How will Covid Lockdowns Impact the Social Development of Babies and Young Children?

I have had so many questions recently from parents with babies and toddlers who were either born during, or shortly before, lockdown who are worried about their child’s developing socialisation skills and whether separation from friends, wider family and other babies and toddlers of the same age will have a lasting negative impact on their child’s ability to socialise when lockdowns lift.

I wanted to write this article to reassure all parents in this position that this is one thing that they need not worry about (because goodness knows we all have enough to worry about right now!).

Primary socialisation for babies and toddlers occurs within their immediate family unit and home. This is the most important type of socialisation, as it teaches children the norms, beliefs and ideals of the culture and society in which they live. In short, children learn how to behave around others because of their interactions with their primary caregivers and as such this type of socialisation is usually limited to the child’s immediate family and is most important to children from birth to five years of age.

The type of socialisation that takes place outside of a child’s immediate family and home is known as secondary socialisation. This is the sort of socialisation that takes place in baby and toddler groups, nursery and preschool, extended family and friends and the like. Secondary socialisation means learning new rules and understanding the actions of a much wider group of people (both of the same age and different – ie other toddlers and adults). Because young children learn to primarily socialise with their main, everyday, caregivers, secondary socialisation requires less learning and adapting from them. Basically, it tweaks what they already know from their time with us and builds on the most important foundation of primary socialisation. Secondary socialisation continues throughout life, into the teens and adulthood (you can read a little more on socialisation types and development HERE if you’re interested)

I hope you can see from this that the most crucial aspect of socialisation is that which happens within the child’s own immediate family – primary socialisation. Lockdowns, furloughs and home working (and the result that many parents are spending more time with their babies, toddlers and preschoolers) actually mean that for many children primary socialisation is more increased than it was in pre-Covid times.  Or, in other words, rather than worrying about a lack of socialisation because of lockdowns, the very reverse is happening. A baby and toddler who receives a large amount and quality of primary socialisation at home is actually likely to be more sociable by the time secondary socialisation eventually kicks in.

What about babies and toddlers who haven’t met wider members of their family yet? Or who haven’t yet started any type of daycare? The answer here is to give them time to adjust and settle when they do.

It’s likely you will see an increase in separation anxiety initially (see my video on this above), however it won’t last forever, keep everybody’s expectations realistic. New bonds will be formed and attachments will grow with time and patience. Until then, keep doing what you’re doing, safe in the knowledge that you are everything your child needs!


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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