Have you got a baby or toddler starting nursery during Covid? If you had a baby during the pandemic, then things will have been quite different to the usual experience of having a baby. There has been much talk about under-socialised babies born during the pandemic and how that more limited experience of their first year will have a knock-on effect on their development. If your baby is starting nursery or childcare during Covid then that is something to be truly mindful of, as it may equate to a more bumpy transition than you bargained for.
With that in mind, today I’m in conversation with Carrie Sims, early years teacher practitioner with over 25 years as a maternity nurse, nanny, nursery nurse and now childminder – on the topic of starting nursery during Covid, and what you need to know to help your little one with the transition.
What do you think the impact of the various lockdowns and pandemic has been on babies?
Lockdown presented us all with challenges that were unimaginable as and even now when I think back unbelievable. For those very vulnerable families the consequences will be far reaching , life changing with many unseen scars for years to come. For those families in a more stable position lockdown has pushed them to the limit juggling homeschooling/home working/isolation/lack of services and no contact with extended family.
A parent isolated in a global pandemic deserves a month in the Maldives if they got up, fed, dressed their children and clapped along to CBeebies/Joe Wicks everyday to retain some semblance of normality while holding it all together. There were parts of lockdown that benefited families such as flexible working, more time together, simple outdoor exercise and being resourceful with what they had. But for those mums having a baby in lockdown, quite simply, it must of been very lonely and taken all the strength and courage to go through having a newborn without the support families deserve.
I truly believe it “takes a village to raise a child” it isn’t just about the support and love for a family from the people around the child they know (grandparents to babysit, parents having regular times away from the baby, friends being able to scoop up your baby when it’s lost the plot and taught the baby others can help too). But importantly it’s about the 1000’s of invisible micro-interactions that a parent and baby experience daily within their community.
These consistent, spontaneous ,mini connections develop strong communication and language skills, connection , social and emotional regulation and resilience. The lack of these has made the most significant impact to a babies development in lockdown. Even the greatest of parents, who made the absolute best of lockdown can only give a baby so much because there are social interactions /experiences that can’t be recreated just by the family unit.
How have you seen this translate into their behaviour and development?
A mummy heads to play group , has a hideous morning barely wiped the tooth paste off her jumper to get in the car by 9.. baby is overtired (up most of the night pretending to be a merkat in their cot from 11-4) both are tired and despite 100% love and care both are quite frankly sick of the sight of each other. Once at playgroup mum heaves a sigh of relief at seeing the only other normal mum she has met, baby heaves a sigh of relief at seeing the ball pit and Ella’s Kitchen pouches on the counter.
Mum pops him down despite the whingeing, talks to the owner, pays, smiles, relaxes. Friend quickly picks up baby without hesitation swings him round in a way he isn’t used to and talks loudly and dramatically in his face. He is wary looks for mum, she is paying for coffee. He looks at friend and decides she is not going to harm him and he nestles in her arms smiling while observing a multi-tude of positive, rich sensory inputs, processes loud, bustling communication, physical development interactions, and facial expressions/ body language cues around him all. These are so small it would take pages and pages to list them here but that are so important to experience… over and over again .
The same goes with all the social heavy environments you take your baby too, NCT groups, playgroups, church, coffee mornings etc etc
Why is this important? This child will understand overtime with repeated exposure to regulate sensory heavy environments, people heavy environments, meeting and being held by new adults, interacting with children of all personalities, physical distance away from mum, conquering a new environment independently with gusto, being in unfamiliar environments , communication with new people through body language and facial expressions , to regulate and express all emotions and safety needs and at times learn to wait a few minutes for these to be met, build flexibility in their mindset, gain physical development skills and importantly try new things. All skills needed before you embark on childcare.
What kind of challenges does this present to parents who are looking to prepare their babies for a childcare setting?
These micro interactions offer many small ‘rupture and repairs‘ that inevitably build a strong growth mindset even in very small babies. The “rushing in the morning, the absorption of mums stress, the stranger picking the child up, relying on stranger to meet his needs to feel safe and loved’. These are mini ruptures which are then repaired by the mothers‘ relaxation meeting her friend, her happy interactions, the realisation the stranger is kind and funny, the exciting environment that develops all his emotional, physical and communication needs, connections with other children, stimulating the body and mind with new things independently.
If this is what a baby experiences positively in 5 minutes being somewhere new imagine what 12 months of them would do for their development .
Babies I’ve cared for specifically from lockdown just haven’t had this. The severity of the child’s reaction (fight or flight survival mode) will depend on child’s personality, background family dynamics and any exceptional circumstances a family may of faced in lockdown… but there is a growing trend in childcare of the ‘ lockdown baby’ some just really struggle to settle and adapt to new environments, people and new routines.
Most children will catch up quickly but some will need extra time, patience and support from other professionals/family members experienced with children to settle away from parents and to cope with the 1000’s of micro interactions at childcare they have just not practiced often enough, when they should of because of lockdown. It’s like learning to drive a car but no one has explained how the handbrake works. You might be ok for a while until you are halfway up a hill then your in survival mode rolling back at 40mph!! When a baby is stressed it is literally fearing for its own self.
What tips would you offer to parents of lockdown babies who need to start thinking about transitioning their children into a childcare setting?
Tell your new setting EVERYTHING – all the comforts you have given, your habits, patterns of behaviour (warts and all). How much you’ve been out , have you been very social, does your child go to others, have they been looked after by others, do they eat well, sleep well, tell them EVERYTHING!!!
This is so they can mimic as much as possible your home life routines and understand the child better if they are stressed. Write a typical day down and when and why the child gets stressed. Tell them if you and your family have struggled; most good childcare practitioners want to support the whole family holistically as best as they can. The background story helps us a lot.
Prepare to give extra time for settling in. We’re talking months, starting from one small hour then two, then three etc. If your child has not been away from you or been cared for by anyone else , expect peaks and troughs, be prepared to take a few steps back in settling in . Some will settle initially only to regress a few weeks later . Pick the right setting for your child not for you. You may love the nursery 5 minutes from you but your child may need a smaller setting first to build confidence.
Starting nursery during Covid: advice for parents
- Help your child by putting them in a simple familiar routine i.e. wake up/breakfast/play/lunch/nap/snack/play /tea.
- Work on them independently sleeping for naps.
- Get socialising, go to music groups, library rhyme time, go on trains, buses, go to free museums – as many new environments you can muster.
- Meet other children the same age.
- Find trustworthy friends /family to start helping look after them 15 minutes at a time gently increasing.
- Let strangers coo over them, let other mums at playgroup pick them up /rescue them if they get stuck .
Most importantly look after yourself. A well looked after parent can do anything they put their minds too.