Helping pandemic babies overcome developmental delays

If you gave birth during the Covid-19 pandemic and your child grew up experiencing developmental delays, yours is not an isolated case. Various researches, such as the one made by the University of Calgary in the Canadian province of Alberta, show that so-called pandemic babies develop late compared to those born long before the appearance of the deadly virus in early 2020.

“So ang Grade 1 ngayon, pumapasok na parang preschooler,” said Tina Zamora, directress of Nest School for Whole Child Development in Quezon City. “A lot of parents are messaging us that [their children] are experiencing separation anxiety, speech delay, socio-emotional issues. Because ngayon lang sila nasasanay na makasama ang mga bata at ibang tao, puwera pa ang kanilang mga pamilya.”

Zamora spoke at an event presented by Enfagrow A+ Four NuraPro called Getting Kids School-Ready, Future Ready that was recently held at the Activity Center of Robinsons Magnolia in Quezon City. She was joined in the panel by Dr. Ma. Theresa Arranz-Lim, founding member and former president of the Philippine Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics; actress Coleen Garcia, who has a three-year-old son; and child performer Annika Co and her parents Adrian and Anne Co.

Arranz-Lim raised another point that contributed to the increase in young children experiencing developmental delays: the early and prolonged exposure to gadget screen. She lamented that screentime has become the most convenient babysitter because a lot of parents want their children to behave. “Ayaw nilang maingay, malikot [ang mga bata]. Gusto nila, nakaupo lang.”

The doctor’s recommendation, quoting from the findings of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Philippine Pediatric Society, is “before 18 months old, no screen time.”

Then between 18 and 24 months old, going interactive, like via Facetime with grandparents, should be “no more than one hour a day.” At 24 months old, screentime with parental supervision is “no more than an hour a day and three hours on the weekends.”

Getting more than the recommended screentime, as explained by Arranz-Lim, can deplete the brain’s chemicals for neurotransmitters and affect the children’s mental state. “Pag tinawag mo, tulala. Di mautusan, di makausap. Kasi ubos na ang neurotransmitters. Magre-replenish pa ’yan. So it [screentime] is not really good for them.”

The specialist in developmental and behavioral pediatrics encouraged the parents in the audience to provide a sensory-rich environment for their children. The best way to do this is through play, which is “discovering the world, discovering what they can do with the world around them.”

She then gave an example: “Ang unang gagawin is gagayahin ang ginagawa ng mga tao sa bahay. So you can do that. Kumuha ng sandok. Ang sandok, gagawin pang drum, mike, baton, whatever. You play with your children. Ang mga old Filipino games, like piko, are good for motor development. You also bring your kids to the natural environment.”

Children going to school
For her part, Zamora reminded the parents to be “gracious” with their children who go to school for the first time. She pointed out, “Those kids will experience separation anxiety. The school must understand also that this will happen and how they will manage the classroom to minimize this. At the same time, we have to understand that our children went through that pandemic as much as we did. Mas naapektuhan sila kesa sa atin.”

The school directress then talked about the three learning approaches. First is the traditional school, where there are a lot of children in a classroom facing the teacher. Next is the Montessori education, wherein the “environment is prepared and the child learns from the environment” with the “teacher just a guide.” Lastly, there’s the progressive way, where the school is child-centered.

“The good thing is even traditional schools are already using very progressive ways because they saw the beauty of the progressive education,” she said. “Every child is unique. Meaning, kinikilala nila ang bawat estudyante at alam nila kung paano i-deliver ang curriculum in a way that the children will understand.”

Zamora agreed with the event’s host, Iza Calzado, an actress and new mom, that there’s a growing awareness and acceptance that report cards are not the sole basis of learning. “We now know growth mindset. Children really learn from their mistakes, rather than their imbibed or invented perfection.”

Concurring, Arranz-Lim added, “The measure of intelligence is applying what you learn. That’s when EQ [emotional quotient] comes in. EQ has something to do with executive functions, understanding what this means, planning it out, regulating your emotions, being able to accept feedback.”

When complimenting a child, for instance, the experts advise parents to not stop at saying “Good work!” or “Good job!” Zamora explained that a child can get used to hearing those compliments and will think that smartness is inherent. “Meaning, she did not strive for the work that you’re congratulating her for.”

If it’s for an artwork, she suggested saying something like “How did you draw this?” or “I like the way you used the color blue” before uttering “Good job!” She explained, “It’s the process that you want to highlight. You are congratulating the effort.”