The week's best parenting advice: February 23, 2021

Jessica Hullinger
A girl on an equation.
Illustrated | iStock
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1.

Math problems

Recent studies suggest that the shift to remote learning over the past year has set students back by several months at least — and this so-called "COVID slide" is worse in math than in reading, developmental psychologists Susan Levine and Michelle Hurst write at The Washington Post. "Parents tend to see math as the responsibility of schools," but they may need to get more proactive about helping with homework. "Start by asking the child to explain the problem, as explaining sometimes leads to them solving it," Levine and Hurst explain. "Productive struggle, with support and guidance, can be more helpful than solving the problem for your child." And avoid declaring yourself "not a math person," which can cause fatalistic thinking about one's own math capabilities. Instead, use statements such as, "Good job on that problem," which can send your child the message that math is a skill that can be learned if they keep trying. [The Washington Post]

2.

Ending the attendance obsession

One habit that should never return, even when the pandemic recedes? Sending kids to school when they're sick, writes Sarah Hosseini at The Atlantic. Pre-COVID, children were generally allowed in school if they were ill, so long as they weren't feverish or showing signs of a stomach bug. But "it's not a good message to send to our kids that when they get sick, they should keep going," Abisola Olulade, a family-medicine doctor based in San Diego, tells Hosseini. "Humans get sick. It's okay to take a break. It's your body telling you to take time to heal itself, and we need to teach our children that." Indeed, part of the problem is that schools punish kids and parents for too many absences, which is made worse by a lack of paid leave for parents. Going forward, schools should nix their attendance obsession, says teacher Megan Vosk. "Just because a student is there doesn't mean they're paying attention, engaged, or learning anything." [The Atlantic]

3.

Your toddler should be flossing

Good oral hygiene is really important for kids, since tooth decay that starts in childhood is "really the strongest indicator of risk into adulthood," pediatric dentist and American Dental Association spokesperson Dr. Jonathan Shenkin tells CNN. Your kid is hopefully already brushing twice a day, but when should they start flossing? "It's simple," says Meghan Moravcik Walbert at Lifehacker: "As soon as they have at least two teeth that are touching." When teeth still have gaps between them, a toothbrush will suffice, but floss is the only way to remove plaque once teeth are right up against each other. For many kids, this means learning to floss at age 3, or even younger. A pre-threaded flosser can make the process easier, as "they're much easier to grip and control than a usual strand of floss," Moravcik Walbert writes. But settle in for the long haul: Stanford Children's Health says most kids need help flossing until they're 8. [Lifehacker, Stanford Children's Health ]

4.

Hacking the price of admission

Figuring out how much sending your kid to college will cost is almost as hard as actually coming up with the money. "Every school is required to post a net price calculator," journalist Ron Lieber, author of The Price You Pay for College, tells KQED's Mindshift. But often this calculator is hidden. So "just Google, you know, [insert college here] and net price calculator. … The net price calculator is supposed to spit back at you an estimate of what your family would be asked to pay if you were to get in." Factoring in merit-based financial aid can throw the calculations off, though. Instead of trying to do all the math yourself, "just go to the school and ask," Lieber says. "It's perfectly reasonable to call a school in September and say, could you please do a merit aid pre-read on my application." Many aid decisions are made by algorithms, so speaking to an actual human in admissions could help you get a better price. "Can't hurt to try," Lieber says. [KQED]

5.

So you yelled at your kid

"This weekend, I lost my temper," admits Joanna Goddard at the Cup of Jo blog. She shouted at her 7-year-old son, who stormed off in tears. And, of course, Goddard felt bad. But she spoke with Lina Perl, a therapist and mother of two, who reminded her that "good parents make mistakes all the time." In fact, these conflicts are a good thing, because they teach our kids how to manage their feelings. The important thing, though, is to "repair" the situation when everyone has calmed down. Acknowledge what happened, apologize to your child, and ask how it made them feel. Goddard explains this has many benefits: "You're modeling what it's like to take responsibility for your actions. … You're reconnecting with your kids. … And you're showing that even people who lose it are good people — you can always try again." [Cup of Jo]