The week's best parenting advice: March 31, 2020
How Alexa can be a parenting tool, the case for unschooling, and more
Alexa, entertain my kids
"In this new normal," writes Jennifer Pattison Tuohy at Wirecutter, "reliable ways to keep the kids occupied and at peace are as valuable as jumbo-size rolls of toilet paper." One screen-free idea is to utilize Alexa's built-in voice-based games. Some of them, like "Hide and Seek" (which is exactly what it sounds like — the kid hides, Alexa guesses his or her hiding spot), are perfect for children under 5. Others, like the "Official Harry Potter Quiz," are better for older kids. And if you want something for the whole family, Pattison Tuohy recommends the Jeopardy-like "Guess My Name." And don't worry, if you want to make sure your kid's gaming experience is wholesome and harmless, you can "enable FreeTime, Amazon's free parental controls."
The case for unschooling
What's the best way to continue your kids' education now that many schools are closed due to the pandemic? Astra Taylor at The Cut has a radical but compelling suggestion: unschooling — an approach that scraps the curriculum in favor of giving kids autonomy to learn by following their own interests. John Holt, a former teacher who coined the term, said humans don't need to be "shown" how to learn because "we like to learn; we need to learn; we are good at it." Taylor, now a documentary film director, grew up as an unschooler and explains that "the adults encouraged our interests ... but did not instruct us or judge our progress." She says she thrived knowing her parents trusted her to take responsibility for her own education and suggests today's parents give it a try. "Why not take these weeks or months to let your children — and yourselves — think and learn outside the academic box," she says.
You've got a friend in me
Is being socially isolated from peers bad for children? Rebecca Onion set out to investigate this question for Slate and said that while research on the topic is slim, experts agree it's teenagers who will feel the effects of being separated from their friends most keenly, "since teenagers are so peer-oriented." Remember, video chatting apps like Zoom aren't just for your work conference calls — kids can use tech to connect and maintain relationships with their peers, too. Onion says parents should tune into their kid's moods by asking open-ended questions about their feelings. But instead of worrying about their kids being lonely, parents should focus on lowering their own stress levels. "The most important protective factor that a child can have in a stressful situation is a loving, supportive, consistent caregiver," Yale psychologist Dylan Gee told Onion. "In that sense, children are with the very people they need the most during a stressful time."
Injuries in isolation
One unfortunate side effect of the new coronavirus outbreak? Increased pediatric injuries sustained at home, doctors told The New York Times' Melinda Wenner Moyer. "We're expecting this huge spike," Marie Snodgrass, the injury prevention program lead at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, told Wenner Moyer. Compounding the problem is the fact that parents may be more reluctant than ever to take their kids into a medical setting for fear of contracting or spreading the virus. So, what to do? As one doctor told the Times, "supervision is the number one way to prevent accidental injury." So parents might consider working in shifts — one watching the kids while the other works. Be vigilant about childproofing. And if an accident happens, try making a telemedicine appointment. "If you do end up in an emergency room, rest assured that most hospitals are following procedures to keep patients safe and protected from exposure to the new coronavirus," Wenner Moyer says.
Compassion in the time of coronavirus
The pandemic presents a good opportunity to talk to kids about social responsibility, says Claire Gillespie at The Week. Explain to children that "their own seemingly small acts of sacrifice and kindness — from washing hands and staying home, to volunteering for those in need — can improve the lives of many, many others." And then make the concept actionable. Include children in any efforts to reach out to high-risk groups. Smile at passersby on your (socially distanced) walks. Donate surplus non-perishables to the food pantry. Or bring some joy to the neighborhood by writing encouraging messages on the sidewalk in chalk. "Whether the goal is to break through social isolation or ensure people have all the food and essential supplies they need, these acts can illustrate to kids the value of social responsibility — not just in the next few weeks and months, but for the rest of their lives," Gillespie says.