With many primary school pupils learning at home, and toddlers missing out on critical social interactions with their peers, parents of young children have concerns about the long-term impact of long periods spent at home.
‘This is not normal for a baby of her age’
Lucy, 35, a mother of two, in Brighton said she was concerned that her 10-month-old daughter was missing out on crucial milestones of early development, particularly surrounding social interaction and understanding facial expressions.
“My daughter doesn’t like face-masks, they really upset her. She cries if someone wearing a mask tries to talk to her, but when they don’t have a mask on, she would smile at them,” she said. “She’s at the age where that is really important. It’s a natural part of childhood development.”
Having been born during the first lockdown, Lucy is also concerned that her daughter isn’t interacting with other babies.
“She has never sat down next to another baby,” she said. “When I think back to my experience when my son was a baby, it was quite typical of all of my friends with children to get together on almost a daily basis.”
It’s a similar pattern Lucy has noticed among her friends.
“My friend’s child, for example, if we’re on a walk and you say ‘hello’ to them while they’re in their pram, they just burst into tears. Because that child, who was around 10 months old at the time, hasn’t interacted with anyone but her mother. This is just not normal for a baby of her age”.
‘Screen time seems to be like a drug’
For Jason Kedzuch’s daughter, who is nearly three, a third of her life has been spent in lockdown, and he’s concerned about the impact this may have on her social development.
“While my four-year-old son thrives on interactions with other children, my daughter seems to be much more solitary and very physically connected to my partner in particular,” said Kedzuch, 40, who lives in London.
“With my son, [who’s in reception] my concerns are more about education and progress. It is misguided to assume this cohort of children, millions, are all going to go back to school and pick up where they left off because everyone is going to be in different places. If and when he returns and feels behind, what if he starts to resent learning?”
Kedzuch’s son has also struggled with his emotions during lockdown, particularly in the latest period of stay-home orders.
“He’s become emotionally unstable and has consistent mood swings. From infancy, he has always needed to be outside all of the time, but now he would rather sit on the couch,” said Kedzuch.“When we do walk-bys outside to say hi, it’s a double-edged sword because he wants to touch, and play, and hug his friends.”
Kedzuch said that he sees a “marked difference” in his children when they’ve spent a lot of time on screens. “He’s already on screens for school quite a bit, and video chatting with friends just increases the screen time.
“They become incredibly high energy and confrontational. Screen time seems to be like a drug. You open the door and they want more and more.”
‘My seven-year-old daughter has been far more emotional’
Increased levels of screen time also concerns 39-year-old Rachel Hunt, who is mother to a daughter aged seven and son aged three.
“Homeschooling is tough. Our primary school don’t do face-to-face live lessons, so she’s just sat on her laptop all day trying to find information,” she said.
My husband helps with our three-year-old during the day and works nights, and I work full-time,” she said. “I’d love nothing more than to sit with her all day, and help and engage, but we just haven’t got the time.”
While her three-year-old child is enjoying having his family around the house, Hunt said her seven-year-old is missing her friends and is “desperate to get back to school”, having had just one term of in-person classes since March.
“My daughter has become far more emotional. She cries at the smallest things. She used to be a good sleeper, but is now having issues getting to sleep, and staying asleep, often getting up several times a night,” said Hunt, who lives in Sussex. “I think it’s the isolation.”
Hunt is confident that her daughter will catch up with education, but has concerns about the impact on her mental wellbeing, and the adjustment back to normal life.
“I am concerned that both of my children have missed a year of their lives now, a year of social development, family contact, day trips, just life in general. It worries me that the adjustment back to ‘normal’, whenever that may be, will cause its own set of problems,” she said.
‘He finds it very difficult with school being at home’
For some neuro-diverse children, a lack of structure and support networks can exacerbate these problems. Sarah Burgess’ 10-year-old son was diagnosed with autism last spring, and unlike her eight-year-old daughter, has found the lack of distinction between school and home particularly hard.
“When my son was at school his day was much more structured and he had more of a routine. But school being at home just seems wrong to him, as there isn’t a boundary between home and school like there used to be,” said Burgess, 42, in Stafford.
She added: “He finds it very difficult with school being at home, not having clear instructions as he doesn’t have any live lessons as they’re are all pre-recorded. He’s quite studious and gets on with his work, but he finds the uncertainty of not knowing how long homeschooling will go on for quite difficult.”