The week's best parenting advice: March 17, 2020
Managing kids' coronavirus stress, staying sane in the time of self-isolation, and more
The kids are listening
No doubt global anxiety is skyrocketing right now. If you're feeling stressed about coronavirus, know that it's possible your kids are too. UNICEF recommends inviting them to share their fears, and "don't minimize or avoid their concerns." Be honest about the situation, but "use age-appropriate language, watch their reactions, and be sensitive to their level of anxiety." Most importantly, remember to take good care of your own stress levels. "Most young kids will remember how their family home felt during the coronavirus panic more than anything specific about the virus," writes Dr. Rebecca Kennedy, a licensed clinical psychologist. Calm yourself using techniques like deep breathing and walks in nature. And try to avoid obsessing about the pandemic in front of your children. "Our kids are watching us and learning about how to respond to stress and uncertainty," Kennedy says. "Let's wire them for resilience, not panic."
Welcome to the quiet zone
With millions of kids staying home from school due to the spread of COVID-19, parents are searching for creative ways to keep them occupied while simultaneously maintaining their own sanity. Ruth Margolis, a mother of two, has a few suggestions. Her first idea? Home-zoning. "There's a quiet zone, a work zone, a jumping on your sister's head zone," she writes at The Week. "And no one, under any circumstances, is allowed to bring their chaos into the nap or work zones. She also suggests investing in noise-canceling headphones, and gives you full permission to embrace screen time. "I recommend keeping iPads and phones charged at all times, and deploying them whenever you need to, guilt-free." At NYT Parenting, Jessica Grose recommends iPad apps including Endless Alphabet, Endless Reader, Endless Numbers, Raz-Kids, and Kiddopia. "Just give them screens," she says, "for now."
About 1.7 million American students are homeschooled, and due to the COVID-19 outbreak, that number is about to get a lot higher, at least temporarily. Parents should start by making a schedule, advises Nir Eyal at The New York Times. "For the past five years, my home-schooled daughter, now 11, has kept a three-ring binder with a daily schedule per page. Every week, she holds time for her online classes, study time, reading, leisure time, and household chores, like cleaning her fish tank." While many schools will provide online education tools, Eyal says this is a good chance to supplement with platforms like Outschool.com or KhanAcademy.org, which allow kids to learn from experts. Finally, cut yourself some slack, says Kimberly Fox, staff developer for The Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University in New York. "We don't have to be school," she told CNN. "Under these circumstances, we're not going to entirely replace all of the structures that happen at school."
Scrub, scrub, scrub
While it seems children rarely develop severe symptoms from the COVID-19 coronavirus, researchers say they can still spread the virus to others. So telling kids to wash their hands has perhaps never been more important. "The problem, of course, is that kids don't always follow instructions," says Claire Gillespie at The Week. By age 4, children may know the basics of washing, but "it's rare that they have the self-discipline to do so reliably and completely," says pediatrician Kelly Fradin, M.D. This means supervision is required to ensure proper technique: Kids should scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds, paying close attention the backs of their hands, between their fingers, and under their fingernails. And parents should be setting a good example, says pediatrician Palmo Pasquariello, M.D. from NYU Langone Global Pediatrics: "Let them see you wash your hands often — and properly."
Inside the adolescent brain
If you find yourself stuck at home and self-isolating with a sulky teenager, you're probably in for a lot of eye rolling and door slamming. But your teen's mood swings aren't really their fault. Our brains don't fully develop until we're in our early 20s, so "in terms of development, your brain is worlds apart" from your teen's, writes Claire Gillespie at The Week. Specifically, the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is responsible for executive function and rational reasoning, doesn't typically fully mature until age 24. "The PFC regulates executive control and our ability to essentially 'put the brakes' on behaviors and step back to reassess," explains Nicole Avena, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. This may explain teenagers' impulsive, seemingly irrational behavior. So just remember, when you feel like your 15-year-old is acting like a giant toddler, it's not all in your head. It's in theirs.