‘Empathy isn’t there’: the pandemic effects on children’s social skills

If children have siblings and they’ve mixed with others, they tend to be on the same level socially as before the pandemic. But the ones who are only children and have just been in the household with mum and dad don’t know how to interact.

They have issues with sharing, being very overexcited and turn-taking. They’re quite advanced in numbers and letters for their age because they’ve been at home with adults, or they’ve been playing a lot on tablets, but they are very behind socially, the empathy isn’t there.

Where I work it is a fairly affluent area, there aren’t a great deal of social problems. It seems to be the slightly more middle-class children who’re socially behind. They’re more likely to be only children, have older parents, and their parents are mostly office workers so they worked from home and were more isolated. A lot of children were put on tablets.

It’s not a criticism of the parents because they were forced into that situation, but you can see it in the children’s social skills. Under five, social skills are everything, it’s the marker of how they will develop more than whether they can say the alphabet or count to 10. Children with good social skills and interaction, even if they’re not the quickest at learning to read or write, often have the best educational outcomes.

Parents are presenting with a higher level of anxiety about how their kids are developing. They ask “is my child normal?” Lots of parents are saying “my child is autistic” and the child clearly isn’t. They’re just presenting schematic behaviour, they line things up and do things continually, which is just how toddlers develop. We have to assure them this behaviour is normal, it’s normal for a toddler to snatch. Parents haven’t had the opportunity to talk to other parents, so they’re at home and Google something and it opens a can of worms.

The parents are definitely making it worse for their children socially and for themselves. We’ve got one particular little boy, he’s four and he’s not ever mixed with children at all. The mum is extremely nervous about Covid and so over-anxious that as soon as he cries, she’ll keep him off because she thinks he’s been traumatised. He’s a completely normal boy but he’s not being given a chance because her anxiety is transferring on to him.

There’s a whole bunch of children who no matter what preschool does they won’t be ready for school. In a preschool with 30 children you’ll have four or five adults; in a school you’ll have one teacher. They don’t have the time to take a child to the toilet or to make them sit still, the child has to be ready.


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