How Covid-19 Has Affected Children’s Speech and Ways to Improve It

No one has been immune from the repercussions of COVID-19, including young children, whose speech development has been heavily affected. Now that we’re in what’s being considered a post-COVID world, we’re all looking for ways to slowly move forward. 

One group of the population is seeing some previously unexpected repercussions or consequences from time spent in lockdown: children. Children use social interactions and faces to develop in just about every area — social skills, large and fine motor skills, and even speech development. 

Parents can take a proactive approach to their child’s development by getting involved. You can incorporate things into your everyday life that will help support your child as they develop. Some of these things are as simple as reading together or planning car activities for kids. The key is identifying the delays and getting involved early on. 

COVID and Child Development

The worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 shut down a lot of social interactions and covered adult faces with masks. While these restrictions were put in place in the hope to slow the spread of the virus and keep more people safe, these restrictions have had some consequences.

Battling COVID has caused children to miss developmental milestones and face issues and struggles when attempting to connect to others and the world around them. Seeing a child struggle in any area is concerning for a parent, but there are ways to combat these unexpected consequences and help children thrive. 

Markers for Delay

A child is not considered delayed or behind developmentally right away. If a child turns 15 months old and isn’t pointing at something to ask for help immediately, that’s OK.

The issue comes when they aren’t meeting a majority of the expected milestones by the end of that month or even a month or two later. It’s at this point that some intervention or support needs to be discussed.

Parents should contact their doctor with concerns at any time, but they should look out for these specific markers for delay:

  • Child is not meeting one or more milestones
  • Child has lost skills he or she had previously learned

Act early when a delay is suspected. Working with professionals or instituting new habits or activities can help get your child back on track and set them up for greater success as they continue to grow and develop. 

Common Delays and How to Help

Missing expected milestones is one way to help identify if a child is experiencing a delay, but there are a few common delays professionals are seeing with young children through the pandemic. 

Children born during the pandemic or those who entered preschool and kindergarten during the pandemic are commonly seeing delays in social development, speech and language development, motor development. 

You know your child best, but it’s helpful to know some of the more common delays experts are seeing in young children today. 

Delayed Social Development

The biggest social teacher for children is interacting with other children. At a young age, this interaction seems limited: Babies often just sit next to each other rather than engage in play together, but, even in parallel play, children are learning how to interact and be social.

School and playdates post-COVID in some areas of the world look very different than the did before and that has had major impacts on children’s social development and ability to connect.

Overwhelmed by New People

Babies and children who experience the pandemic in the very early months and years of their lives have experienced more insolation than interaction. They are frequently finding new people and places overwhelming.

Children can easily become overwhelmed in a new place and with new people. Of course, some of this is to be expected with more introverted children, but since the pandemic it has increased greatly. Children are more shy, withdrawn, nervous, and anxious. Experts are even seeing an increase in separation anxiety in older children.

Difficulty Interacting with Others

The extended time away from other children has caused some to get stuck in the parallel play stage of development. Young children don’t engage with others directly. Instead, they find activities or toys and play near each other. The transition out of parallel play should happen by 3 years of age.

However, children in today’s world are finding it hard to make the leap out of parallel play. Some as old as 5 years old are unable to interact directly with other children. Not only is this hard for children, but it can spell trouble for their interaction in later years as well.

How to Help

The best way to help children who need help or encouragement in their social development is to get them comfortable around others. This shouldn’t be done quickly or rapidly, however. Instead, gradually expose your child to other infants and toddlers in small, safe environments.

Consider scheduling a few playdates or join parent-child classes. Both of these environments offer child-friendly opportunities to connect and interact with others. 

In extreme cases, it may be beneficial to seek some counseling for your child. Children can get many benefits through counseling, so it is a viable option in some cases. 

Delayed Speech Development

Babies learn how to babble early on. This babbling is their way of mimicking the sounds and speech patterns they hear in their environment. 

As children grow, they naturally look to adults lips to see how words are formed or to help establish the difference between similar sounds like “p” and “b.”

Masks have made these natural learning experiences much more difficult. Sounds and words are muffled and lips are completely hidden behind masks. This has caused a serious decline in babies’ and young children’s ability to speak.

Babbling Longer than Expected

Children growing up at the height of the pandemic are finding it difficult to form words and sentences. As a result, they are babbling, or using baby talk, far longer than expected. 

While, in most cases, parents don’t use masks while at home, the use of masks in public places have severely limited children’s learning experiences in speech and language development. 

Mispronouncing New Words

Young children are also displaying a delay in multi-syllable words. They struggle to pronounce words like “elephant” or “banana” because of the length and number of syllables. This is really a continuation of the previous problem. 

The prolonged use of masks muffles words and hides pieces of our speech patterns. Young children who are just learning to put together longer sounds are frequently dropping syllables or pieces of longer words. 

Continuing to mispronounce words and be corrected can be traumatizing for children. Some can feel defeated or shut down completely and attempt to limit their speaking by simply gesturing or pointing. 

How to Help Your Child’s Speech

The best way to help a child struggling with their speech and language is to prioritize face-to-face time. Take the time to get on your child’s level and connect.

Consider singing songs in the car. They don’t need to be sophisticated or eloquent. Just sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” or the ABC song. You can even make funny faces at your baby in the mirror.

All these activities provide the necessary interaction and feedback children need to move from baby babbles to recognizable words and sentences. 

Delayed Motor Skills

The pandemic has also affected children’s ability to move. More time at home means our feet are spending more time on softer, carpeted surfaces. This limits a child’s fine and gross motor abilities. 

Children Need to Play

Children need to practice a variety of movements to move around their world. Try creating simple obstacle courses or get out to a playground. Even playing silly games like the hokey pokey can be a great way to encourage different movements.

Remember play is the best teacher for young children. The pandemic changed a lot, but we can all still have fun. Don’t be afraid to get creative and encourage a little silliness.

Parents should keep on top of their child’s development and make sure to get regular COVID-19 testing.

Laura Gunn researches and writes for the insurance comparison site, She is a mom to two young boys and is passionate about parents knowing fun and creative ways to encourage strong development.  

Krystal Morrison

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