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The Loneliest Childhood: Toddlers Have No Covid Playmates

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That’s the case of Erinn and Craig Sheppard, parents of a 15-month-old, Rhys, who live in Santa Monica, Calif. They are particularly careful because they live near the little boy’s grandmother, who is in her 80s. Ms. Sheppard said Rhys has played with “zero” children since the pandemic started.

“We get to the park, we Clorox the swing and he gets in and he has a great time and loves being outside and he points at other kids and other parents like a toddler would,” she said. But they don’t engage.

One night, Rhys was being carried to bed when he started waving. Ms. Sheppard realized that he was looking at the wall calendar which has babies on it. It happens regularly now. “He waves to the babies on the wall calendar,” Ms. Sheppard said.

Experts in child development said it would be useful to start researching this generation of children to learn more about the effects of relative isolation. There is a distant precedent: Research was published in 1974 that tracked children who lived through a different world-shaking moment, the Great Depression. The study offers reason for hope.

“To an unexpected degree, the study of the children of the Great Depression followed a trajectory of resilience into the middle years of life,” wrote Glen Elder, the author of that research.

Brenda Volling, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan and an expert in social and emotional development, said one takeaway is that Depression-era children who fared best came from families who overcame the economic fallout more readily and who, as a result, were less hostile, angry and depressed.

To that end, what infants, toddlers and other children growing up in the Covid era need most now is stable, nurturing and loving interaction with their parents, Dr. Volling said.

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