Babies’ social development post lockdowns

There is a growing concern amongst many parents that their baby’s social development will have been impacted during lockdowns. Months upon months of mostly being exposed only to their immediate family, these infants barely knew of a world outside their homes.

Collectively, parents want to know how these limited opportunities for social interaction will affect their children long-term. Will they be overly anxious around new people and in unfamiliar environments? Will their separation anxiety stay with them for years to come?

Here we answer all of your questions, and provide tips on what you can do to support your baby’s social development after these challenging times.

First of all, why is social development important during infancy?

Babies require socialisation, but you’re already socialising them without realising it. Before 3 years of age (which is the end of infancy), children get most of the social interaction they actually need by being around their parents, siblings, and caregivers.

Supporting your baby’s social skills is an important part of their development because it exposes them to new situations and environments, encourages language development, builds self-esteem, teaches social cues, and helps them learn to be versatile.

But, my baby never interacted with other children during lockdowns. Should I be worried?

Babies learn through relationships, and their most important interactions are with their caregivers. You are modelling how to engage in social interactions, and then your baby will take what they learn from you and apply it in social interactions with other children later in life.

So, your baby doesn’t need other children to learn these skills. While it does have some benefits being around other little ones, there’s no need to stress about socialising your child just yet. Most of it will come naturally in time anyway.

Did virtual interactions help my baby develop social skills?

It’s difficult for babies to apply what they learn on screens to real life, but interactions such as FaceTime with the grandparents, can be beneficial if they’re high quality, serve-and-return, baby-led interactions. What this means is that the baby ‘serves’ the cue, the family member perceives the cue, and then ‘returns’ it with eye contact, gestures, and/or words.

For instance, if your baby makes noises to Nana, she might repeat the noises back to them. Also if, for example, someone virtually read your baby a story, or shared the same snack as them, discussing the colours, textures, and so on. Shared experiences are more meaningful.

Could virtual classes or playgroups have been beneficial?

Online mum and bub yoga classes, baby music classes, and playgroups will most likely be less directly beneficial to your baby. If you’re talking to other parents in the classes, your baby will be exposed to more language, so it’s definitely not a waste of time. It would have been hugely beneficial to you as it’s important that you stayed socially connected as well.

My baby only saw other adults in masks. How will they learn to read facial expressions?

It’s true that babies missed out on some gestures, such as smiling, but you and others still would have responded to your baby’s cues accordingly with eye contact, words, and your tone of voice.

When should I be worried that my child is lacking social skills?

In healthy babies, social development occurs on an expected trajectory. As you will see here, it’s not until they are about 3 years of age that they engage in more interactive play with other children.

Watch for the following social milestones (all ages are approximate as every baby is different), and speak with your GP or MCHN for guidance if they’re not demonstrating these social cues:

  • Newborn: may return their caregiver’s gaze.
  • 2 months: a baby will smile in response to their caregiver’s voice or smile.
  • 4 months: turn-taking conversation (vocalisation) begins.
  • 5 months: can recognise the primary caregiver by sight.
  • 6-12 months: stranger anxiety emerges, and distress upon separation from primary caregiver.
  • 8 months: joint attention skills develop, for example, the baby will look in the same direction as the caregiver.
  • By 12 months: proto-imperative pointing emerges (the infant requests by pointing at the object of interest, and integrates it with some eye contact between the object and the caregiver.
  • 12 months: takes part in interactive play, such as peek-a-boo. The infant might make gestures to wave bye-bye and to communicate their needs and interests.
  • 15 months: empathy and self-conscious emotions emerge. They might look upset when they hear someone else cry, or look proud when praised.
  • 18-30 months: individuation (autonomy) emerges. This is when their temperament manifests more.
  • 18-24 months: the child learns pretend play, but they play next to or in parallel with another child. They still cannot play in a cooperative way with others.
  • 3 years: It’s not until now that the child can be expected to engage in more interactive play with others, and start to learn to share and cooperate.

I’m still worried because my baby seems shy/nervous around others or is anxious when we separate. 

Your baby’s temperament, or personality, is innate and has an impact on their social development regardless of the lockdowns. Shyness is normal and nothing to be concerned about. It can fade after some time, but it may not, and that is totally fine. Some children require time and patience in new situations and with new people.

Stranger anxiety and separation anxiety are also completely normal stages of development that you may see emerge around 6-12 months. Read more on separation anxiety here.

What’s the biggest concern about babies not experiencing normal social conditions?

The biggest concern from a social perspective during this time is the lack of socialising and support for the parents. Support is critical to your mental health, and therefore your ability to provide quality social interactions for your baby.

If you’re still struggling post-lockdowns, make an appointment with your GP. Try to organise more social meetups, and talk to your friends and family about how you’re not coping. Just talking about it can help immensely, and chances are you’re not alone in how you’re feeling. Be kind to yourself – you parented under conditions that parents have never experienced before.

How can I support my baby’s social development?

  • Get outdoors as often as you can. New surroundings and sensory experiences are good for their development and your sanity.
  • Don’t force social situations. If your baby doesn’t enjoy it when someone talks to them or when children want to play with them at the playground or playgroup, then don’t push it.
  • Talk to your baby a lot and make eye contact. Narrate everything you’re doing, ask them questions, and read books.
  • Model empathy. ‘Sportscast’ what your baby appears to be feeling, such as, ‘I can see you’re getting frustrated with that toy. Would you like a break?’, or ‘That new tooth must be hurting. Do you need a cuddle?’
  • Provide responsive, loving care. Babies learn to communicate through emotions, and when you respond in a soothing and consistent way, you will be laying the foundations for their sense of security and trust in the world.


We can’t possibly know what the long-term affects of these lockdowns will be on anyone, but you can be rest-assured that your child received as much social interaction as they needed with you and their other family members. Things like childcare, music classes, library sessions, and playgroups are wonderful but they aren’t absolutely vital for a child’s social development.

Now that you’re able to do those things, you will find that your child is adaptable and resilient. There may be a tricky transition period, so take it slow, and be patient and compassionate when heading back into the world with your little one. There’s no rush.

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