There have been numerous reports over the last two years regarding children and the impact of covid on their mental health. Primarily these relate to the impact of the full lockdowns, especially when childcare settings were closed or restricted, and universally they have shared pretty bleak and worrying findings.
For younger children there have also been reports around speech and language delay concerns, and a lack of children who have had the support they would have had if lockdowns had not been in place. Lockdowns did not just affect day-to-day childcare but also access to diagnostic paths and support which would normally be available to those children who have additional needs.
Even since the lockdowns in the UK there have also been issues with children having access to good local childcare as so many settings have been forced to close due to the impact of closures and the more recent hikes to running costs as gas and electricity bills go sky high.
Some stories, particularly on social media, have been more along the scaremongering tactic side – saying that children will struggle with speech due to everyone wearing masks all the time. However, in reality, most children were at home with parents at the height of lockdown and parents would not have been wearing masks around the home, so this is likely correlation more than causation during those early months.
There is no doubt that high quality childcare has a huge impact on the early development of children. However it is not necessarily the case that every child lacked this during the last 2 years or so. Those who had parents and access to good resources at home, with dedicated time and care from their parents, are more likely to have had close bonds with family and good engagement with a range of activities akin to what a nursery would have provided in that time.
Sadly, however, not every home was able to provide this for a multitude of possible reasons. For some children their parents were busy trying to work from home and keep money coming in. For some their parents may have actually had covid or suffered loss of other family members leading to grief and stress taking over the home situation. Some children may not have parents who are able to provide high quality learning resources and they may not have had access to outdoor space – living in high rise blocks of flats for example. And realistically we know that some children will have spent far more time watching TV or using digital devices than usual.
All of these things would have an impact on a child’s development. And for even very young children they may have picked up on stress and concern from parents who were struggling with lockdowns themselves.
There is no blame to be apportioned here – it is important to recognise that. We were all thrown into the deep end in a situation none of us had experienced before and although we were all in the same storm we all had different boats to survive on. Some had yachts and others had rafts. But how has this impacted the cohorts we see on intakes now?
There has certainly been reported increases in children arriving at preschool and school having not been toilet trained – in higher numbers than usual. Some children are lacking fine motor skills or gross motor skills we would expect at their ages. Some children lack the usual wide vocabularies we might expect – even from families who would, lockdowns excepted, have prided themselves on encouraging their children in all of these things. With playgroups closed to parents many would struggle to offer the same early childhood as they likely had planned during their pregnancies.
The reality of covid lockdowns are far reaching. But that does not mean it is an entirely bleak situation. Many children have experienced more time with parents and primary caregivers than they may otherwise have had. Which for some means they are more confident and self assured than they might have been if their parents worked out of the home more. For many parents working from home is here to stay which means they are much more available to their children for more hours of the day as the daily commute is no longer an issue.
It will probably be a long time before we can really see how these lockdown babies progress. Perhaps we will have lots to look back on fondly – maybe these are future generations who can take on the world in a different way and make big changes. I know that my own children see their future work life as sitting on the bed on their laptops though, so perhaps they will be a bit disenchanted when they reach the workplace?!
What is evident, and has been made even more clear during the lockdowns, is that great early years provision does make a huge difference. And although it may present a challenge, we know that your superhero childcare practitioners are going to be on hand to support children through whatever struggles they may have in a post lockdown world.