The week's best parenting advice: September 8, 2020

Jessica Hullinger
An empty desk.
Illustrated | iStock
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1.

Not present

Here's hoping COVID-19 puts an end to our obsession with "perfect" school attendance, writes Melissa Mills at Parents.com. We should be teaching our kids to listen to their bodies and take time off if they need to, Mills says, rather than ignoring pain in striving for an arbitrary accolade. "Who says that just because kids are physically present — either in a classroom or an at-home set-up for learning — that they're mentally present and engaged?" Sometimes, parents are part of the problem, encouraging kids to push through struggles no matter what. That has to stop. "Attendance prizes mask student disparities and reward the wrong thing," says educator and author Karen Gross. "In the time of COVID, we can get rid of these approaches and replace them with way more valuable honors — for creativity and participation and kindness and independent thinking. How about that?" [Parents.com]

2.

Are sports safe?

Fall sports season is here. Is it safe for kids to play despite the pandemic? There's no clear answer, writes Ben Cohen at The Wall Street Journal, and parents are agonizing over the decision. There are two main concerns: First, "there is no way to play in a bubble," and second, no matter what safety precautions are in place on the field, "one asymptomatic teenager forgetting his mask or splitting chips and salsa with teammates is enough for the virus to spread," Cohen writes. Outdoor sports are safer than indoor sports, but team sports are riskier than individual activities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says parents should consider "physical closeness of players, and the length of time that players are close to each other or to staff" when weighing their options. But no doubt, it's a hard choice. "The pandemic response has been so disorderly that it's no longer unusual to have kids playing sports but not going to school," Cohen says. [The Wall Street Journal, CDC]

3.

Will COVID kill my kid's love of learning?

"My daughters loved school" before COVID, writes Jessica Grose at NYT Parenting. But the classroom looks very different this fall. How can parents keep their kids' love of learning alive in a time of masks and online education? Experts told Grose that getting back into a routine is key: "Kids need to get up at the same time, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth and hair and sit down in a specially designated school area," she says. Next, figure out what, exactly, they dislike: Do they hate Zoom? Are they uncomfortable in a mask? Identify those pain points and address them individually. Finally, don't catastrophize, Grose says. Keep your own anxiety in check. "We want to build resilience," adds Brooklyn-based learning specialist Katharine Hill. "And we do that by acknowledging that things aren't the way we hope they are, but we still look forward to specific aspects, and we can learn from the experience as it's happening." [NYT Parenting]

4.

Hooray for video games?

Video games often get a bad rap in parenting circles, but right now, they're "helping teens connect with friends," writes Debora Williams at Motherwell. She lives in Abu Dhabi with her 16-year-old son, who is spending "hours on end" playing Call of Duty with his friends. In non-pandemic times, Williams would never have allowed a single-person shooter game to be played in her house. But "games are a good way to socially connect," research psychologist Rachel Kowert tells CNN Health, adding that in times of anxiety and reduced social access, video games give kids other avenues for staying connected. "I love that the boys figured out how to spend time together, even if I wish they were doing something like online cross-stitching or meditation," Williams says. "Being a parent means you're always pivoting ... It also means letting your kid scream about video-game snipers because that's how he's trying to keep his sanity — and friendships — alive." [Motherwell, CNN]

5.

Vroom, vroom!

Young kids have a lot of strange obsessions, but one in particular seems to be extremely common: toy cars. Or maybe toy trucks. Anything with wheels, really. Why are children so fascinated by moving vehicles? From age 0-2, children are in the sensorimotor stage of development, explains Alyssa Wilkins, a music therapist who specializes in early childhood development and the treatment of children with autism. "Toys and real-life objects like cars are very sensorily engaging. Kids can interact with toy cars, trucks, etc. through spinning their wheels, watching them move in a variety of directions, or hearing the sounds they make." Plus, kids are just naturally drawn to loud, moving objects — it's all fun sensory input. A car is also a cause-and-effect toy — it teaches children that their actions can make something happen. "And because they can pop their cars in their pocket or carry them around, they're easy to get attached to," says licensed professional counselor Roseann Capanna-Hodge, EdD. So, the more cars the merrier. Just watch where you step. [The Week]