The Duchess of Sussex is reportedly worried about the impact a lack of socialising is having on her one-year-old son, Archie – and mothers from around the world have spoken out to admit they share her fears.
Meghan Markle, 38, is understood to be concerned that Archie doesn’t have enough interaction with other toddlers, both due to coronavirus and the fact that her high profile means she can’t join ‘Mommy and Me’ classes like other new mothers.
While these mothers don’t have to shy away from socialising because they are famous, they have been forced to adapt to a new, more insular life for themselves and their children as a result of coronavirus restrictions.
Speaking to FEMAIL, five women shared their stories of how lockdown has impacted their children, all of whom are under the age of two.
One mother admitted she feared quarantine had ‘broken’ her baby, while another’s daughter has become shy, even around family members she was comfortable with before the crisis started. Meanwhile a new mother living in Australia told how she worries her two-month-old daughter will grow up to be ‘clingy’ because she has only spent time with her parents in the first 10 weeks of her life.
However three different parenting experts have spoken to FEMAIL to explain that, while these concerns are understandable given the current situation, the reality is that there is likely to have been very little impact upon a child’s development. And, if there has been a change in behaviour, this can be reversed.
‘LOCKDOWN BROKE MY BABY’
Darryl Hannah Baker, 33, lives in north London with partner Lee Saunderson, 42, and their one-year-old daughter Blake Rae Saunderson.
Birthday girl! Darryl Hannah Baker, 33, with daughter Blake at her first birthday party last month. Darryl told how Blake was more clingy as a result of time spent in lockdown
Mummy’s girl! Darryl smiles with her one-year-old Blake. The mother-of-one explained she initially thought lockdown wouldn’t affect her daughter, but later say the effects
Honestly I believe lockdown broke my baby. During the first few months I didn’t really give the impact of not seeing anyone on my daughter Blake much thought; she was nine months old, much too young for it to affect her! True, we’d stopped our weekly baby groups, play dates with my mum friends and seeing family, but she was a baby, what did she know? We saw my mum and dad on a few occasions from our front door and their driveways and she was her usual happy, smiley self.
Fast forward three months to when we could start having socially distanced meet ups and Blake was a mess. She’d become clingy and frightened, and would uncontrollably cry in front of people she, pre-lockdown, knew well, including her aunties and uncles. She even went through a two-week phase of not letting my husband, her daddy Lee, anywhere near her. He’d been working from home since mid-March and had seen more of her than ever, but she would suddenly scream if he fed or held her.
For her first birthday in June, we threw a garden party at my mum’s house, and Blake wouldn’t look at anyone apart from me, my mum and step-dad. It was heart-breaking because pictures and video calls with Blake kept everyone’s spirits up during the dark days of lockdown and now she was acting like she didn’t know who anyone was.
It also caused me anxiety as the end of my maternity leave approached and the start date of Blake being at a childminder loomed ever closer. While it was a relief she could be looked after while we both worked, all planned settling in days were scrapped because of the restrictions imposed at the height of the pandemic, and predictably she was awful during the first week in childcare in late June. So much so I had to pick her up at lunchtime and juggle work and her.
Thankfully, it’s now been three weeks and Blake has settled in nicely, with the childminder having a ‘breakthrough’ after only five days. In this short space of time, Blake is back to being the confident and chatty little girl she was in March, and gives her childminder and new friends big smiles when she leaves for the day. She’s also happily been in the company of her family, and has stopped being so wary of anyone other than me.
The damage was only short-term, but it was upsetting and unsettling to be faced with the realities of how lockdown can impact even the littlest of people.
‘IT’S HEARTBREAKING TO SEE MY DAUGHTER SO SHY’
PR consultant Sophie Attwood, 28, lives in Cheshire with her partner Daniel Lewis, 37, and their 18-month-old daughter Isla Lewis.
