The week's best parenting advice: October 20, 2020

Jessica Hullinger
·4 min read

1.

The 2020 election is nigh, and with many parents juggling full-time work and childcare thanks to the pandemic, Meghan Moravcik Walbert at Lifehacker urges parents to make childcare plans now so they can carve out time to get to the polls. She suggests creating a "voting pod" with other parents in your existing bubble. "Choose a 'home base' where one or two parents stay to supervise while the others go to vote, then swap so everyone gets a turn," she says. Check if local daycare centers, YMCAs, or other facilities are offering Election Day childcare. And if you don't need any childcare, volunteer to help those who do. "Offer to come over, mask on, and host a relay race with their kids in the backyard while they do their civic duty." [Lifehacker]

2.

Tantrums are exhausting for parents and children alike. By understanding what's going on inside your child's brain during a meltdown, you may be able to help them through it, writes Ashley Abramson at NYT Parenting. Tantrums are a reaction to stress. While adults can control their own stressed-out impulses, the part of the brain that enables this control isn't developed in kids. "So when you try to reason with a child, you're appealing to a part of the brain that isn't fully functioning," explains R. Douglas Fields, a neuroscientist and author of Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain. Simply put, kids just aren't capable of reining in their emotions. But researchers say that when parents project calm, it helps their kids calm down, too, so take some deep breaths. Next, help soothe your child with "warm and empathetic cues" like crouching, eye contact, and a quiet voice. And when it's blown over a bit, "validate your child's feelings," says Abramson. [NYT Parenting]

3.

A new study from Finland suggests more natural, "green" environments may be better for kids' immune systems. Exposure to a diverse array of germs helps prime our immune response, but some scientists are worried humans have become essentially too clean, leading to an increase in illnesses like asthma. For this study, researchers transferred squares of fresh forest floor onto the playgrounds of four urban daycare centers. After a month, the kids in these daycares "had more diverse communities of friendly bacteria living on their skin" than kids in the control group did, explains Megan Molteni at Wired. There was also evidence that the kids' immune systems were reacting to these bugs. The results "suggest it might be possible to dial children's immune systems to a well-balanced state simply by greening up the environments around them," Molteni says. The research also "implies that the immune system is still extremely pliable at that young age. Over time, it becomes more stubbornly set in its ways." [Wired]

4.

Many teenagers are struggling with the social distancing rules of the pandemic, says psychologist Lisa Damour, Ph.D, author of Untangled & Under Pressure. "They long for physical contact (usually accomplished by flopping all over their friends)," she says, and suggests parents can help by offering some physical connection — a hug, a shoulder squeeze, anything. "Don't be weird about it. Just do it." And don't forget to give them some encouragement. "Tell them that they are doing such a good job managing an incredibly hard time. As the pandemic drags on, we risk forgetting that our teens are functioning under bananas conditions — yet they are mostly upright and marching along all the same. Shower open admiration." [Lisa Damour]

5.

It's natural for parents to want to do as much for their kids as possible — from making meals to folding laundry. After all, mom or dad can probably get the job done faster. But child development specialist Claire Lerner tells National Geographic that the pandemic presents a good opportunity for busy parents to hand over new responsibilities to their kids, not just to ease boredom, but to boost confidence. "When a child takes on new responsibilities, they get the sense that they are capable and confident," Lerner says. Start by asking yourself if you're doing something for your child that they can actually do for themselves. Maybe they can do their own laundry, or help with supper by being in charge of the salad. Yes, it will take longer and they might make a mess of things, but "it's actually not great for kids for everything to always come out perfectly because that's just not the way life is," Lerner says. [National Geographic]

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