With most of the school year in 2020 disrupted by the pandemic, what does this mean for our children? Will they be behind in their development? Will they be able to ‘catch up’?
When makchic recently ran a Sharing Session together with Garden International School (GIS), 80 per cent of our followers said they felt the pandemic had negatively affected their child’s academic, social and emotional development. The majority of them also expressed concerns that their child was behind in their development.
We spoke to Etienne Visser, Assistant Head of Primary from GIS about parents’ fears and concerns and asked for advice on children’s development.
My Child has Changed
One of makchic‘s followers said her child had started developing weird habits since the Movement Control Order (MCO). She was concerned that it was a coping mechanism for stress. There were also other parents who said their child seemed to lack confidence, was insecure in their abilities or had lost the art of conversation.
Some parents were aware that 90% of a child’s development happens before the age of five, but many more worried that they were not doing enough to support their children in meeting their developmental milestones, particularly during this pandemic.
Visser reminded parents that “the time a child has at home with his or her family should not be underestimated.”
Positive interactions with parents and caregivers may sound like simple activities. However, it is imperative in building a strong foundation for how the brain is built. It determines which brain connections will develop and last a lifetime.
He also cited a report by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, which found that the healthy brain architecture depended on a sturdy foundation built by “appropriate input from a child’s senses and stable, responsive relationships with caring adults.”
‘Serve and Return’
To protect our children’s development, Visser said it was important for parents to understand the concept of ‘Serve and Return’ as coined by the Harvard researchers.
Young children constantly serve up ‘invitations’ to engage with their parents and caregivers. Each invitation provides opportunities for us to return a response and interact with the child. Every simple interaction helps builds the brain, giving them opportunities to explore the physical world and providing safe and nurturing environments for them to grow.
With busy schedules or pandemic-related chaos reining in households, parents may not be able to engage in serve and return interactions all the time. But what is key, experts say, is the parents’ overall responsiveness. The aim is to find ways to start building longer and better rallies with our children.
Five Easy Steps
Visser reminds parents that there are five simple and easy steps to remember for the ‘Serve and Return’ approach:
When a child points or is making a facial expression towards something, parents should acknowledge this and provide a response. Why is this important? By noticing serves, and responding to them, parents are encouraging the child to explore the world around them. They would also be able to understand their child’s needs and interests better and strengthen the bond they have.
2. Support and encourage
“The past year has been a particularly challenging year for all of us. Kids and parents have been going through a lot of stress,” Visser said. Not getting a return can actually add to the child’s stress. When a serve is returned, it helps reassure the child that you care and that their feelings matter. “Praising their efforts by focusing on their strengths gives the message that we are seeing the best in themselves and accepting them for who they are,” he added. A return could sometimes be non-verbal and as simple as a comforting hug or a nod to acknowledge one’s feelings.
3. Give it a name
When a child points at something, give it the name. This will help with language development and provides the child with the words to use to express themselves. Visser said that reading was another great way to increase a child’s language development. “Ask your child lots of questions about what he or she has read; the pictures, predicting what might happen next, how a character is feeling etc. Model to the child by saying things like ‘I can see the boys face looks quite sad, I wonder if it is because of…’ or ‘look, the boy is pointing to the ball, I think that he might…'”
4. Take turns and wait
Visser said as adults, we tend to rush our children for a response. Instead, we should sit back rather than telling them what they should be doing. By slowing down, you give the child time to form their responses, helping build their confidence and independence. This slower pace will also help keep the interaction going back and forth for a more extended period. You will soon notice that you have better insights into the child’s needs too!
5. Practise endings and beginnings
It is also essential to notice when children are done with something, said Visser. Observe the signals when they are ready to move on to the next activity. When you share your child’s focus, you will notice the beginning and end. Why is this important? You will allow for more ‘Serve and Return’ interactions and at the same time support them in exploring their world.
Practise, practise, practise
Visser said that when it comes to children’s development, cognitive, emotional and social capacities and competencies were highly intertwined and connected, and “one can’t happen without the other.”
With everything happening right now, you might find it challenging to provide lots of high-quality ‘Serve and Return’ interactions. Visser reassures that with time and effort, it will soon come naturally. “Look out for opportunities to engage one-on-one while performing daily activities such as eating or getting dressed. These little moments could make a significant difference to the lifelong wellbeing of the child.”
This is a sponsored post by Garden International School.