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Growing up in a pandemic: how are masks and lockdowns affecting babies’ development?

A man carries a toddler on his shoulders as both wear protective face masks to help prevent the coronavirus outbreak walk on a street in Beijing
A man carries a toddler on his shoulders as both wear protective face masks to help prevent the coronavirus outbreak walk on a street in Beijing Copyright Credit: AP
Copyright Credit: AP
By Natalie Huet
Published on Updated
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In a world that seems to keep going in and out of lockdown, and where faces are increasingly covered up with masks, how are babies and young children adapting? Euronews asked an expert in child development at Oxford University’s BabyLab.

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Throughout the pandemic, we’ve got used to wearing facemasks – and to understand each other we've started gesturing more, looking more closely into each other's eyes, or simply speaking louder.

But how are babies and young children adapting? How is all this affecting their cognitive development and language acquisition?

"If we put a mask on, the sound that babies hear may become muffled, and they also can't see our lips and facial expressions. So that will undoubtedly have an impact on language development," said Janette Chow, a researcher at Oxford University's Department of Experimental Psychology and an expert in infant language acquisition.

"What we don't know is how big this impact is and how long-lasting it is, because babies, after all, are still exposed to their own parents and siblings, if they have any," she told Euronews.

As a whole, masks and lockdowns may limit both the quantity and the quality of exposure that children have to language, and it’s mostly up to parents to try to make up for it, Chow added.

"Interaction is key as a parent. We need to just roll up our sleeves and actually engage with our children apart from the usual playing with them and reading to them. And we might need to come up with more creative solutions."

Watch the interview in the video player above.

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