The week's best parenting advice: September 1, 2020

Jessica Hullinger
A sick child.
Illustrated | iStock
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1.

Cold or COVID?

As autumn approaches, so does cold and flu season. But the pandemic has made things even more stressful for parents: What if that runny nose is actually coronavirus? The tricky thing about COVID-19 is that its symptoms vary, and many overlap with other — more minor — illnesses. "If your child's symptoms seem out of the ordinary, it's best to talk to your child's pediatrician," writes Christina Caron at NYT Parenting. Definitely keep kids with fevers and other symptoms home from school, because “sometimes mild symptoms are all we have to go on and kids are really good at shedding the virus, even if they don't have symptoms," Adam Ratner, M.D., tells Caron. Testing asymptomatic kids isn't necessary, doctors say, but if you know your kid was exposed, the best time frame within which to have them tested is about five days after exposure, "because the virus may still be incubating in the body," says Meg Fisher, M.D. [NYT Parenting]

2.

Do you hear that?

How can we teach our children to be good listeners? Terry Ward at CNN recently tried something called a "listening walk" with her preschooler — an evening stroll through an area with "as little human-made noise as possible." During such a walk, parents let kids follow their curiosity, naming the natural noises they hear along the way. "Parents have adapted to a noise-polluted world by learning not to listen because noise is useless information," Gordon Hempton, co-founder of Quiet Parks International, tells Ward. "So we actually teach our children, by example, not to listen." Not only can these walks foster listening skills, they encourage a connection to the natural world. "If you don't develop that sense of literacy and attachment and connection to the Earth early on, it's really, really difficult later on," says Mark Bailey, a professor in the college of education at Pacific University. [CNN]

3.

Earlier is better

Many parents are waiting too long to talk to their young children about race, a new study suggests. The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, surveyed more than 600 adults in America and found that many — regardless of their own race — believe 5 years old is the earliest age at which to have a conversation with children about race. However, the researchers note that kids become aware of race as infants, and begin to form racist beliefs at age 3, so the sooner the conversation happens, the better. "Even if it's a difficult topic, it's important to talk with children about race, because it can be difficult to undo racial bias once it takes root," says study co-author Leigh Wilton, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Skidmore College. "Toddlers can't do calculus, but that doesn't mean we don't teach them to count. You can have a conversation with a toddler about race that is meaningful to them on their level." [The American Psychological Association, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General]

4.

You're not supermom

As the school year starts, many parents could do with a gentle reminder to practice some self-compassion. That may sound cheesy, but the circumstances are ripe for feelings of failure, especially for parents who are homeschooling and working at the same time. "In that setting, parents are often forced to compromise by allowing more screen time than they would normally or loosening their usual rules about food choices," child psychologist Cynthia Rogers tells Danielle Campoamor at Good Housekeeping. Campoamor says she worries the pandemic has turned her into a bad mom, but Rogers encouragers her, and other parents, to give themselves some grace. "Ultimately, the quality of the parent-child interaction, even if the quantity is a bit less than normal during these times, is the most important thing," Rogers says. "Children need to feel loved and supported but they don't need things to be perfect to thrive. I think sometimes as moms we forget that." [Good Housekeeping]

5.

Helicopter kids are here

"If your kids have gotten more clingy during quarantine, you are not alone," writes Mita Mallick at Mothermag.com. She recently coined the term "helicopter kids" to describe her increasingly needy children "born out of the 2020 pandemic." She notes that kids who have helicopter parents — or parents who micromanage — often have trouble managing stress and self control as adults, and ruefully speculates that helicopter kids are inflicting long-term effects on their own parents' attention spans, tempers, and impulses. "The hovering and 'zooming in and out' of my helicopter children will no doubt have lasting psychological effects on me when I physically return back to my office. ... I never thought I would say this. I think I would welcome back that work bathroom stall where the door never fully locked any way in exchange for a few moments of peace and quiet." [Mothermag.com]