Toddler's development negatively affected by social distancing, says Tiny Talk group leader
Parents are concerned for their toddler's mental health and psychological development, as social distancing measures look set to continue.
Lockdown has put a stop to parent and toddler classes since mid-March, which encourage children to communicate and play with others their age.
Deborah Hart, who runs Tiny Talk Kent and teaches early communication skills to toddlers and parents, has been told by parents their children have being negatively affected by lockdown and social distancing measures.
Deborah said: "It's a real concern, over the past few months we've definitely seen toddlers becoming a lot more anxious and withdrawn from other humans.
"It isn't giving them chance to play and socialise and make those bonds and connections which are so vital for their development. "
Some parents have told Deborah that when out on walks, their toddlers seem more hesitant around other people.
She said: "Their toddlers are giving other people a wide berth, they might be running away from seeing other people and hiding their face when someone walks past."
Deborah has been running all the Tiny Talk classes online during lockdown to keep the children and parents engaged as much as possible, but she admits it's not the same as being able to interact face to face.
She said: "We do a lot of work in our classes on social skills - things like taking turns and following instructions and sharing, all of which we can all do at home in our own isolated bubbles.
"We encourage parents to still do things like passing things to their child, using manners and taking turns at play, which is what we would have normally done in the context of the class but obviously with the other children involved.
"So the children are still learning the skills and lessons, but a wider forum to put those skills into practice is really restricted at the minute."
Deborah's sessions are classed as social gatherings and are not allowed to run under current guidelines, so at the moment there is no chance to bring the classes back in a face to face format.
Watch KMTV's visit to a Tiny Talk class earlier this year
She added: "Children are inherently social creatures - we're made to bond and feel connected to each other, so for them not to be able to do that and for parents not to be able to allow their babies to do that is really painful."
Becky Huckle, from Canterbury, started to notice her 2-and-a-half-year-old son, Orion, being noticeably anxious when out on walks.
She said: "He developed quite a lot of anxiety about people being being in front of us, and being quite worried that there were people around.
"But we've done quite a lot of work with him about overcoming that and making it a positive thing instead - we wave at people now when we go on walks, and we see if we can get them to smile at us.
"We just make it positive when we see people out on walks, because it was becoming the opposite of that."
Becky and her partner Steve have also talked openly with Orion about the current situation, and created a bucket list of things they can look forward to once social distancing is relaxed.
She said: "We've always been age-appropriately honest with him - we've not had to deal with him being five and understanding things a bit more, but he does understand.
"It's easier for us to be honest with him and talk to him about what's going on, and we wouldn't be able to have those conversations between us and keep him away from it."
According to Rachel Melville Thomas, psychotherapist and spokesperson for the Association of Child Psychotherapists, this is exactly the kind of approach parents should be taking to limit the effects the current situation may be having on some children.
"We just make it positive when we see people out on walks, because it was becoming the opposite of that..."
She said: "Some of us are very anxious and we try hard to protect our children, but often you can't, it just sneaks through.
"Imagine going out with your child and rather than saying 'that's a nice flower' or 'push that swing' you're saying 'don't touch that' or 'put that down.'
"Well done to that family for working on something positive to try to get around what was probably partly their own anxiety."
Rachel also believes parents should not be overly concerned about a permanent effect on toddlers from being unable to socialise with other children, as long a parents are playing and interacting with them as much as possible.
The psychotherapist said: "I don't think these few months of being deprived of your toddler group is going to have a long-term effect, providing within the family group you're doing lots of fun things.
"The brain of a toddler is enormously plastic, and I think as we get back to seeing each other, they will recover and just go back into the groove again."
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