The week's best parenting advice: July 13, 2021

Kids and the Delta variant, 6 magical words, and more

Mom and child.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

1. What the Delta variant means for kids

The Delta variant of COVID-19 has reached the U.S. and now accounts for the majority of new cases in the country. "How much does this change how we think about kids (if at all)?" asks Emily Oster at ParentData. To answer that question, she poses two more: Does Delta make kids more susceptible to COVID? And is it more likely to lead to serious illness? Yes, the data suggests the Delta variant is more contagious and therefore everyone — kids and adults — are more likely to catch it if exposed. Young kids are likely to be overrepresented in the case numbers in coming months, "not because the variant is more infectious in children," but because they're the last age demographic in the States to not have been offered vaccination. That's an important distinction. Early data does not suggest Delta leads to more serious illness in kids, which is a relief. "COVID-19 for kids (variants or not) is a risk comparable or lower than diseases like RSV or the flu," Oster says.

Emily Oster at ParentData

2. 6 magical words

There are six "magical words" parents can use the next time their young child gets upset, says clinical psychologist Rebecca Kennedy of Good Inside: "You didn't want that to happen." Try it the next time your kid's block tower falls down, or they cry because their food isn't cut the way they like. Instead of rushing to fix the problem, or telling them it's no big deal, or explaining what they should learn from an upsetting event, validate their feelings in the simplest of ways, by acknowledging that they just didn't want that thing to happen. "These words help a child feel seen, which helps a child calm down," Kennedy says.

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Rebecca Kennedy at Good Inside

3. Boosting the birth rate

America's birth rate is on the decline. Last year's numbers were the lowest since 1979, reports Joe Pinsker at The Atlantic, and the pandemic "baby bust" probably won't help. What will? "The two main ways to help people have the babies they want are to give them time and give them money," Pinsker says, citing conversations he had with demographers. Germany and Estonia, for example, have seen birth rates tick upwards in recent years after rolling out better parental leave and improved child-care options. The Czech Republic started giving parents cash to procreate in the 2000s, and has seen more births over time. "When you look at the U.S. compared to peer countries, we could start literally anywhere because the bar is on the floor for what we do for parents." Leslie Root, a postdoctoral scholar in demography at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told Pinsker.

The Atlantic

4. The birthday party effect

Just because the COVID-19 risk remains pretty low for kids doesn't mean you should throw all caution to the wind. New research suggests small gatherings like birthday parties play a major role in spreading the virus. The researchers looked at household infections in the two weeks following any household member's birthday and found that, in counties with high rates of infections, birthdays were associated with a "31 percent increase in infections compared to the baseline case rate," Parents reports. The effect was larger after kids' birthdays than adults' birthdays. It's important to note this data was collected before vaccines were available, but consider having your child's party outside or putting in place other preventive measures as many parts of the U.S. see a Delta-fueled surge.

Parents JAMA Internal Medicine

5. Write that down

A new study reveals the importance of writing by hand, despite the prevalence of computers at home and school. "Are there ... benefits to handwriting that have to do with reading and spelling and understanding?" asks Brenda Rapp, a senior author on the study, which is published in the journal Psychological Science. "We find there most definitely are." Rapp and co-author Robert Wiley of University of North Carolina, Greensboro, taught the Arabic alphabet to 42 people. One group learned by writing, another by typing, and the last by watching videos. The group that learned by hand-writing the letters became proficient in the alphabet faster than people in the other groups. The participants in this study were adults, but the authors think the findings apply in classrooms, "where pencils and notebooks have taken a backseat in recent years to tablets and laptops, and teaching cursive handwriting is all but extinct," writes Jill Rosen at the Johns Hopkins HUB.

Johns Hopkins Psychological Science

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Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a writer and former deputy editor of The Week Digital. Originally from the American Midwest, she completed a degree in journalism at Indiana University Bloomington before relocating to New York City, where she pursued a career in media. After joining The Week as an intern in 2010, she served as the title’s audience development manager, senior editor and deputy editor, as well as a regular guest on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. Her writing has featured in other publications including Popular Science, Fast Company, Fortune, and Self magazine, and she loves covering science and climate-related issues.