The week's best parenting advice: March 3, 2020
Why books are the best, how to make a reward chart that works, and more
The benefits of books
We know reading is good for kids. But does it matter what they're reading? New research suggests it does indeed. A study published in the journal Oxford Review of Education examined reading habits of about 43,000 kids when they were ages 10 to 11, and again two years later, and found that kids who read "high-quality books" almost every day performed better on reading tests compared with kids who just perused other materials like newspapers, comics, or even short stories. Interestingly, improvement was also seen in math test scores. The researchers say books expose readers to complex new vocabulary, while news publications are "designed to be easily accessible." But they also suspect there's something beneficial to the way books require deep, sustained engagement of the imagination. This certainly makes the news that kids are reading less and less even more disheartening, but fear not: Here are some helpful tips on how to raise a reader.
Many parents use reward charts to bribe — ahem, I mean encourage — their kids to be on their best behavior. HuffPost UK's Amy Packham spoke with experts about how to ensure your charting endeavors are successful. For example, child behavior psychotherapist Simon Mathias says it's important to involve kids in designing the chart. Goals and rules should be clear, and the number of tasks relatively low. "It is best to have a few tasks rather than a long list," he says. Also, avoid revoking rewards if kids mess up. "If your child misbehaves, discipline them in a way you would normally, rather than using the reward chart in a negative way," writes Packham. And, she adds, there's a big difference between rewarding good behavior and bribing kids in order to make them do something. "Don't bribe them," she says.
If your child has ever stubbornly resisted taking medicine, you may have wondered if that prescription was absolutely necessary. You'd be right to wonder, writes Elizabeth Michaelson Monaghan at The Week. A recent study in Pediatrics found that many children are prescribed "low-value services" — medications, treatments, or tests that are "more expensive and equally or less effective than an alternative, including doing nothing." This can include things like antibiotics for common colds, or imaging tests for sinus infections. Sure, some patients may benefit from these specific treatments, but many don't, and end up with an unnecessary bill. How can parents prevent this from happening? Get informed. "Parents should feel empowered to ask questions," says pediatrician Kao-Ping Chua, MD, Ph.D., the study's lead author. "If they aren't comfortable with an intervention, they should ask whether it would be reasonable to wait. Sometimes just asking that question can get a doctor to re-think the course of action."
Speaking of antibiotics
New data in JAMA Pediatrics suggests children who receive antibiotic treatment in their first six months of life may be more prone to developing allergies later. As economist and author Emily Oster explains in her ParentData newsletter, "this seems to apply to all antibiotic types, and to all kinds of allergies (food, eczema, etc). The authors also show the risk goes up with each different type of antibiotic the baby takes." What's going on? Oster says there's no clear causality here, but it could come down to the microbiome — or gut health — which is susceptible to the bacteria-killing effects of antibiotics. "Does this mean you should avoid antibiotics if your baby really needs them? No, of course not," Oster says. But considering how over-prescribed antibiotics are, maybe "watchful waiting" is a good option.
How to raise feminist boys
"So much of feminism focuses on widening options for our daughters," writes Claire Gillespie at The Week. That's obviously a good thing, but "we need to widen options for our sons at the same time." She says that while raising a feminist son isn't always easy, thanks to deeply ingrained societal norms, it's not rocket science, either. All her kids — both boys and girls — play with dolls, as well as trucks and tools. She also works hard to model strong, independent female behavior, which is key, says Talya Miron-Shatz, Ph.D., a visiting researcher at Cambridge University. "If it's always the mothers who chaperone school trips because the fathers are working, making money, and being important people in the world, it's hard for a child to internalize that women and men are — or should be — equal," Miron-Shatz says. "When you're raising your boy to be a feminist, you're teaching him to be a better, more equal person."