The week's best parenting advice: May 17, 2022
Mom brain isn't a joke, the truth about that one SIDS study, and more
Mom brain isn't a joke
Mothers often invoke "mom brain" as an explanation or apology for feeling scatterbrained or forgetful. It's true that some areas of women's brains do shrink during pregnancy, but "much of the time, what's really happening is that mom brains — like all other brains — short-circuit when they are overwhelmed," writes Julie Bogen in The Atlantic. Properly understood, mom brain "is a product of the unequal burden that we have placed on women to do both the physical caregiving for children and also the logistical and mental work of caring for a whole household," says sociology professor Jessica Calarco. Such chronic stress comes with a range of serious consequences, triggering major psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular strain, and even leading to poor birth outcomes. "'Mom brain' isn't some irreparable, irreversible symptom of motherhood," Bogen writes. "It's a symptom of a society that doesn't support mothers even as they contribute trillions of dollars worth of unpaid labor."
The truth about that new SIDS study
Last week, an article claiming that researchers had pinpointed why infants die from SIDS was widely shared on social media. But while it's true that a new study found a link between a particular enzyme and SIDS, it doesn't come close to "pinpointing" anything, writes Emily Oster in ParentData. Media coverage of the findings implied that precautions parents have traditionally undertaken to prevent SIDS, such as laying babies on their backs, not letting them overheat, and keeping all toys and blankets out of the crib, are no longer necessary. "This is definitely false," writes Oster. There is high-quality evidence to back up many of these safety measures — and the new study's findings, though interesting, don't change that. "Back sleeping. Pacifier use, if that works for you. No soft stuff in the crib. No sofa sleeping. These are the key interventions to keep your baby as safe as possible."
How to parent in the heat of the moment
You tell your child it's time to turn off the TV and they begin screaming, throwing things, and hitting you — do you put the child in time-out to cool down, or talk them through the tears? Both approaches can be helpful, depending on the circumstances, the child's temperament, and whether you are able to stay calm. Whichever approach you take, remember that "the teaching aspect of discipline can't happen when a child is emotionally activated." And don't assume that you know what the child is feeling. "The truth is, you have no idea, based on their behavior, what's happening to them psychologically," says Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. So approach the situation not only as a disciplinarian, but also as a "curious explorer" of your child's experience.
How to kick the intensive parenting habit
"Intensive parenting — the dominant model of modern American child-rearing — is a bit like smoking: The evidence shows that it's unhealthy, yet the addiction can be hard to kick," writes Elliot Haspel in The Atlantic. To embrace a healthier strategy, parents should "start thinking of parenting not as a set of instructions but as several dials," writes Haspel. The dials that display love, validate children's feelings, and set aside regular quality time, should be turned up to 10. Others, like solving all of your child's non-serious problems should be turned down pretty low. In order to calibrate the dials properly, parents will have to stop overestimating the impact of everyday parenting choices on child development, the dangers that children face outside, or the value of an elite college degree, and stop underestimating the value of parent well-being. And of course, public policies that alleviate parents' anxieties about their children's prospects would help, too.
Getting a toddler to eat vegetables is an infamously difficult challenge, but bribing them can make it easier, writes Rachel Fairbank in Lifehacker. And there's proof. In a recent study conducted in the Netherlands, researchers found that toddlers who were offered a fun, non-food reward were more willing to eat a wider variety of vegetables than those who weren't. "Toddlers respond very well to positive reinforcement," said family physician Beth Oller. The risk, of course, is that the child begins to expect a reward for doing everyday things like sitting in their chair at dinner. Still, Oller added, "if a sticker is going to get the child to try something new, there may not be much of a downside to it."