Parenting advice

The week's best parenting advice: November 30, 2021

How parents should think about Omicron, grandmas know best, and more.

1

It's too early to panic about Omicron

A new COVID variant was detected in South Africa last week, but it's too early for parents to panic about it, writes Emily Oster in ParentData. Epidemiologists are worried about the new variant, called Omicron, because it has a large number of mutations, raising concerns that it will spread faster than other variants or "evade" existing vaccines more successfully. But the reality is that it will be a few weeks before we'll know whether those fears are justified. "None of this is at all clear at this point and if people say otherwise, they are wrong," Oster writes. "You shouldn't not send your child back to school on Monday. You shouldn't cancel holiday plans. There is nothing to do." At least not yet.

2

The bond between grandmother and grandchild

Grandmothers may have an easier time empathizing with their grandkids than their own children, writes Morgan Brinlee in Romper. Examining the brain activity of 50 grandmothers, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta found that different areas of the brain activated when participants looked at their grandchild compared to their adult child. When viewing a picture of their grandchild, the areas of the brain associated with emotional empathy lit up. In other words, "if their grandchild is smiling, they're feeling the child's joy. And if their grandchild is crying, they're feeling the child's pain and distress," explains Emory University Professor James Rilling, the study's lead author. But when they viewed an image of their adult child, areas of the brain associated with cognitive empathy lit up, indicating a greater focus on attempting to understand what the adult child is feeling or doing.

3

Cutting back on pandemic-bloated screen time

In the wake of pandemic lockdowns and school closures during which many teens were stuck inside scrolling through social media, the prospect of cutting back on family screen time may seem intimidating — but it's not impossible, writes Rachel Fairbank in Lifehacker. One simple way to do so is to build non-technology rituals into the day. Even something as simple as spending 10 minutes a day of dedicated, device-free, one-on-one time with your child or partner can help you inch toward digital moderation. Parents can also try to set clear expectations with their children about the use of screens at home. Dedicate an hour for screen use after school, followed by a screen-free dinner, for example. "The goal isn't to be perfect, but to try and find a routine that makes your family life better," Fairbank writes.

4

Masks might not prevent little kids from recognizing facial emotions

Ever since widespread masking became the norm, parents have worried that it may hinder or delay small children's emotional development and communication skills. But new research suggests those concerns may be overstated, writes Morgan Brinlee in Romper. In a study conducted in Switzerland, 276 children between the ages of three and six years old were asked to identify emotions expressed by actors in a series of pictures. When looking at photos of actors who were not wearing face masks, children correctly identified the emotions expressed 70.6 percent of the time. When looking at masked actors, their success rate was only slightly lower, at 66.9 percent, suggesting the masks were not a significant hindrance to the children's emotion recognition. Showing children static photographs depicting emotion is not a perfect substitute for real-world interactions, notes JAMA Pediatrics' editor Dr. Dimitri Christakis, but the findings should offer parents some reassurance.

5

Losing a child damages the heart, literally

New research suggests that losing a child damages the heart — literally, writes Nicholas Bakalar in The New York Times. Using data from over six million parents in Scandinavia from 1973 to 2014, scientists found that parents who lost a child were 20 to 40 percent more likely than other parents to have a heart attack over the course of the study. In the first week after losing a child, parents' risk of having a heart attack was three times that of parents who had never experienced such a tragedy. The study's senior author, Krisztina D. Laszlo, warns against worrying bereaved parents about their increased risks, but encourages "doctors, friends, and family members of a person who has lost a child to be on the lookout for things like chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of heart problems or an impending heart attack."

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