Facial Expressions and COVID

Research shows that newborn infants begin attending to faces in the hours following delivery. Facial expressions are said to be one of the most important social elements for human interaction and are said to be an effective tool for promoting infant learning. Research also shows that newborn infants will gaze toward faces for longer periods of time than they will toward objects and that infants as early as 8-12 months, begin using information communicated through facial expressions (especially from their mother and father) to understand situations, read emotion, detect danger, and form bonds. It is reported that early in development, infants detect differences in facial features from person to person. Infants learn the characteristics of people they see such as their race and gender by studying their face. As infants begin to develop language, they study the mouth to develop an understanding of how the mouth moves to produce sound, which is an integral element of early babbling and jargon.

Given this research, during the COVID period, it is important for new or expectant parents to compensate for the limited facial input their infants can receive given the limited view of faces due tp COVID masks. Research shows that other components of communication can assist infants as they develop other early precursors for interaction. Using large, animated gestures with the arms and hands as well as demonstrating meaning through use of posture can promote early recognition of body language in infants. While COVID masks cover most of the face, demonstrating emotion and animation with the eyes and eyebrows is another way of expressing facial expressions for infant learning. In addition, using a variety of sound effects, pitches, and tones (e.g. Motherese, Parentese) can assist with early development of language for infants and young children.

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