3 Principles Which Will Help You To Nudge Your Children into Doing What you Want –

Or — the gentle art of Choice Architecture

Every day we make thousands of decisions, most of them unconsciously. What we decide often depends on the way in which the choice is framed and the context in which a choice is made. Economists have been concerned with how people make decisions and behavioral economists specifically, among them Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler, were the first to incorporate insights from psychology into their work.

Thaler has developed a whole science revolving around how people make choices.

In its highest application, this science is used to help people to make the choices that are best for them. This is called “Choice Architecture” and Thaler writes about this in his books “Nudge” and “Nudge, the Final Edition”.

Here we are going to apply these ideas to parenting — and for transparency’s sake, I will say that all the ideas in this post are stolen from this brilliant man!!!!

Principle #1

Think about what words you choose when you speak with your child. This can drastically alter what choice your child makes!

For example, when you want your child to go to bed, you say, “Are you ready for bed?”

And your child says……….”No”.

Of course. What do you expect them to say?

Thaler would say that you have constructed the question in the wrong way.

If you want your child to go to bed, you need to say, “OK, time for bed! Do you want to jump into your bed like a frog or slither into bed like a snake?”

Or something like that.

You can give your child a choice. You can give him or her SOME power and agency. But you DO NOT give them a choice about WHETHER or not they go to bed.

Principle #2

To get your child to do what you want them to do, make the choice simple for them.

For example, let’s say your child is five and you want them to get dressed in the morning on their own. And let’s say your child has put up some resistance to doing this.

Ask yourself why.

Investigate.

Figure out what’s making it hard for them to get dressed on their own.

Let’s say you go into their room and realize that their drawers are a mess, full of clothes that are too small or for the wrong season.

Or let’s say you think about it and realize you gave your child six choices about what they COULD wear. You know the old, “do you want to wear a dress or leggings or maybe tights and a skirt or here’s a nice pair of jeans you liked last month.”

No.

In the first case, your child might be unable to get dressed because he or she finds it so frustrating to look through the drawers and find something.

If you need to, help clean and organize the drawers. Put things that are appropriate for the season in the drawer, get rid of all the old stuff and put pants and shirts and socks and underwear in different places so they are easy to find.

And, if you have to go a step further, lay out two outfits — but no more.

Make it easy for your child to do what you WANT them to do.

Look for whatever obstacles are getting in the way of their doing what you want and REMOVE THE OBSTACLES!

Principle #3

If you want to reduce certain aspects of your child’s behaviors, make those behaviors you don’t like harder for them to do.

Let’s say your child likes to run around at night after bath and before bed. He gets himself all excited and then it’s hard to get to bed and the whole process takes too long. You’re exhausted by then anyway and this makes it worse.

Try something new. Pick your child up in his towel (let’s say he’s five or younger) and say something loving and distracting (“oh, you’re so snuggly after a bath”) as you walk to his room. Once there, shut the door(s) without saying anything and then help him get the pajamas on. If you need to, make up a story — this is our bear den — let’s be cozy here. Do you want two books or three? Let’s make this room our princess castle, here’s your princess nightie. ETC.

In other words, get your child to their room without making a big deal of it, shut the doors and don’t let them out.

But do it quietly. And subtly.

This way you reduce your child’s ability to run around wildly. The trip between the bathroom and the bed is obviously a hard one for your child and one that invites running! Removing the obstacles to their doing what you don’t like, in this case, means removing the temptation — and the ability — to run around

Or let’s say you don’t want your child to eat so much junk food.

Sorry — but you’re going to have to either hide the junk food you like or stop buying it all together. And don’t go to fast food places together either. If you want your child to stop eating so much junk, make it hard for them to find any!

These three principles WILL help — if you think about how to use them. They are not magic. They won’t make parenting a snap in five minutes as so many blogs promise you their advice will do — but they WILL help.

Thank you, Richard Thaler! The next book you write should be for parents!

Baby Gorilla Born for the First Time in the Cleveland Zoo’s History – what happened next and what we as human parents can learn from this!

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo announced that for the first time in its 139 year history, a baby gorilla has been born there.

The baby was born to Nneka, a 23 year old female, and Mokolo, a 34 year old male.  

This was Nneka’s first baby and either she did not know how to care for her baby or she was not interested.  

However, Fredrika, or Freddy, the troop’s oldest female, who had raised four infants herself, WAS interested, and she took over.

The team at the zoo had been preparing for this possibility for months.  They had brought in a stuffed gorilla baby and had bottle fed the “baby” in front of the female gorillas.  They also rewarded the female gorillas if they brought the “baby” to a team member for feeding.

