Lexi Ashford is an outgoing, bubbly baby.
Born in September 2020, her mother can’t help but wonder if and how the lack of socialization will impact her youngest daughter.
“She’s not being touched, she’s not being cared for by anyone else,” said her mom Crystal Ashford.
Dubbed “quarantine kids,” babies born during the COVID-19 pandemic have gone without the physical affection from grandparents and extended family.
Ashford compared Lexi’s first six months to her older sister Isla — now two years old — and recalled all the mom and baby dates with her Mommy Connections group.
“She got to play and crawl around and have a blast with all the other babies.”
Provincial health restrictions have forced Ashford and her kids to stay close to home and keep to their family unit.
It has meant more time spent together — and no shortage of snuggles from big sister Isla and older brother Ryker.
“In our house we build forts out of our kitchen table and Lexi is around all of that,” Ashford said. “She does see her family through the camera.
“We’ll put her with her grandparents while she’s bouncing in her bouncer.”
Dr. Sheri Madigan, a child development researcher and associate professor in the University of Calgary’s psychology department, said those computer calls with grandparents can be helpful, as long as they don’t replace face-to-face.
“They don’t need to be held by lots of people to be socialized,” said Madigan.
She said infants need their cues and signals recognized and lobbed back and forth like a tennis game. Repeating words and talking out actions will help babies learn language and social skills.
“So if they reach out for a ball, we need to be able to respond and say, ‘Yes that’s a ball. Here you go.’
“Those are really, really foundational for kids’ language development and social development.”
Most of that dialogue and interaction happens during the first year with loved ones and caregivers.
“As long as they’re getting what they need from their primary caregivers,’ said Madigan, “I think they’re going to be OK.”
Madigan did, however, caution the amount of screen time an infant or young child is exposed to.
She recommended activities and shared experiences with family and friends online. For example, reading a book together or cutting up an apple and to have both the child and grandma eat and discuss the fruit.
The challenge, added Madigan, will be re-introducing young children to social settings.
As COVID-19 health restrictions ease across the country, she said preschool aged kids could find the adjustment difficult.
“It’s become a bit foreign to them.”
Madigan suggested a gradual re-introduction to playdates and visits so kids can get used to the “chaos.”
“When you’re around other families it’s a little louder and a lot going on.”
Madigan said it’s important to validate the feelings of little ones and to help them understand that it’s OK to be nervous.
Ashford said Isla went through a similar experience when she returned to her small daycare cohort.
“She didn’t interact with anybody from March until September.”
Her parents wanted her to be playing and socializing with other kids a couple days a week. It took a long time for Isla to feel comfortable again around other people.
“It wasn’t even just other kids, it was other adults too. She didn’t like anybody. She didn’t like her grandparents, she was completely different at her check-ups with the doctors.”
Ashford is looking forward to more family visits in the spring and his hopeful for more social outings with her kids.
Mommy Connections groups have still been meeting online, but it hasn’t been the same.
“It can be lonely and it can be challenging,” said Chelsey Borys, program director for Mommy Connections North Edmonton and St. Albert. “So having your village, as we like to say, is important.
“We’re still seeing connections and I know the moms in the programs are planning on getting together when it’s safe to do so.”
“I do look forward to hanging with other moms,” said Ashford, “them holding your baby and you holding theirs, watching them play.”
When that happens, Ashford said she is pretty sure Lexi will embrace the outside world.
“She has a huge personality.”