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My baby started daycare shortly before COVID hit, and was home with us from April through January. He started in a new daycare in January at 15 months old. I feel he is a bit behind because he has been home with us while we've been working for almost a year due to COVID. For example, he isn't speaking yet. I feel that he’s missed out on a lot of socialization since he hasn’t had other children around, gone to singalongs, play groups, etc. What can we do to get him caught up?

Mostly Isolated in Massachusetts

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Whitney Henderson

Whitney Henderson is EdNavigator's Chief Program Officer. She brings more than a decade of experience as an award-winning teacher, school leader, and instructional expert.

Dear Mostly Isolated,

We’ve heard many different versions of this question, and I really understand your concern. It’s been a strange year to have a new baby.

Here’s my two cents: It is certainly true that recognizing potential developmental gaps early on can greatly benefit a child’s trajectory, and it’s easier to remediate now than later. On the flip side, however, unless your pediatrician has flagged a concern about your son’s language development at this stage, he is still pretty young to be considered “behind” in this regard. We often hear from pediatricians that a single word by age 1 is a good “typical” benchmark, but there’s a wide range. And it’s important to remember that babies truly can’t multi-task: They tend to work on one skill set at a time. That’s why we often see babies who develop gross motor skills (like crawling and walking) on the early side come later to verbal or fine motor skills, or vice versa. The early talkers are often the late walkers. Babies’ brains just can’t build all those different skill sets at the same time. That’s normal and absolutely fine.

“Although it is true that we’re in somewhat unknown territory here, experts generally seem to agree that babies and toddlers are likely to weather the pandemic experience as well or better than anyone else.”

Obviously, this could change if your son continues to not develop language as he grows older, so of course it’s something to keep an eye on and chat about with your pediatrician. If you continue to be concerned over time, or if your doctor is worried, any family in Massachusetts can refer themselves to the state’s Early Intervention program, which offers free support to children under 3 years old. EI can evaluate your son for support if it turns out to be needed.

As far as socialization goes, a baby’s first and most important social experiences are at home with you, his parents, who are his most important caregivers—especially in those early months. I totally understand the worry that many parents of “pandemic babies” share about this first year of life having been so isolated. Although it is true that we’re in somewhat unknown territory here, experts generally seem to agree that babies and toddlers are likely to weather the pandemic experience as well or better than anyone else. It really takes so little to give babies the learning experiences they need, because they are learning everything.

Now that he’s back in daycare, you can certainly ask your son’s teachers what they can do to help his language along. And take a look at this previous Ask a Navigator column for some other activities you can try out to support his development at home. But again, unless your pediatrician raises specific developmental concerns, I think you can trust that your baby has gotten everything he really needs from you.

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