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Home » Your Health » Pandemic could be putting your child's speech & language development at risk

Pandemic could be putting your child's speech & language development at risk

By Lisa Fehr
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, May 30, 2022

There's no denying that the pandemic has made the most important job in the world – parenting – even more challenging.

With children spending more time at home due to the closures of daycares, schools and preschools, and with parents working from home and quarantining, it's perhaps not terribly surprising that screen time is up as parents struggle to occupy and entertain their young ones.

As adults, many of us have something of a love-hate relationship with screen time. On the one hand, it can be a relaxing means of taking a stress break from daily tasks and concerns. On the other, it can also leave us feeling lazy, unmotivated, and extremely disconnected from the world around us. We can soon discover that we have not uttered a word to our family for hours.

The impacts are potentially far worse for young children, however.

As we move into a new phase of the pandemic, it is time to consider the negative effect that screen time - defined by the Canadian Pediatric Society as time spent with any screen, including smart phones, tablets, television, video games, computers or wearable technology - may be having on your child's development.

As an early years Speech-Language Pathologist, I have a front row view of the negative effects screen time has on childhood speech and language development, with many children arriving in my office without meeting their developmental milestones and unsure of how to play and relate to other people.

The statistics offer cause for concern. While the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends no screen time for children under the age of two years, and limited screen time (less than one hour/day) for children 2-5 years, a recent Ontario study conducted by Western University showed that children were spending nearly triple the recommended time on screens during the pandemic.

Other recent research shows that for every 30-minute increase in daily screen time above these recommendations, the risk of an expressive language delay (a delay in talking) goes up by a whopping 49 per cent.This is an astounding finding and one that many parents are shocked to discover.

As parents, we eagerly watch and wait for our child to reach their developmental milestones, including their first words. But when these words aren't coming or are delayed, a Speech-Language Pathologist can help.

Speech-Language Pathologists provide assessment, intervention, parent counselling and training that will help you know how to help your child take the next steps in their development. Those of us working in early intervention can also help you to identify and address the negative effects of excessive screen time on children's development, and on their talking in particular. 

If you are concerned about your child's speech and language skills try the following:

  • Limit screen time according the Canadian Pediatric Society's recommendations above
  • Remember that children learn to talk best through talking, not watching others talk!
  • Children learn to talk best from their caregivers, who are their first and best teachers
  • Children learn to talk best within their daily routines and experiences (bath time, meal time, story time, play time, outside time, dressing time). Talking to your child throughout all these times, using short, simple words, is the best way to help them talk.
  • Children under the age of three need to learn functional words that will help them communicate. So, don't worry about teaching them colors, shapes, letters and numbers quite yet

If you are concerned about your child's speech and language development and would like to consult with a specialist, contact Children's Therapy Initiative at 204-258-6550 or visit sscy.ca/caregivers-families/childrens-therapy-initiative/.

For more information on screen time and your children, search "screen time" at caringforkids.cps.ca.

For more tips on things you can do to help your child learn language and literacy skills, visit www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Parent-Tips.aspx.

Lisa Fehr is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Clinical Service Leader for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

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