After the actual gorilla baby’s birth, Freddy held the baby almost constantly and brought him to team members for feeding when he seemed hungry, just as she had been taught to do with the stuffed “baby”.

Weighing around three pounds at birth, newborn gorillas are in almost constant bodily contact with their mothers for the first six months of life and they nurse for about three years.

SO much like humans, right?

But one problem – humans, at least in Western societies, usually do not have an older female readily available if they do not know how to care for their first babies – or if they are ill or suffering from postpartum depression. AND parents usually don’t have a team available to help if there is a problem during the early weeks and months of a baby’s life.

What can we learn from this?

Well, it’s been said many times, but it DOES take a village. Or a team. Or a grandmother, aunt, uncle or a few friends.

Before YOUR baby is born, think of who you want on your team.

And if you already have children and don’t feel like you have enough help, try to bring some relatives or friends closer.  And if this isn’t possible, look for a parents group in your community where you can meet other parents and possibly make new parent friends with whom you can trade some babysitting, advice or support.

After all, we are ALL primates – and we can learn more about parenting even from our cousins, the gorillas!

More Social Media Advice From A Teen


So, remember that 19 year old I wrote about a few weeks ago? The one who gets her friends to pile their phones on the table when they eat together so that no one looks at their phone during the meal?  Well, she has more ideas.

This week she told me that she had an exam that she was worried about.  So what did she do?  She decided to analyze her own social media use.

She looked at her phone to see what apps she spends the most time on – and found out that by far, she looks at TikTok the most.  Very scientific approach, right?

So she deleted TikTok for two days prior to the exam so that she would get those hours back – and use them for studying.  

Self control being what it is, she knew she could not stop herself from looking at Tiiktok if it was still on her phone.  

Teens of all ages as well as young adults have told me that they simply cannot stop themselves from checking social media – sometimes as much as every 2 or 3 minutes. 

Young teens have complained to me that they just don’t know what to do.  They know they shouldn’t do this – but they find themselves doing it anyway.  And for some highly motivated kids, this is distressing – they want to do well at school and they know their use of their phones is getting in the way.  One young teen boy cried in my office as he told me how guilty he felt – he knew he should be studying more, reading more and doing other things that were better uses of his time but Youtube was sucking him in every day after school and he just couldn’t stop.

People have compared social media use—as well as computer gaming, Youtube and other computer activities— to an addiction.  And I tend to agree.  The in-the-moment pleasure derived from doing these things, the immediate surge of gratification gained from looking at these sites is so powerful.  Reading and studying?  They don’t stand a chance. 

So, parents, you are in a difficult spot.  Recommending that kids delete their apps, even temporarily, will be met with protest and push back.  What are you to do?

Maybe just leave your computer open to this post for a while and let you kids walk by and see it for themselves…..

Or talk with your kids about the ideas here, just to see what they think.

Let The Kids Eat Sugar! (In Moderation)

By Karen Libber Fishbein, LCSW, and Samuel Libber, MD

Halloween is almost here, and candy is everywhere! My daughters (ages 6 and 8) are very much looking forward to celebrating the holiday after missing out last year due to COVID-19. Thinking about the sugar consumption that will follow this festive day may be overwhelming to some parents.

In this post, Samuel Libber, MD, and I hope to put your mind at ease. Dr. Libber is a pediatric endocrinologist with over forty years of experience. He is also my father and a fellow sugar lover.

Dr. Libber and I both believe that establishing healthy habits surrounding sugar intake is an important task that parents can take on.

Sugary treats are everywhere and equipping our children with realistic and healthy approaches to sugar consumption will benefit them throughout their lives.  

Part One: Karen’s Observations As A Mother

To start out, I will share my philosophy on sugar consumption in children. I believe that children who are typically developing (and don’t have medical issues that impact how sugar is metabolized) can benefit from being offered certain sugary treats. In my present-day home (with my children) and in my home growing up as a child, dessert is/was offered as a reward for consuming a healthy meal. A “healthy meal” is defined by a meal that includes  protein, fiber, whole grains, a calcium source, and fruits and/or vegetables.

As a result, my daughters consume sugar on a daily basis – and so did I when I was growing up.

Some folks and some fellow parents might wonder how this impacts my children.

Here are my  reflections:

–  First of all, sweets are not viewed as a forbidden fruit in our home. My daughters both understand the rules listed above and realize that as long as they adhere to mealtime standards, they will earn a sweet treat.

