Pandemic impacting on children’s language development, say parents

Kathy Oxtoby
Thursday, October 7, 2021

More than half of parents say children’s language development has been impacted by the pandemic, a new survey finds.

More than half (66 per cent) of parents say children’s language development has been impacted by a lack of social interaction during the pandemic, a new survey has revealed.

Concentration, socioemotional development, and independence have also been negatively impacted over the last 18 months, according to a study of parents with three-to-eight-year-olds.

The research by children’s audio system tonies® also found that concentration (45 per cent), socioemotional development (45 per cent), and reading and writing (43 per cent) were the most widespread areas that had been adversely affected.




 Fostering language development

The data was taken from a September 2021 survey of 1,000 UK parents of children aged three to eight by marketing research company OnePoll.

Commenting on the findings, children’s language researcher Dr Jamie Lingwood said: The upheaval of the last 18 months has undoubtedly had an impact on children’s language uptake, and many parents will understandably be concerned.

‘However, there is lots that parents can do to support their children and foster their language development.

‘Reading to and listening to stories with your child can have a big impact on their language development. It has been shown that children who read regularly with an adult in the preschool years learn language faster, enter school with a larger vocabulary and become more successful readers in school.’

He said audio was also increasingly being recognised as ‘a tool that can improve literacy skills and vocabulary in an enjoyable, accessible way’.

‘For children who struggle to decode words, audiobooks and podcasts provide a great alternative to books – children can still be immersed in a narrative, while building vocabulary and improving comprehension.’

When asked about the key skills parents hope for children to gain through storytelling, over half (51 per cent) wanted stories to spark their imagination and stimulate curiosity, and 46 per cent wanted stories to develop their children’s range of vocabulary.


Emotional responses

Supporting children’s early literacy skills was an important aspect of stories for 45 per cent of parents, and 44 per cent wanted stories to help children understand new events and strong emotions.

Parents also revealed that telling their own stories often elicits emotional responses. More than half (51 per cent) noticed their children felt happier when telling a story, 45 per cent noticed an increase in their confidence, and 43 per cent said storytelling strengthened their parent-child bond.

The survey also highlighted the positive impact of storytelling on children’s mental health, with 41 per cent of respondents saying that it reduced children’s stress and anxiety levels.

With reading together being favoured by experts as a method to help children practise their own speech and language skills, tonies® has partnered with Dr Lingwood, to create a Steps of Storytelling guide. The guide, which will be available to download on the tonies® website, has been developed to support parents nurture language development in their children, outlining some of the key storytelling milestones for young children and showing how these skills develop over time.  


Lifelong love of stories

Pinky Laing, Partnerships Manager at tonies® UK and Ireland, said: ‘It’s been a difficult time for parents: less contact with extended families, social distancing, and the wearing of face coverings in public have left children less exposed to conversations and everyday experiences. There will understandably be some concern that this has meant language, literacy and social development may not have been able to develop as hoped.

We know how important early years development is to parents, and we want to support them to do as much as they can to foster a lifelong love of stories and literacy in their little ones.

Our Steps of Storytelling guide has been created to help highlight some of the key milestones that children should be aiming for in their language development, and to reassure parents that these skills will grow over time.

‘For parents looking for ways to support their child’s development, the guide also provides helpful tips and advice – such as how to encourage reluctant readers, correct common mistakes and extend their vocabulary.’

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