Masks affecting young children's social skills, Valley day care owner says

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A Harlingen day care center owner has noticed the impact masks have had on children's social skills during the pandemic. 

Diane Nichols runs the Magic Kingdom Learning Center in Harlingen. In order to keep kids in her care safe from COVID-19, she and her staff wear masks and sanitize frequently — especially since the COVID-19 vaccine is only available for those five and older.

Nichols knows the importance of masking up, but says there is a change in the newborns and toddlers at her center.

“We’re seeing less ability to interact with their caregivers or with their co-students in the classroom,” Nichols said.

Nichols believes masks limit the connection between young kids and teachers. With 30 years of child care under her belt, Nichols says she’s noticed a trend in children born during the pandemic.

“There’s a little bit more hitting and crying and frustration because they just have not tuned in to that emotional side than others,” Nichols said.

Dr. Cristel Escalona is the division chief of pediatrics for UTRGV School of Medicine. Dr. Escalona says babies and toddlers are watching the people around them to learn how to behave.

“Whenever they’re in a daycare, obviously, their teacher is who they are taking all their social cues from, and so if the teacher has a mask on, the kids can’t see exactly what’s happening,” Dr. Escalona said.

“As humans, we’re social creatures,” Dr. Escalona said. “If there’s anything that the pandemic has done, it’s limited our social interaction. So, does it affect the little ones? Absolutely, but that’s why as parents we have to make up for it.”

Dr. Escalona recommends parents set up playdates with trusted families to help with children’s social skills. She adds parents should not worry.

“Kids are resilient and amazing and they’ll absolutely be able to catch up,” Dr. Escalona said. “Whatever deficits that they have as far as their social interactions and social cues.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends indoor mask wearing for child care center staff, regardless of vaccination status, and masks for children older than two.


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