Say cheese! Proud mother Sophie, 28, with 18-month-old daughter Isla, who went almost five months without socialising with other children her own age during lockdown
Baby steps: Sophie explained she has started taking Isla to see family members and they have spoken to other children on days out together. The toddler is not yet back in nursery
We made the joint decision to take Isla out of nursery as soon as we heard that Covid-19 had spread to the UK, so she hasn’t met with other children since February of this year. That is a big change from the socialising she used to do before lockdown, when she would be in nursery three days a week and spend the remaining two with either her dad or myself while we juggled work.
On those days she would go out for a full day of activities – whether at soft play, the zoo or for a walk – all instances where she would usually see other people and importantly be able to interact with other children.
Now it has been almost five months since Isla has been with children her own age and, at 18 months old, it has come at a really crucial time for her development.
While it’s been so lovely to spend quality time with Isla and watch her grow in terms of her learning – she took her first steps during lockdown and now can count to 10, knows all of her letters and has her own incredible little personality – it’s also heartbreaking to see a new shyness to her when we go out now.
We went for a socially distanced walk with a friend and her son when the government lifted the lockdown and she hid behind my legs for at least fifteen minutes before she felt confident enough to walk alongside me. Similarly, she hadn’t seen my brother, her uncle, since the start of lockdown and she was just so shy for a long while when she saw him initially.
To begin socialising again, we have started seeing family and I’m trying to take Isla to places where she will see other people. Yesterday we went to a nature reserve and I made a point of talking to parents with other children.
We don’t yet feel comfortable to put Isla back into nursery but I know that Isla does need to socialise soon and so we have to weigh up the risks and benefits without our own anxieties clouding our judgment.
I know that with some careful guidance post-lockdown we will be able to support Isla to regain her confidence but I do worry for some children who may not necessarily have those opportunities and support.
‘OUR SOCIABLE SON MISSED OTHER PEOPLE’
Lisa Parkins, 38, lives in London with her wife Lynsey, 42, and their one-year-old son, Teddy. The couple run YouTube parenting channel Teddy Has Two Mams.
Social butterfly: Mother Lisa Parkins explained her son Teddy, pictured together, tried to approach other children when out in the park during lockdown because he wanted to socialise
Family fun: Lisa, right, with wife Linsey and their son Teddy. The couple explained Teddy is now back in nursery and has had some playdates with children his own age
At the beginning of lockdown we didn’t even take Teddy out for a walk – I don’t think he left the house for two weeks. But once we realised we weren’t coming out of quarantine anytime soon we started taking him to the park, and occasionally when it couldn’t be avoided we would take him to the supermarket.
In the beginning I was sure a one-year-old was the perfect age for lockdown – easy enough to entertain at home, didn’t question not being allowed out – but Teddy is a very sociable child and we quickly began to realise that he was missing other people.
We would often catch him approaching other kids in the park, that’s if they hadn’t come up to him first. They all just wanted someone to play with. Thank goodness for wonderful neighbours and sunshine which meant he was able to at least see people who weren’t us, at a safe distance of course. But it is still heart-breaking to see him approach people he knows and not understand why they won’t scoop him up for a cuddle.
Teddy would normally be with other kids his age at least three times a week, and that’s before any impromptu meetups are planned with other mums. He would be at swimming lessons, music class and soft play every week. We carried on with some of Teddy’s classes online, but it’s not quite the same although his face does light up when his music teacher comes on the TV.
While we obviously have concerns about Coronavirus, a soon as we were able to send Teddy back to nursery we did so. Once we were happy with the safety measures in place, there wasn’t really a question – we wanted him back with other children and socialising. I do worry his long term development would have been impacted had we not had that option. He was doing so well in all areas just before lockdown – it’s difficult to know what he could have achieved in those months had he been with other children his age.
He is definitely happier back at nursery, we all are to be honest. He has also done some social-distance socialising, with family as well as some of his other little friends.
I do worry about some of his relationships going forward – his favourite neighbour, his nana, he still doesn’t understand why they can’t cuddle and I hope when they are allowed that he won’t be nervous.
‘I WORRY IT’LL MAKE MY DAUGHTER CLINGY’
Davina Green, 28, lives in Sydney with her husband Ollie, also 28, and their two-month-old daughter, Nina.
