In an April 2022 study in the journal Infancy, University of Zurich researchers studying infants before and after the pandemic found no change in infants’ ability to follow an adult’s eye gaze. "This ability is fundamental for engaging in social interactions, building relationships and developing language skills," says co-author Stephanie Wermelinger. They conclude, "We speculate that even though infants encounter fewer different people during the pandemic and are increasingly exposed to people wearing facial masks, they still also see non-covered faces. These contacts might be sufficient to provide infants with the social input they need to develop social and emotional competencies such as gaze following."
On the other hand, citing research from Columbia University, Rhode Island Hospital, the nonprofit LENA Foundation and others, USA Today reports, "Emerging evidence reveals an uptick in developmental delays and challenging behaviors in children belonging to the ‘COVID generation.’ Born during or shortly before the pandemic, many of these children are talking, walking and interacting later and less frequently. They're more prone to certain behaviors, such as outbursts, physical aggression and separation anxiety." The article concludes, "It could be years before researchers can adequately measure whether the pandemic had any material, long-term effect on early childhood development. In many cases, the lagging social skills are recoverable."
Exchange magazine author Christy Jones-Hudson notes, "It is important to remember that not all children will experience the COVID-19 pandemic in the same ways. Like adults, there are children who cope very well with stressful events. This is a good thing." Jones-Hudson adds this is more likely when, "children have caring, supportive, and compassionate adults around them as they endure and respond to trauma and stressful events."
In the wake of the pandemic, what evidence of negative impacts and resilience do you observe in young children—and how are you responding? Share in the comments, and we will compile your responses for a future ExchangeEveryDay.
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