(CNN)As Ashlyn Atigre prepared to take her healthy son to the pediatrician for his 3-year-old well visit recently, a nagging concern was on her mind.
"I want to talk about the social impact of the pandemic with the doctor," said the Tampa, Florida, mother. "I'm an introvert but clearly need people. And I'm seeing his shyness increase and wondering if it's Covid, if I'm just seeing my genes or if it's because he's almost three and at a new (stage) in life."
The family has been social distancing from friends and relatives since taking their son out of day care back in March, said Atigre, 36, whose husband is a doctor and works in several local hospitals. (While they're taking all precautions at work and home, that's where they could potentially be exposed to the virus, said Atigre.)
For months, she said, they've only really interacted closely with one set of neighbors who have a child slightly younger than her son in a shared social "bubble."
"I have worried if he is learning emotions and empathy just being here with me," she said, as well as interpersonal skills like taking turns, sharing and learning to handle situations he doesn't like.
Fewer playdates with friends, caregivers in masks that hide their smiles at day care and too much Zoom and screen time during the pandemic — parents of toddlers are worried about more than green poop right now.
While these worries are valid, they're unlikely to bear longtime consequences on normally developing toddlers, said Amy Learmonth, a professor of psychology at William Paterson University of New Jersey.
"Toddlers' whole goal in life is to keep their caregiver close, which is why they do so many of the unattractive things they do," Learmonth said. "So in some ways, the necessities of the pandemic have given them exactly what they want."
The developmental task of toddlers — one of the age groups Learmonth said will best weather the pandemic — is to learn to be social beings. And that social development "can really happen in the family," she said.
Kids love being engaged in keeping someone safe, so tell them "they can't see Grandma because we're going to keep her safe."
"We need to make sure when we talk to them about how we're not going to hug our neighbor — all these things we're restricting them from doing — we need to be really clear that it's because of the virus," she said. And not that other people are scary.
The importance of play
The challenges of balancing working from home with toddler rearing are top of mind for many these days, including Karlee Vincent, a California Bay Area mother who says she has noticed behavioral changes in her 3-year-old daughter since taking