Missing out? Mother-of-one Davina admitted she worries her daughter Nina, almost two months, will be more clingy or anxious about meeting new people as a result of lockdown
In a normal world not only would Nina have met her Grandparents and other family members and friends by now, we would have been going to mothers groups, baby and mama yoga classes.
Nina would have had many opportunities to met new faces and to be held and played with by others. I worry what kind of impact this lack of social interaction early on will have on her development: will it make her super clingy or anxious about meeting new people? Will she be frightened of her grandparents?
I wonder if when we can ‘safely’ go to these classes whether other parents will be as willing to let their children interact and play with other children as they were before. Which would again impact the development of social skills etc. I guess time will tell!
‘HE HAS EXTREME STRANGER ANXIETY’
Kathryn Leckie, 30, lives in Seaton Delaval, Northumberland, with her wife Bex, 32, their son Rowan, 11 months, and Bex’s uncle Steven, 51.
Family: Kathryn Leckie, 30, lives in Seaton Delaval, Northumberland, with her wife Bex, 32, their son Rowan, 11 months. Rowan has become more anxious around strangers
From being born, Rowan has been extremely happy and content when around other people, but since we’ve started to see his grandparents again, that has changed.
Now, if my parents pick him up, he is extremely upset and struggling to be put back down or passed to my wife and I. We are aware he is in the age range where ‘stranger anxiety’ would usually develop, but this seems to be a much more extreme form of that.
He still hasn’t been around children his age since the start of lockdown, and we aren’t sure when that will happen- so it will be interesting to see how he reacts when around his peers.
We have discussed the impact lockdown might have on his wellbeing and development. There are worries it will take a while to get him feeling comfortable with our family members again, and even more so, people outside of the family. The lack of baby groups – he usually goes to two a week – has meant his ability to play with children his age has been completely cut off.
Also, as much as we have tried to engage in things like messy play with him at home, I don’t think it’s been to the same degree or variety as he would have been exposed to by going to baby groups. Even just exposure to normal every day experiences, like going to the shops! We used to take him swimming once a week, which obviously has stopped and it feels like we will be back to square one with getting him comfortable in water.
Bex, my wife, has been shielding for 12 weeks, and that was really starting to have an impact on her mental wellbeing. Plus, we were concerned that the longer things went on, how much that would impact Rowan as well.
We broke lockdown for my nephew’s birthday, on June 20 and spent time with my family, to celebrate that. Still just in their garden, and still socially distanced- although we didn’t impose a 2m rule on Rowan, as that’s pretty difficult with an 11-month-old who wants to be constantly on the move!
Even though Bex works from home, we are considering Rowan going to nursery or a childminder to try and help his socialisation and development, to counter the impact of lockdown.
Should parents be worried about lockdown? The experts weigh in…
WHY IS EARLY INTERACTION IS IMPORTANT?
Dr Sophie Niedermaier-Patramani, Co-Founder and In House Paediatrician at Little Tummy, said: ‘Early social interaction can play an important role in a child’s development. It drives the development of communication and language skills.
‘Babies start to interact with their caregivers from the very first moment they are born. By bonding with the people closest to them they will develop a sense of security and resilience. The interaction between primary caregiver and the babies themselves dominates the social development in the first 18 months of life.
‘Children start playing next to each other around the age of 24 months and will loosely include other children into their play around the age of 3. This is when they start developing their social skills with peers of the same age and truly benefit from spending time around other children.’
Harriet Shearsmith, founder of parenting website TobyandRoo, added: ‘Babies and Toddlers are learning so much at such a fast rate and social interaction plays a vital role in developing their social skills, it can help improve their confidence and make a transition to preschool much easier.’
HOW COULD LOCKDOWN AFFECT BABIES AND TODDLERS?
Dr Niedermaier-Patramani said: ‘Babies under one enjoy growing up with a daily routine and a safe and caring environment. Therefore lockdown will not have had a major impact on their development. Most baby classes where parents learn how to support their little ones’ development have moved online, so parents still have access to guidance.
