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The Impact of Lockdown on Early Years

Following our article on attachment, That Nursery Life once again spoke to Dr Sarah Mundy from Amicus Psychology, this time to discuss the impact the past year has had on our children. Sarah is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist who specialises in working with children and families. She is also the author of the Parenting Through Stories books.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of our daily lives. While the phrase ‘unprecedented times’ has been used in what feels like every other sentence for the past year, that is only because it’s true. As a country, the UK has not had to deal with such a huge health crisis before which means that, when it comes to looking after our Early Years and managing the effect it has had on them, we’re in uncharted waters.

The impact that the pandemic and, more specifically, the lockdown restrictions that have come with it will vary greatly. It depends on the experiences children have at home and how families have helped children make sense of the situation. We know that being connected to friends and family outside the home is really important, so whether or not they have tried to keep connections to relatives, grandparents or friends will make a big difference to how much children’s lives have been disrupted.

Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas from Pexels

What is most important for younger children is their attachment relationship (for more details on attachment, make sure you check out That Nursery Life’s article An Introduction to Attachment).

If children have a secure attachment that’s working well, it acts as a buffer when they face adversity and will protect them somewhat from the stress of the current situation. Children will still pick up on anxiety, however, from their families. This could be anxiety about the pandemic, about finances, or about being less available to their children because they’ve had to work more.

"We know that many young children have missed out on the normal socialisation experiences they would have had. There is also a huge amount of anxiety and parental stress around. It's important for early years staff to focus on children's emotional and social aspects of learning, providing opportunities for connecting with others, labelling and understanding their feelings and finding ways to calm their bodies and minds." Dr Sarah Mundy

It’s likely that there will be an impact on children’s social development, as they’ve had significantly fewer opportunities to socialise over the past 12 months. Our Early Years aren’t getting the broad range of support that they would typically have, from visiting friends and family, from their parents learning about baby massage and sensory play and, particularly pertinent for more vulnerable children, from having a support structure around them that things like nursery and Early Years settings would provide. It’s also likely that there will be a greater need for working on separation anxiety in our Early Years.

Separation anxiety is very common, and a normal developmental stage, but children have been prevented from learning that it’s safe to leave their secure base and so haven’t practiced this over the past 12 months. While we don’t have the scientific evidence for this yet, it’s safe to assume that there will be increased separation anxiety in children returning to or starting at Early Years settings, as well as their families.

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya from Pexels

Because of this, our children’s social and emotional development should be the highest priority as we get back to some version of normality. If children are anxious they’re much less able to learn so, in order to ensure they start to engage in learning and their Early Years curriculum, we first need to build relationships to make them feel more secure in our settings. While literacy and maths are important, we first need to help children feel secure. That security, and an ability to articulate their feelings, will provide a solid base for the rest of their education.

To read more about Dr Sarah’s work, why not check out her blog?