Parenting advice

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

A unique approach to the Santa question, how kids are using play to deal with pandemic stress, and more


The Santa question

Santa Claus can be a controversial figure. Parents of young kids who celebrate Christmas have different approaches to the whole St. Nicholas thing: Some go all in on the charade, while others choose to opt out of the theatrics entirely. Meghan Moravcik Walbert at Lifehacker takes a middle-ground approach: "In my home, Santa fills the stockings and he leaves a couple of gifts. The rest comes from mom and dad," she writes. Not only does this mean the parents get some credit for the gift-giving and planning, it also fosters a sense of giving at Christmastime. "A child might be confused as to why we are buying a bunch of clothes and toys for other kids if Santa would normally take care of all that. I was able to say that, sure, Santa will bring them a gift or two like he does in our home, but their parents might not be able to afford all the extras that we can afford."


Barbie has COVID

Children old enough to engage in imaginary play are incorporating the pandemic into their imaginary scenarios, reports Julia Pelly at The Washington Post. "My 3-year-old sanitized his doll's hands with an imaginary squirt of Purell after each outing to the backyard," Pelly says. "My 6-year-old reminded his action figures to remain socially distanced from one another as they went about their escapades." This is a normal — and healthy — way of processing stress, experts say. Adults talk to other adults about their problems, but children often aren't mature enough to verbalize their fears, so they "express their feelings by using their trusted toys," says psychiatrist Leela R. Magavi. This allows them to "understand their emotions and gain a sense of security due to the ability to take control of the story and its ending."


Ending the miscarriage stigma

Miscarriage and infant loss are very common, writes Diana Spalding at Motherly: About 20 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. And yet, "our cultural silence surrounding pregnancy loss has erroneously led women to believe that they are alone — and it makes the loss that much more tragic." That's why, Spalding says, when women go public with their experience of miscarriage, "their vulnerability and bravery help women everywhere to feel less alone." For example, Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle recently penned a candid essay for The New York Times disclosing her own painful miscarriage and encouraging empathy as the first step toward healing. "Thank you, Meghan, for joining the women who have bravely shared their stories," Spalding writes. "We will never be without tragedy — especially right now. But to feel less alone in that tragedy is a gift of incomprehensible value."


When tween drama is a good thing

Friendships are absolutely central to the lives of teens and tweens. But these relationships can be fraught with drama, and friend-breakups are extremely common. According to KQED, research suggests just one percent of the friendships a child forms in 7th grade will endure through high school. This makes sense, because children grow and change so much in those few years. And while sometimes these breakups can be painful, they do serve a developmental purpose. "This is just a time when kids are figuring out how to choose — and be — a good friend," says Phyllis Fagell, a school counselor and author of Middle School Matters. Arguments between pals also aren't always a bad thing. In fact, they can increase "the quality of children's moral reasoning, presumably because they're motivated to understand their friend's point of view," says Scott Gest, professor and chair of human services at the Curry School of Education and Human Development.


Good news about tech and teens

Parents, stop trying to control your kid's tech use. That's the takeaway from a recent study from the University of Colorado at Boulder that found the amount of time a kid spends using digital technology as an adolescent has little impact on their tech habits as an adult. "Are lots of people getting addicted to tech as teenagers and staying addicted as young adults? The answer from our research is 'no'," says lead author Stefanie Mollborn, a professor of sociology at the Institute of Behavioral Science. She and her colleagues followed roughly 1,200 participants from adolescence through young adulthood, examining their tech use as kids and the restrictions their carers imposed. They found things like time limits on computers or prohibiting TV during mealtimes had almost no effect on device use later on. This is encouraging news, Mollborn says, because it suggests the idea of widespread tech addiction might be overblown. It also means "what we do as parents matters less than most of us believe it will" — for better or worse.


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