‘The wonderful thing about children’s brains is that they adapt easily to these challenging times. They will replace peers with parents or older siblings and still train their social skills, just in a different way. And once lockdown is eased, they will catch up quickly.’
Angela Spencer, a parenting expert with over 25 years’ experience, agreed lockdown would have little impact on very young babies. She said: ‘I am one of the old fashioned ones that believes the first six weeks for a baby is purely for bonding time with their mum and dad.
‘Babies and children learn from their senses so by watching, hearing, and then doing what others around them are. There’s no right or wrong time for socialising for a baby, as long as they are getting positive interaction from those around them, social skills will develop from every experience they have, so a few weeks in lockdown won’t do any harm and you can introduce other babies and children as experiences allow.’
CAN A LACK OF INTERACTION MAKE A BABY CLINGY?
Dr Niedermaier-Patramani said: ‘Every baby will go through a phase when they appear to be more clingy – for some it can be more extreme than others, but this is generally a personality thing. Separation anxiety happens around the age of 9 to 12 months and is a normal part of their social skill development.’
WHAT AGE GROUP WILL BE MOST AFFECTED?
Dr Niedermaier-Patramani said: ‘Children who have just started preschool have a period where they thrive in their development through the stimulation they experience at school. They will also be developmentally ready to learn from their peers and make impressive leaps. Narrowing the social circle to a few people will delay this period to a later point – but will most likely not have a significant impact on the longer term.’
WILL CHILDREN DEVELOP ‘STRANGER DANGER’?
Dr Niedermaier-Patramani said: ‘Once lockdown is loosened, children might go through a transitional period where they will get used to moving in a broader social network and meeting others. For anxious children, it might take longer to get used to the new environment and they will need extra support and reassurance from their parents. My prediction is that these effects are transitional and will be forgotten before the end of the year.’
Angela said: ‘Children take their cues from their parents, and in particular the ones we don’t think are obvious such as our body language and our energy/feelings towards others and this is where the ‘stranger danger’ is more likely to develop.
‘It is a parent’s job to show children how to interact positively in this world, be confident and polite but aware of their boundaries and safety. This we can still do after lockdown.’
HOW ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF LOCKDOWN?
Rather than focus on the unavoidable challenges of lockdown, I would look on the brighter side of things: Lockdown can be a great opportunity to strengthen the bond between family members. Strong families create strong, resilient children, helping them to adapt more easily to stressful situations later in life.
‘Lockdown is also a great time to help babies reach new milestones, for example beginning the weaning journey, which can be great fun but also time consuming. At Little Tummy, we work hard to provide advice and support for parents to help them when weaning babies onto solids. Now is a great opportunity to explore new flavours and food textures with baby.’
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO HELP?
Harriet said: ‘I would be encouraging lots of FaceTime and voice calls with friends and family to allow my child to hear other voices, and once we felt it was safe to do so, we would start meeting up for socially distanced walks and introducing our baby back into this new world.’
Dr Niedermaier-Patramani said: ‘I encourage parents to reserve specific times of the day only for their children. It can be hard to juggle household chores, working from home and childcare at the same time and we often try to do everything simultaneously. Children will benefit from dedicated playtime where they can interact with their parents and have their full attention.
‘A lot of nurseries and schools give recommendations for activities at home. These include singing, arts and crafts or turning your flat into an obstacle course. Try to offer them a variety so you can stimulate all skill sets.
‘Minding your own mental health is so important. Where possible try to carve out a little time each day (even thirty minutes) to do something for yourself; a bubble bath; meditation; a video call with a friend. There is no denying that this situation is hugely challenging, so try to be kind to yourself.’
Angela said: ‘This is an easy one! Interact and play! Think sensory and nature as they are the key philosophies of my company Babyopathy – sing, read, talk, play music, dance, show them the beauty of nature that surrounds them in the flowers (colours), plants (textures and shapes), animals (noises etc), play in the dirt with cars and animals, crawl through the grass, run through puddles, don’t be afraid to dance in the rain and make a fort to sit in the dark and play with torches and light! I could go on and on, the list is endless but most importantly just have fun!’