The week's best parenting advice: April 14, 2020
The power of auto-reply, how to get kids to wear masks, and more
Auto-reply is your friend
If you're working and parenting from home during the coronavirus pandemic, your schedule has no doubt changed, but your clients' and coworkers' expectations may not have. Rather than trying to communicate your ongoing juggling act to everyone individually, let technology do the job for you: Put a note in your email signature or auto-reply explaining your availability and setting boundaries, suggests Leah Chernikoff at NYT Parenting. Get as specific as you need to. One mother told Chernikoff she uses the following out-of-office note, which can serve as a template for your own: "As a result of COVID-19, I am working remotely and sharing child-care responsibilities with my spouse for the foreseeable future. I will be unavailable in the afternoon, beginning at 1:30 p.m., and my response will be delayed."
Cover your mouth
The CDC is officially recommending Americans wear cloth masks in public spaces, and that applies to kids, too. But getting young children to wear masks — and then keep them on — is "probably going to take some work," writes Kristi Pahr at Parents.com. Her advice? Try to make it fun. Letting kids design or decorate their own masks could make them more inclined to wear them, but also "has the added bonus of fostering a sense of autonomy," Pahr says. If that fails, you might have to get more creative. "Give kids a matching mask for a favorite doll or stuffed animal to wear," says Atlanta-based pediatrician Jennifer Shu, M.D. "Or make a superhero mask to go with their superhero outfit and let them dress up for their trip out of the house." It's worth remembering that kids under the age of 2 shouldn't wear masks due to suffocation hazards. And of course, the safest option during the pandemic is to keep kids home as much as possible.
Let someone else do story time
As classrooms are shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic, many English teachers are reading aloud to their students online. Sure, you might be wary of introducing even more screen time to your kids, but consider the upsides: Research shows simply being read aloud to — in person or via video — has many benefits for growing minds. It improves vocabulary and helps develop an understanding of grammar, explains Holly Korbey at KQED. It's even helpful for older kids who already know how to read: "A recent small study out of England showed that teenagers who had challenging books read aloud to them had greater reading comprehension than when they read them on their own," Korbey says. If your kid's teachers aren't doing online read-alongs, there are plenty of other options. For example, country music legend Dolly Parton has been hosting an online story time each week.
You live, you learn
Mental illness affects millions of American adults each year. Unfortunately, it also affects kids. About 13 percent of children ages 8-15 live with a severe mental health disorder. Musician Alanis Morissette knows this well: Her eating disorder reared its head when she was a teenager. She started seeing a therapist at age 15 and tells Health magazine that "it was awesome." In an attempt to remove the stigma surrounding the idea of seeking help, she talks to her own children about therapy all the time. She tells them "therapy is where someone really helps you understand your heart, and your soul, and your mind, and your story, and your thoughts." She also encourages her children to tap into — rather than hide — their own feelings. "I want to give them the feeling that they're not alone, that I'm right here, and they can feel it all the way through," Morissette says.
Lessons from lockdown
There's a reason airplane cabin crew tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before you help your child with theirs, says Claire Gillespie at The Week. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't look after anyone else. The same is true now, during a global pandemic. "Your emotional reserve needs to be functioning at its highest level so you can be there for your kids when they need you," says therapist Jaime Bronstein, LCSW. So if you need to give the kids their screens for an extra hour so you can do yoga, color, watch your favorite TV show, or take a nap, do it, and don't beat yourself up about it. And, Bronstein adds, this is a habit you shouldn't quit when lockdown is over. "If you can check in with yourself daily and carve out regular time just for you, you'll be a happier, more present, and more available parent."