psychologist Amy Learmonth explains. “Just having mom and dad home to attach with 24/7 —we may come out of this and realize we have a lot of kids who now have really healthy attachment styles.”
Spending lots of time together is developmentally beneficial: a child’s brain architecture depends on the responsive relationships they have with caring adults. They learn through you how to communicate, regulate feelings, and move around in the world. According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, children who have healthy, interactive relationships with their parents starting at birth tend to have stronger cognitive skills, social competence, and work skills later in life.
Building this healthy relationship with your child can be as simple as incorporating back-and-forth “serve-and-return” interactions into everyday moments. If your child babbles in their high chair, you talk back. If your child hands you a spoon, you show them how to use it. It may not be immediately obvious, but through these simple interactions, you’re helping your child build a world of new skills.
Here are a few more ways to keep supporting your child’s development from home –and from a distance if you’re unable to be at home right now.
How to support your child’s development during COVID-19:
- Read every day: Reading a book every day provides valuable one-on-one time and has been shown to improve everything from language skills to graduation rates. Plus, reading is a great way to build social and emotional skills in the absence of everyday interactions with other children or family members. Try picking books about love, feelings, friendship, and family.
- Schedule video calls: Keep grandma or a cousin on top-of-mind with a video call! Try these fun activities if you’re experiencing video chat fatigue. No worries if your child can only sustain a short conversation –even a few minutes of connection are better than none.
- Play often! Schedule time every day for play. Even just 15 minutes can spark millions of new brain connections. Try Jenga or dominoes or keep it simple with something like Patty Cake. Whatever you choose, leave your phone behind! In order for your child to get the most out of playtime, they need your undivided attention. Looking for playtime ideas? Check your Daily activity plan!
- Practice mindfulness: Now is a great time to start building resilience as a family. Focusing on what you can control and letting go of what you can’t is a key tenet of meditation. Here are a few ways to practice.
Whether you’re a frontline worker, divorced, or live away from your child, staying connected and involved in your child’s development is still possible at a distance. Here are a few ways to stay in touch and make those video chats a little more fun! FYI, if you’re worried about screen time: the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that if you’re interacting –instead of passively watching–, screen time can be okay. Because video calls allow for interaction, it’s not as concerning as watching television or playing video games.
- Have dinner together: Accompany your little one during a meal. Place your phone or laptop near you during dinner time, and maybe have conversation topics picked out ahead of time.
- Read: Take five to ten minutes to read a book together before bed or during your lunch break. Prefer to go screenless? No problem. Your child will still appreciate hearing the sound of your voice.
- Bake together: You don’t have to be a professional to bake a boxed cake. Keep it simple and follow the same recipe step-by-step. Celebrate by eating a slice together!
- Send letters: Draw pictures or cards and send them to each other every week. Soon, you’ll develop a collection that you’ll cherish forever.
If your child is upset about not being able to see family or friends, validate their feelings and remind them that it’s about keeping everyone safe. We’ll see each other again one day, but for now, we can focus on talking over the phone or deepening connections with our immediate family. The more we can teach our children to adapt and move forward, the more resilient they’ll be in the future.