The Care and Keeping of Coronababies
The challenges of caring for children born during the pandemic and ways to help parents cope.
Many parents of babies born since the beginning of 2020 are keen to relaunch their careers but are struggling with additional anxieties regarding their child’s development and wellbeing.
Their children have been born into the ‘new normal and are now frequently described as ‘Coronababies’
These infants have had limited contact with others outside of their immediate family home, sporadic, or indeed no access to the usual range of in-person baby and toddler groups or classes. The view of adults they do meet outside the home is likely to be limited to a distant mop of hair and pair of eyes peeking from behind a mandatory mask.
One parent, keen to return to her demanding role in the city explained that her daughter had “never been held by anyone except us, her parents” and consequently as a mother she was very nervous at the prospect of hiring a nanny who would soon be caring for her daughter for long hours each week.
“We try and get out as much as possible for walks in the wonderful parks”, another London parent explained, “However, I’ve noticed how sensitive to loud noises my son is. He is now 9 months old, but he seems very different to my older child at this age. Traffic, sirens and animal noises seem to be very upsetting for him. He is definitely more clingy and needs more reassurance from me. During the time we were allowed family over I opened the door to my uncle only for my son to burst into tears! Obviously, it’s very difficult know if it’s just his temperament or whether some aspects of his behaviour are due to the restrictions we have been living with and the lack of contact with others.”
A Surrey based parent’s 11-month-old twins physically lean away from people who smile or chat to them during rare, (but sanity-saving) weekly visits to the supermarket. Their Dad is conscious that they are not able to socialise with other children and is worried that this will affect their confidence and perhaps their learning going forward. Parents too are desperately missing the social contact with supportive friends and family a his has had a detrimental impact on their mental health.
Speech therapists are also raising concerns. The lower half of adult’s mouths are frequently covered by a mask meaning that babies will be unable to pick up the facial cues so crucial to their language development. The continuing lockdown likely means that these babies will face challenges to their social and emotional development over the coming months and well into toddlerhood.
It’s certainly true that a minority of parents do take a more positive view of their children’s experiences during the past months and believe the increased one to one time has helped their child to develop a strong attachment to their primary carer, reporting that they are calm, happy and thriving.
The less positive and more common anecdotes quoted above however, are reflected in the results of collaborative research undertaken by the charities Best Beginnings, Home Start and The Parent-Infant Foundation and published in the report Babies in Lockdown: Listening to parents to build better (2020)
Of the 5,474 parent respondents, 87% of reported that they felt more anxious themselves in the wake of Covid-19. We know that children are likely to be affected by dips in parental mental health, so it’s easy to understand that 47% of parents agreed that their children were more clingy and needy over the same period.
If parents do feel children would benefit from a boost to promote their development over next few months, there are plenty positive steps which can be taken. Here are some helpful suggestions.
Make daily walks part of your ‘feel -good’ routine. Smile, wave and generally be a friendly presence in your neighbourhood. If you are able to stop and have a socially distant chat with those who happen to be nearby, this will normalise social interaction with other people outside of your child’s home environment. Remember that children are learning from the adults around them and gain confidence from watching positive interaction.
Include lots of eye contact while speaking and singing to your child so they can watch the movement of your features and, in time, copy your expressions and gestures. This time together is great for bonding. Using a mirror together can also be great fun!
Consider a part time nursery place to aid peer socialisation or bring an experienced nanny on board. (Paid in home childcare is permitted under current regulations). If you are, in any case, considering hiring a nanny for your return to work, it’s worth planning ahead and taking time to integrate someone new gradually into the family. You may request that initially, ahead of your return to work, your chosen nanny starts with just a couple of days a week, by coming just at weekends or simply works some reduced hours to allow everyone to get used to the new arrangement.
Setting up a childcare bubble for ‘informal childcare’ with another family is also allowed. Check the regulations and guidelines here
Choose the family you bubble with after an open, honest discussion to ensure all members of the bubble are of the same responsible mindset.
Research some of the available baby/ toddler classes online. Even the most resistant parent will concede that with in-person classes suspended, they do give a pattern to the week and offer a way for parent or carer and child to become familiar with the format, style, songs, actions and visuals from the class. It can act as a great taster and help you decide on the kind of class that suits your little one best and shortlist those you’d like to try when in person classes resume.
Try online classes with Monkey Music or Bizzy Lizzy
and check with other parents or online forums to uncover popular recommendations.
Get in touch with those running local community and church play groups. Although not meeting in person, some are hosting virtual playgroups. Check out the one on offer from London’s Floating Church, St Peter’s Barge; http://stpetersbarge.org/events/world-and-a-teacup-connect. Others nationwide have rallied volunteers to post out craft or sensory packs to home addresses to ensure boredom is well and truly busted and those who express interest in the group feel connected.
To stay in touch with to family and friends consider regular video calls with a playful focus to engage your child. Something simple like balloons bubbles or sensory items (e.g., wool, dough or sand) is something all on the call can join in with if they keep these simple resources to hand. If, however the thought of more time in front of a screen is unbearable, how about creating a photo exchange with relatives and friends? Physical photos of your child, family group, a beautiful local scene....along with a cheery note. (Who doesn’t love receiving hand written post?) If you struggle to print out photos at home, use the online photo services like photobox, snap fish or touch note. The latter creates postcards from your supplied photo and mails it straight to the recipient! Photos from relatives and friends can be used to create a paper or cloth book to share with you child and provide a focus for chatting about family members and helps them to become familiar with distant faces prior to meeting up when it becomes safe.
Let’s hope that with the vaccine rolling out, we will all soon be able to meet in person again and that the future for the Coronababies will be bright.