Parents around the globe are singing the same tune: stay at home life is a lot. Among the problems it presents — access to support, access to supplies, lack of normal routine, loss of income, health risks — social development is top of mind for a lot of parents. If you’ve built a routine around outings, playgroups, friends, family, grandparents and daycare, to be suddenly at home all day, every day, with nothing on the agenda, is hard on you, but is it also hard on your little one? With the usual interactions off the menu, here’s what you need to know about staying social while staying at home. And no, you don’t need to buy them a puppy.
You are all they need
That doesn’t mean you’re all they want - if your toddler is old enough to request to see a friend but too young to understand why they can’t, expect tears - but you are all they need. Until the age of three, babies get the vast majority of their social engagement from being around their parents or siblings, if they have them. Babies don’t need to be in the company of other babies for social development. They can learn from each other, particularly how to navigate a new area or how to play with different toys, but they don’t often play together until the preschool years. What they do need from you, is engagement.
Big engagement energy
If you are their 'all' when it comes to social interaction during this time, know what you’re doing. Socialisation starts with skin-to-skin contact and being held. Even from day one this allows babies to understand they are part of a bigger community. That contact and attention lets them know they are noticed, and early social development is all about your child knowing they are noticed. Show interest in what your child is showing interest in, talk to them about it (even when they can’t talk back), make eye contact, speak with expression, watch their reactions (babies take six seconds to react). When they are old enough to move around they will start to reach out to you, pass you things and start to “share”, encourage this, and continue the back and forth exchange, it is them showing a desire to interact, and repeat.
Do the video chat
Babies become familiar with people in their lives from around three months. They recognise faces and voices, so when you are on a call, have it on loud speaker so your baby can hear, or video so your baby can interact with their loved one. Parents group might be cancelled, but a Zoom conference with all the babies on screen is a fun idea. Play some music, wave — even if you’re the only one who gets anything out of it, it’s still worth it. What’s good for mum is good for baby.
Make the most of your pram
Regular exercise is encouraged, and a walk is good for you and your baby. Strap them in their pram and go for a push. While you walk, talk to them about what you’re seeing, the people, the dogs, the trees. Stick to the rules of social distancing, but let your baby see you greeting the people you walk past and involve them in the interactions.
This is a time to stay local, and engage with your neighbours (from a distance). Many suburbs have set up Bear Hunts (where teddy bears are placed in the front windows of houses for children to spot) and got creative with street chalk. Even if you feel your kid is too little to get it, go on Bear Hunts, let them help you put out your own bears, stop and look at the chalk art, show them your hopscotch skills and do some drawing yourself. Even better, after a successful of drawings or craft, help your little artist put their work on display out the front of your house and tell them it’s for passersby to appreciate, or seal it in an envelope and send it to a loved one they’re missing. It’s as good a time as any to teach them how mail works! You got this.