Parenting advice

The week's best parenting advice: May 5, 2020

What the science says about kids spreading COVID, tips for easing sibling squabbles, and more


Are kids 'viral bombs'?

Research already seems to show that severe illness from COVID-19 infection is rare in children. But as communities think about ways to reopen schools and daycares this fall, it's important that we know whether or not kids can pass the virus on to others. "In principle, they can," says economist Emily Oster in the ParentData newsletter. "They have viral loads, just like adults. Viruses do not know they are carried by kids!" But children do not seem to be "asymptomatic viral bombs," as Oster calls them. Early studies from Iceland, Italy, and the Netherlands suggest children are far less likely than adults to be infected with the virus in the first place, and therefore less likely to spread it. So while Ashish Jha, professor of health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, tells CNBC that "any proposal to reopen schools in September should be done hand in hand with aggressive testing of students," Oster concludes that "our primary concern should be adult-to-adult transmission."


Break it up, break it up

Lockdown is a recipe for sibling squabbles. If your kids are fighting a lot, "you may need to designate areas in your house for each child to use during the day," says licensed clinical psychologist and parenting evaluator Melanie English, Ph.D. Consider moving furniture around to create makeshift new rooms or special corners. "These new spaces could be for homeschooling periods but also for private time, which is something your children may not fully understand but should have each day," English says. Licensed professional counselor Mark Mayfield says he has a "calm corner" in his own house with feelings charts, a white board, stuffed animals, LEGOs, and coloring materials. If you do need to dole out some punishment for bad behavior, "punish your children the same, no matter who caused the fight," says Lea Lis, MD, a board certified psychiatrist and clinical professor at NYU. "This creates peer pressure for the siblings to get along: 'Stop or we both get into trouble!'"


Bumps, scrapes, and bruises

Pandemic or no pandemic, kids are going to injure themselves. In fact, doctors have predicted an uptick in pediatric injuries sustained at home, so it's good for parents to know what they can treat, and what needs a doctor's attention. "Parents have always been able to treat a whole host of injuries at home, from minor scrapes and cuts to burns and eye-splashes," pediatrician Cara Natterson tells The Week. Mild sprains need rest, ice, compression, and elevation, but if your kid suddenly can't walk or move as they could before, call a doctor. If a cut seems deep enough to need stitches, seek medical attention. Often head bumps are treatable at home, but watch out for signs of concussion: headache, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, vision problems, sensitivity to noise or light, confusion, and drowsiness. "If you need to be seen, go in!" says Dr. Natterson. "There will be some injuries or ailments that absolutely require urgent care and avoiding a hospital setting could create bigger problems."


Happier at home

Is sheltering in place making some kids ... happier? According to CNN, "hundreds" of families are reporting that their children seem less anxious, better behaved, and more independent now that they're spending all their time at home. What's going on? "Sheltering in place has lowered the stakes and expectations of everyday life," says CNN's Elissa Strauss. Calendars, previously jam-packed with activities, are suddenly wide open. The pressures of school are relaxed. Kids are able to take more chances and self-direct. "Every day after school we were running to music, running to gymnastics, and then we would get home, do homework and go to bed," says Seagal Hagege, mom of three. "Now we have a chance to get stupid and take a break together." Of course, many children are living with financial insecurity and grief, Strauss says. But she believes the reports of increased happiness are notable: "It helps parents see some of what was going wrong before the pandemic and contemplate how they might want to restructure their lives after this is over."


All the world's a stage

According to The Wall Street Journal, sales of children's costumes are up, a trend that corresponds with anecdotal evidence from parents that kids are playing dress-up a lot more during lockdown. "It's definitely increased ... probably by 50 percent," says Ryan Levasseur, father of 2-year-old Claire. Experts say such imaginative play is to be encouraged, especially in times of stress and anxiety. Playing dress-up "can be a form of escape, and I think we're probably seeing more of that now," says Alexandra Hamlet, a clinical psychologist at New York's Child Mind Institute. "But it can also be a way of making sense of your emotions and what's going on in the world ... dress up communicates a lot to the adults in our children's [lives]." Putting on a costume and playing a part also encourages empathy and, of course, creative thinking, Hamlet says. "Imagination instills hope. I think that's important right now."


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