If you live or work with kids, you may have noticed the link between the pandemic and child development and you have probably seen some of these lingering effects.
The pandemic is over, but as child development professionals, we know that the effects of prolonged periods without consistent school, therapies, and childcare will linger indefinitely when it comes to developmental skills.
Those of us on the front lines (teachers, therapists and caregivers) are seeing these lasting effects every single day. From fine motor concerns to self-regulation issues to gross motor delays – we know that the consequences of 2 years of quarantine on child development are huge.
Here is what child development professionals are listing as the top challenges kids are now facing after missing out on important developmental experiences and opportunities during COVID.
The Pandemic & Child Development: The Lingering Effects
Many kids are now spending a good portion of the school day working on a laptop or tablet. With less exposure to handwriting, we’re seeing difficulty with:
Difficulty using scissors
Online learning didn’t do any favors for preschoolers who were ready to start practicing using scissors. Now, we’re seeing many kids who are 5 years old (and older) and still unable to grasp scissors properly, cut across paper, or cut on a line. This can be related to exposure/practice, hand strength, and/or coordination concerns.
Visual perception issues
Many teachers and therapists have noticed a substantial delay in visual perceptual skills like letter and number recognition and the ability to differentiate between uppercase and lowercase letters. Kids are struggling with recognizing their name in print and with activities that involve sorting and categorizing.
Social skills deficits
Probably the most obvious (and challenging) impact of COVID on younger populations is the effect that limited opportunities for socialization has had on kids’ ability to interact and self-regulate in social situations. We’re noticing huge struggles with peer-to-peer interactions including conflict resolution, sharing, taking turns, and appropriate play.
Due to more time on devices and less time playing and interacting with fine motor toys, child development professionals have noticed a decrease in hand strength that affects kids’ ability to: manage clothing fasteners, open lunch packages, manage clothing in the bathroom, grasp their pencil, cut with scissors, and more!
As pediatric OTs and PTs, we’ve seen decreased endurance for posture in classroom desks and chairs (fidgety, wiggly kids anyone?) and also for movement throughout the school buildings. Many kids are falling out of their chairs or lying down when asked to sit unsupported on the floor.
A decrease in core stability, especially in preschool, is resulting in w-sitting, “floppy” bodies, an inability to sit still, and awkward or uncoordinated gait patterns with kids using internal rotation at the hip for stability. Many kids are reporting that they have never been on a playground before and that they have had minimal outdoor exposure beyond transitioning from their home to the car.
One of the most prominent challenges we’ve noticed at The Treehouse since COVID is that kids are demonstrating less flexibility in their thinking and behavior and more difficulty with problem-solving (especially when it comes to peer interactions). Seemingly minor frustrations quickly escalate into full-blown meltdowns when kids don’t get their favorite color play dough or don’t get to sit in the chair they wanted. We know that these behaviors are commonly seen in autistic kids, however, we’re noticing these behaviors across the board with all of our children in our play groups. Many kids are readjusting to the social demands and expectations of classrooms after having fewer demands placed on them at home over the past couple of years.
Gross motor delays
Overall gross motor abilities are declining with increased struggles on the playground (difficulty climbing, decreased endurance, more tripping and falling) and with physical fitness standards and expected gross motor abilities in physical education class.
Executive functioning deficits
Many kids are struggling with problem solving, memory, attention, flexible thinking, impulse control, direction-following, multi-tasking and sequencing.
Body awareness problems
If you’ve seen a line of kids filing down the hallway of a school building lately, you’ll notice this issue right away, with kids pushing and running into each other. During group instruction times, this may look like kids being unable to maintain their own body space while sitting on the floor (leaning on others, etc.)
Some of us adults can relate to this one too! A more sedentary lifestyle during COVID (and maybe leaning on comfort foods to get through!) has led to weight gain for kids and adults alike. This can impact balance, coordination, endurance, and more!
For may more physically involved kids, a lack of upkeep with equipment during COVID and closures of outpatient therapy clinics resulted in issues like: orthotics being too small and kids outgrowing their standers and gait trainers.
Difficulty understanding differing abilities
Finally, COVID interrupted school and other inclusive programming that gave kids the opportunity to interact with peers of different backgrounds and abilities. This can impact kids’ ability to understand diverse ways of functioning and the supports or modifications that allow kids of all abilities to participate in school and other settings.
If you work in schools or other settings with kids or if you’re a parent or caregiver, you have probably noticed these links between the pandemic and child development. It can be frustrating to think about the ground that kids lost during the challenging time of COVID, but as pediatric therapists, teachers, and parents, we are poised and ready to support kids as they make up for lost time with developmental skills!
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