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An Opinion Piece from a Pandemic Parent: Toddler Social Development

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

Parents don’t need a pandemic to make raising a child hard or confusing. From the time the embryo attaches itself to the uterus, parents are making all the little and big changes to accommodate the growth of their future child. Parents experience the pain and stress of childbirth, the amazing newborn stage, and the terrifying toddler stage. We watch them grow into smart, capable, independent, unique individuals that fill our hearts with pride and a little sorrow, too. Our parents told us all about these stages and feelings. They fed us way more advice than we wanted. They may have even overstepped their boundaries a bit, with good intentions.

But how do you prepare a parent to raise a child in a pandemic? How do you warn them of the ramifications quarantining will have on your child?

When the world began to go into lockdown due to the COVID-19 virus, my daughter was 10 months old. She was a squishy, healthy, life of the party baby. We visited our family often, sometimes giving our daughter a chance to socialize with other children. She accompanied me to the store for grocery shopping and to restaurants with no issues, until suddenly, it wasn’t safe to do those things anymore.

We hunkered down as best we could. No more restaurants. No more wandering around the grocery store to kill time. No more family visits. And at one point, no more toilet paper.

I wasn’t bothered by it. In fact, not having to leave my home for anything except work was almost like a dream. I loved my family, but socializing was exhausting. My favorite restaurants adapted to delivery pretty quickly, and having my groceries delivered was like a dream.

Fast forward to 2021, we’re vaccinating and getting back to normal, but not entirely. I’m not talking about mask confusion and whether or not to get the vaccine.

When we first started taking our daughter to the store, she would freak out. When we got to the entryway to any grocery store, she would stop, look around, and then collapse in tears. She didn’t want to go in, even if we started to walk away without her to try and coax her. She didn’t want to sit in the buggy either. Don’t even suggest it.

She had to be carried the entire time to be kept calm, which is exhausting for any parent, but especially so with our daughter. She’s been 99th percentile since the day she came into the world. For reference, she is now 2 years old, 36 pounds, and 3 feet tall.

If we dared sit down at a restaurant, she absolutely could not handle it. She didn’t want the food, she didn’t want to sit, and please, no strangers saying “hi cutie” or she will go limp. Family members that were so integral in her early life were now absolute strangers to her and received the same treatment as the neighborhood thief.

I didn’t like her behavior, but I couldn’t blame her for the way she was acting. She spent half her life on this earth sheltered from society to protect her. She had forgotten what it was like to be in a social setting. Big, wide open spaces full of unfamiliar faces was not an everyday occurrence for her like it would have normally been.

I also noticed she reacted negatively to things she shouldn’t have. If you praised her cute dancing, she would get mad and stop. When we tried to sing happy birthday to her, she had a meltdown. Any time the attention was on her, she reacted in ways that were more than just shyness or being awkward. If you tell a 2-year-old their drawing is pretty, it should please them, not cause them to immediately throw their crayons and tear up the page. I didn’t mention this to her father, but as someone who had some knowledge of developmental psychology, it worried me.

Then she went to her pediatrician for her 2 year check up and he gave us the disappointing news that she was behind in her speech development. It wasn’t for lack of effort. We read books together. We talked to her practically all day (quarantine is lonely, yal). As far as learning basics like body parts, how to successfully complete a shape sorter, learning to use utensils and crayons, and all of the things kids her age should know, she was on track.

But she lacked the social engagement she needed to understand the importance of speech as a form of communication. And while we did what we could to help her learn that in quarantine, we probably weren’t on top of it as much as we could have been. She should have been speaking in short 2-to-3-word sentences, and she wasn’t.

We felt defeated as parents. Our child was a giant, gibberish-speaking social pariah.

Her pediatrician recommended enrolling her in a daycare or program part-time, because sometimes being around other children is all that is needed for kids to pick up on speech, plus it would give her experience with social interactions. If her speech didn’t improve by her half birthday, she will need to begin speech therapy.

That was a punch to my gut. I wanted her to attend a daycare eventually. I was waiting for her to be able to communicate better first. Now I’m finding out that not being in daycare could be the reason she can’t communicate with us. So, we enrolled her full-time into the best school we could find.

When we were touring the school, the lady asked us what we were looking for as far as her education. We told her about our concerns for her speech and social skills, and she revealed that surprisingly (or maybe not so surprising) that’s a concern for many parents she has spoken to that have a toddler. As selfish as it sounds, what she said made me feel so much better.

Currently, our daughter has been attending her school for one and a half months, and the turnaround in her social skills are phenomenal. She laughs and dances with us. She talks to strangers. She interacts with her grandparents again. She’s still shy when the attention is on her, but she doesn’t throw a fit because of it. We’re too nervous to try sitting her at a restaurant, but we’ll get there.

Her speech is not picking up as quickly, but she has definitely made progress. She got a late gift in the mail for her birthday and demanded I ‘open it’. I was so elated to be bossed around with a 2-word phrase I could have passed out. On the other hand, she attempted to conversate with the cashier at the store, who in turn asked me if my daughter was speaking Spanish. Baby steps.

The point of this piece is to stress how impactful this pandemic has been in ways we could not have fully anticipated. I can imagine school age children world-wide have suffered academically. Adults have suffered financially. Too many have suffered sickness and paid the ultimate price.

We didn’t expect our toddler to suffer from it, too. I still feel guilty and somewhat responsible for almost holding her back from her true potential as a bright, fun, boisterous little girl. I forgot the importance social interaction has on development. But at the end of the day, the pandemic threw us a curve-ball. We were only doing what was best at the time. I want parents out there to remember they are not at fault for any unforeseen repercussions from this pandemic. We were given little to work with in an impossible situation. One good thing is this: we now have unique parental insight on parenting in a pandemic, although I hope we never have to pass down this wisdom.


By: Better Me by Dr. B

Editor: Ariel Thompson

Medical Reviewer: Dr. Tiffany Bell D.O.


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