Aside from keeping their family safe from the coronavirus, parents of young children are having a tough time ensuring healthy emotional growth, says Rewati Rau. They are also facing a lack of socialization
Shreya Gupta felt she had it all sorted ever since her MNC announced remote work in the wake of the lockdown. It was imposed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. She was relieved that she could finally be more hands-on with her 2 and a half-year-old son Ishaan. And will not feel the pang in her stomach leaving him back home while she went to work. However, the work-from-home life turned out to be much more time-consuming. And somewhere in the middle of the lockdown, Gupta felt Ishaan was missing out on major milestones. He wasn’t able to communicate as a child his age usually would. He was feeling a lack of socialization around her That’s when the Gupta’s decided to meet a development pediatrician.
Lack of socialization in toddlers
Gupta realized Ishaan wasn’t the only one struggling. Even as the world went into lockdown, toddlers became a huge casualty, of a lack of socialization. For example, if things were normal Ishaan would probably be going to a playschool and interacting with children of his age. In the absence of any such interactions, he wasn’t able to even develop basic vocabulary or even string a two-phase sentence properly. Dr. Himani Narula Khanna, Consultant Development Pediatrician at Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital explains,
“In nuclear families, both parents are working and toddlers are hooked to gadgets. They’re not going out to play and there’s a lack of social stimulation. That’s what causing multiple problems in toddlers.”
Ishaan’s parents like many other millennials have been working extra hours through the day in the work-from-home scenario. That leaves toddlers with little choice but to depend on gadgets to be their friends and playmates. And that’s where the problems begin. To make things worse, parents are wary of sending their children for play so the usual playtime banter which helps children learn several words, is missing.
It’s not always easy to spot mental health issues in toddlers. Doctors highlight a few red flags. Dr Priyanka Kapoor, the clinical psychologist at BLK Super Speciality Hospital, says, “Some of the worrying signs are when your child has difficulty sleeping, has nightmares, is withdrawn, cries for no reason and complaints of a stomach ache or headache with no other health problems. Some of these troubled children are always afraid of being alone and have decreased interest in playing.”
Dr Khanna lists out important growth milestones in toddlers and explains, “Babies start to babble by six months. By the time they’re one, they start using monosyllables. At about 18 months, they have a vocabulary of at least ten words with five meaningful words. At the age of two, their vocabulary has more than 200 words with two-word sentences and finally at three, they have about 800-1000 words in their vocabulary with the ability to construct three-word phrases.” Dr. Khanna also flags incidents like the child not responding is too clingy. “It’s also a worrying sign when the toddler keeps asking for gadgets and goes into a temper tantrum when they’re denied the gadget,” she says.
It’s tough to predict when life will be normal again with toddlers learning about life’s wonders through their daily social interactions. But while we aspire for that it’s time to focus on a few important areas to ensure your child doesn’t miss out on the beautiful things of life.
Dedicated play time
Just as you schedule your meetings during the day, ensure to keep an uninterrupted (gadget-free) time to just play with your child. In the absence of the child’s usual playmates, it’s the parents who have to play all the roles possible.
Let them talk
Dr. Kapoor explains it’s not possible for children to express the problems they are going through so they convey through their behavior. “That is why we should provide space to share their emotions.” Kids can express their feelings through facial expressions, through their body, their behavior, and play. Sometimes they may act out their feelings in physical, inappropriate, or problematic ways. Pravesh Gaur, mental health expert, founder & CEO, Srauta Wellness, explains, “Childhood days are the foundation years of an individual’s life. It, of course, has gone haywire globally but we have to figure out what is best for our next generation. Mental issues like anxiety and depression often start at the pent-up feelings of a child.
Making open, positive, and frequent interactions can help them to a great extent in expressing themselves. You don’t have to judge them but need to channelize their energies in a positive direction, with the family’s support or avail professional support for the same.”
Schedule their day
Setting a schedule is one of the most underrated therapies for children. Divide their day into sections and ensure they are able to use their energy doing all the tasks mentioned in the schedule. Adds Gaur, “There is a reason why schools are run, it is not only about following a curriculum but to instill discipline and values at an early age. Help them with a timetable and make them follow it so that their cycle falls back into place. Make a room in their home-school for playing on the terrace and leisure time to invest in a hobby or something recreational which they enjoy.”
Children find solace in stories. And times like these call for comforting tales to make them feel safe, secure and loved. Tell them stories of resilience, courage and kindness. While it will be a great way to spend time, these storytelling sessions will also strengthen the bond with your toddler.
Social interaction (lack of socialization)
It might seem like an aberration in the current scenario but a limited social interaction is imperative for your toddler’s healthy mental development. Dr. Khanna, says, “While children living in joint families are doing better, those living in nuclear families need to have small social interactions with peers. It’s also a great idea to take them out and play in the sun with some children of their age.