The week's best parenting advice: June 30, 2020

Jessica Hullinger
A mother and child.
Illustrated | iStock
Our parenting newsletter is a weekly roundup of the best parenting insights from scientists and family experts. To receive the newsletter every week, please enter your email below:

1.

What childcare centers have learned

"Throughout the pandemic, many childcare centers have stayed open for the children of front-line workers," and they've gleaned lessons that could be useful for parents and educators this fall, says Anya Kamenetz at NPR. For example, some YMCAs grouped children into "pods" of no more than nine kids, and to encourage social distancing, carers had children do "airplane arms." At the beginning of each new activity, kids got a special hand stamp that had to be washed off before a new activity began. "We were teaching them not just 'rinse your hands,' but 'scrub them,'" says Libby Corral, chief operating officer of the Valley of the Sun YMCA. The Y told Kamenetz some coronavirus cases were confirmed, but there was never more than one case at a single site. "These experiences illustrate that it's possible to bring kids together without a guarantee of an outbreak or a serious situation developing," explains Dr. Joshua Sharfstein at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. [NPR]

2.

Debunking the 'mommy brain' myth

Is "mommy brain" real? While researchers have previously looked into the theory that mothers are more absentminded than non-mothers, these studies have focused mainly on the early postpartum months. "There are few issues with that," says Valerie Tucker Miller, a Ph.D student in Purdue University's Department of Anthropology. Extreme hormonal changes, plus the exhaustion that comes with having an infant, all likely wreak havoc on a new mother's ability to focus. In a recent study published in Current Psychology, Miller and her colleagues took a different approach, measuring attention in moms whose children were over the age of 1. They found that not only did these mothers not display any lack of attention compared to non-mothers, in some cases their attention span was actually better. "We did not find evidence to support 'mommy brain' as our culture understands it," Miller says. "It's possible, if anything, that maternity is related to improved, rather than diminished, attentiveness." [Current Psychology, Purdue University]

3.

Rough-and-tumble

Young children whose fathers play with them may exhibit better control over their behavior and emotions as they grow up, according to recent research from Cambridge University and the LEGO Foundation. In this case, the kind of play matters: Physical roughhousing like chasing, tickling, and piggy-back rides appears "linked to positive social, emotional, and cognitive outcomes," and fathers are more likely than mothers to engage in these "rough-and-tumble" activities. So what role does physical play have in regulating emotions? It "creates fun, exciting situations in which children have to apply self-regulation," professor Paul Ramchandani, one of the study’s authors, tells The Guardian. "You might have to control your strength, learn when things have gone too far — or maybe your father steps on your toe by accident and you feel cross." Of course, mothers can wrestle with their children, too, but the researchers say the findings show we need to "give fathers, as well as mothers, time and space to play with their children." [The Guardian, Developmental Review]

4.

How to consciously curate your kid's library

One of the best ways for children to be introduced to new cultures, groups, and ideas is, of course, through books. "In this country, where racism is still one of the major unresolved social problems, books may be one of the few places where children who are socially isolated and insulated from the larger world may meet people unlike themselves," Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop tells The Conscious Kid, an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to equity. As such, it's important that children have access to books that feature a diverse set of characters, plots, and locations. One anonymous mother shared with The Conscious Kid her own method for curating her sons' book collection, as suggested by her librarian: "The boys can pick out as many books as they want, but only half or less of them can have characters that look like them." [The Conscious Kid]

5.

Look for the helpers

Parents are there to provide for and support their children, but author Megan Jean Sovern says parents should let their children help them, too. She writes at Motherwell of how she and her sisters took care of their ailing father when they were children, "after Dad went on disability and Mom took a full-time job." They brushed his teeth and put out his medicine, made his food and helped him pay the bills. There was no reward for these tasks, "because helping wasn't just something we did. It was who we were." Jean Sovern says being vulnerable around our kids and allowing them to help us can instill in them a way to recognize when they're needed. She adds: "Letting us help our father opened places inside us that make all three of us good listeners, great storytellers, silver lining finders, and dedicated mothers. It made us retain a deep gratitude for sacrifice, big and little." [Motherwell]