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Pandemic Had Only Minor Effect on Young Kids' Development
  • Posted April 22, 2024

Pandemic Had Only Minor Effect on Young Kids' Development

The pandemic caused only “modest” delays in developmental milestones for infants and toddlers, a new study has found.

Previous research has reported that pandemic-related lockdowns disrupted the lives of many people, including families with young children.

Day-to-day life was upended as schools and child care centers closed, many people worked from home and the number of play dates and social contacts shrunk.

But an analysis of more than 50,000 children aged 5 and younger found the pandemic put only a minor dent in their development, researchers reported April 22 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“We found, overall, that while there are some changes, the sky is not falling, and that is a really important and reassuring finding,” said researcher Sara Johnson, director of the Rales Center for the Integration of Health and Education at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore.

The children all underwent a caregiver-completed measure of child development routinely collected as part of pediatric care.

Researchers compared toddlers' scores before and during the pandemic, from 2018 to 2022.

They found about a 3% decrease in communication skills, a 2% decrease in problem-solving skills and a 2% decrease in personal and social skills. The toddlers' motor skills did not suffer at all.

Looking at infants younger than 1, researchers found a 3% decrease in communication skills and a 2% decrease in problem-solving.

“We thought it was possible infants might experience less impact than the older kids, given that many caregivers may have spent more time at home with their very young children,” Johnson said. “But we saw generally the same things in infants as we did for older kids.”

Researchers also found that caregivers' worries about their children increased only slightly during the pandemic.

While these results are comforting, the pandemic's effect on long-term development remains unclear, the researchers noted.

“It is important for us to continue to keep an eye on kids of all ages in terms of development, so we can understand whether these changes have longer-term implications for children or if new challenges emerge as children age,” Johnson said in a Hopkins news release.

Studies like this can help prepare for future public health crises, Johnson said. These results also demonstrate the importance of developmental behavioral pediatricians, who are trained to evaluate and treat kids whose development has been slowed or stunted.

More information

Harvard University has more on the pandemic and early childhood development.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University, news release, April 22, 2024

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