The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on infant and toddler development

J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. 2021 Sep 13. doi: 10.1097/JXX.0000000000000653. Online ahead of print.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has created new cultural norms with pervasive societal implications. Families have experienced a heightened amount of physical, psychological, emotional, and financial stress. Infants and children living with stress have the potential for delayed developmental milestones, difficulty with emotional regulation, and social or behavioral issues.

Purpose: This study aims to determine if the pandemic has affected developmental outcomes in infants and toddlers.

Methodology: Prepandemic and postpandemic developmental (ASQ-3) scores were obtained from charts of 1,024 patients (6, 12, 18, 24, and 36 months) from two pediatric practices.

Results: There were no significant differences in prepandemic and postpandemic ASQ-3 scores for the overall sample. Age-group analysis showed statistically significant differences in domain scores. Postpandemic problem-solving scores decreased among 6-month-olds while increasing among 24-month-olds. Categorization by score interpretation categories showed a slight decrease in postpandemic scores in the communication domain among 6- and 12-month-olds.

Conclusions: The pandemic has the potential to affect childhood development. However, the results of this study are reassuring, showing only slight differences in developmental scores prepandemic versus postpandemic. More studies are needed to establish causation and possible trends in future developmental trajectories.

Implications: An increased focus on communication screening and promotion of language and communication skills in young children postpandemic is needed. Education about the importance of parent-child engagement, nurturing relationships, opportunities for free-play and exploration, and caregiver support and stress reduction will continue to be of paramount importance.