The week's best parenting advice: May 19, 2020

Jessica Hullinger
A child and coronavirus.
Illustrated | iStock
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1.

Why coronavirus is different for kids

Most kids with COVID-19 will have mild symptoms, or none at all, while adults are more likely to experience severe side effects. Why does this disease present so differently in children than in adults? Researchers have several theories. One is that kids' immune systems are just better at fighting brand new pathogens, while adults "might be better armed against familiar threats," like the seasonal flu, explains Sarah Zhang at The Atlantic. A newly identified coronavirus-linked disease called "pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome" (PMIS) is landing a small number of children in the hospital weeks after they had COVID-19. Why isn't this happening to adults, too? As Zhang explains, delayed viral immune responses like these aren't uncommon, and they're more often seen in children than in adults. While the headlines are scary, remember that PMIS is rare. "When a virus infects hundreds of thousands of people, even the extremely rare complications that affect only a fraction of a percent of patients will become more obvious," Zhang says. [The Atlantic]

2.

Is it safe to release kids from lockdown?

There are rumblings of schools and day cares reopening, and state lockdowns easing. These developments present parents with a difficult question: Is it safe to release the kids from lockdown? Economist and author of Expecting Better Emily Oster has developed a step-by-step guide for making these tough decisions. First, frame your question, and identify the alternative. "You will have a much easier time making the choice if you are making a choice of A versus B (or A or B or C) rather than evaluating infinite possibilities," Oster says. Next, identify "the safest way to do what you are considering," and then ask yourself what the chances of serious illness are. Next, weigh this risk with the benefits. Finally: Make your decision. Or don't! "Do you need to make this decision now?" Oster asks. If not, put it off until you know more. "In the end, you'll need to make all of these decisions knowing there is no way to be sure they are right, or wrong," she says. "That is the uncertainty that we need to accept to move forward." [Emily Oster]

3.

Only boring people are bored

"Curiosity and imagination blossom from boredom," says Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult. That's all well and good, but you know what else often blossoms from boredom? Whining children. If you're looking for an easy way to help kids entertain themselves during lockdown, try an "I'm bored" jar, suggests Joanna Goddard, creator of lifestyle site A Cup of Jo. "You put in slips of paper with ideas like 'build a pillow pile and jump,' 'call Grandma or Grandpa,' or 'find 10 blue things around the house.'" Other parents are using whatever's at hand to keep kids entertained and somewhat educated. Lily Mae Martin tells The Guardian that her 9-year-old daughter recently dissected an old clock to study how it works. "I think making kids feel safe and keeping their love of learning alive matters more at the moment," Martin says. [Joanna Goddard, The Guardian]

4.

Teaching kids to grieve

Many children may be facing the loss of a loved one from COVID-19. How can parents help them grieve? The first step might be the hardest for parents: Tell children if a family member gets sick, and be honest about the possible outcomes. If a loved one dies, "it's best to avoid euphemisms," reports Melinda Wenner Moyer at The New York Times. Understanding that death is permanent will help children process the event. If a funeral isn't possible, memorialize the person another way, maybe by planting a tree or creating a photo album, Wenner Moyer says. And don't hide your own grief, either, says Robyn Silverman, Ph.D., a child and teen development specialist who hosts the podcast How To Talk To Your Kids About Anything. "When you talk about your own feelings about anything, it opens the door for the child to talk about theirs — it gives them that permission." [The New York Times]

5.

Sore losers

If you've ever hosted a family game night, you've probably noticed that kids are obsessed with winning. "Some kids are naturally more competitive than others," says licensed professional counselor Roseann Capanna-Hodge, EdD. "Winning games and sports and getting those top grades is a way to get loads of attention. Who doesn't want to bask in glory?" So, wanting to win is natural. But it can sometimes go too far. "Children who are always in competition mode have to turn down their empathy and aren't as likely to connect on a more emotional level," Capanna-Hodge tells The Week. She suggests parents model losing with grace, and encourage kids to empathize with the losing team. But don't feel like you have to stop yourself cheering your kid on from the sidelines: "Encouraging a child's competitive spirit can bolster their skills — and most importantly, their self-esteem — when done in a balanced manner that emphasizes a strong work ethic, sportsmanship, positive mindset, and adaptability," Capanna-Hodge says. [The Week]