   We do monitor that the girls don’t go too far with their dessert treats. I believe that when kids are offered treats as a reward for healthy eating, they learn how to self-regulate their sugar consumption. Once my oldest daughter ate too many marshmallows after dinner and was sick to her stomach during the night.  Since that happened, she has never binged on sweets again. I truly think that learning the hard way was an effective means for her to gain a deeper understanding about her body.

– Secondly, I think that when children are offered sweets regularly, it reduces the “scarcity mindset”. If children know that dessert will be available to them, they are less likely to spend time worrying about when and how they are going to get some candy or a cookie.  They also may not feel the need to overeat  sweets when they receive them, since they know that there will be opportunities to partake in the near future.  Interestingly, when other children come over to play, I notice that kids whose parents strictly restrict sugar often go straight to our candy jar upon their arrival. Not only is it the first stop, but the experience often involves overeating. When my daughters come home from school or from other activities, heading straight to the candy jar is usually the last thing on their minds. They are more interested in playing outside with friends, playing with toys/games, or having time to decompress.

A final observation I have about children living in a sugar-friendly home is that they often model the adults around them. So, for example, I am a dessert lover, and since I was given sweets after healthy meals from a young age, I find that I know how to control the amount of sweets I eat as an adult and I am able to moderate my dessert intake. At mealtimes, my daughters observe me eating healthy, balanced meals, and they know that I will enjoy dessert right along with them after the meal is over. I believe this gives me more credibility in their minds and lets them know that I too understand the importance of eating healthy, while also enjoying the indulgence of dessert. I feel strongly that children who view their parents eating a variety of foods, and positively accepting their bodies will then be more likely to adopt this behavior in their adolescent and adult lives.

Many folks may wonder what this sugar consumption means in terms of my girls’ physical health. I will share that both of my daughters are in the average ranges of height/weight. Staying physically active is something that we value as a family. Both of my girls often run around and play outside with their friends, sometimes for hours at a time. Additionally, they swim, dance, go to the playground and take walks all around Philadelphia. We try to come up with fun, physically active activities on a regular basis.  This mindset is integrated in our day-to-day life just as much as having sweet treats is.

Part Two: Dr. Libber’s Perspective As A Pediatric Endocrinologist

One lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that there is tremendous variability in how interested kids are in sweets.   Some of this may be environmental, and some may be innate.  In any case, many kids are not at all motivated by sweet foods and are fine finishing their meals without desserts and steering clear of sweet snacks between meals.   But when kids do desire sugary foods, certain rules should prevail:   Snack foods between meals are best designed around fruits, vegetables and savory foods.  Desserts, if sweets are offered, should have carefully controlled portion sizes without visible offerings of “seconds”.  If children are still interested in further dessert items, those should center on fruits and not on baked goods, ice cream or high-calorie processed foods.  

Many of the challenges in the diets of American children may be averted at the “supermarket stage”.   If parents concentrate on buying healthy food such as fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid purchasing unhealthy or overly processed foods, choices stay available to the child but become more limited.  If the choices are apples with cinnamon and raisins versus chocolate chip cookies, many of today’s kids would likely go for the cookies.  However, if parents refrain from purchasing chocolate chip cookies and the choices boil down to sliced apples versus mandarin oranges versus banana slices with jimmies, kids are still presented with options.   Furthermore, any of the latter choices are healthier than the chocolate chip cookies. Another tip to cut back on sugar intake is to avoid juices, sodas and artificially sweetened drinks.

Health problems due to excess sugar are well-documented.   There are potential dental concerns, behavioral concerns, weight-gain concerns and later in life, concerns over the consequences of too high a caloric intake —high blood pressure, diabetes, blood lipid problems, heart disease and many more.

Childhood is a great time to start setting patterns that could last a lifetime and help to prevent a large variety of health challenges later in life. Remember the wise words of my daughter – portion control, plenty of outdoor play and avoidance of the “scarcity mindset” when it comes to dessert. It’s never too late – or too early – to get started!

HALLOWEEN READING WITH KIDS

From Lisa Walton Medium Daily Digest:

16 Spine-Tingling Halloween Books Kids Will Love

Spooky stories are a great way to draw in reluctant readers

Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

It’s the season of witches and warlocks, goblins, and ghosts. And one of the best times of year to hook your kids with a good book. Even reluctant readers are often sucked in by the thrill of a good mystery or ghost story. Here are 16 spine-tingling Halloween books that kids will love.

Take advantage of the eerie allure of Halloween to pick a book that will delight your readers. From mildly-spooky to spine-tingling to sweet, there is a book just right for every reading appetite.

This spoiler-free list includes Halloween choices for readers of all ages.

Picture Books (Grade K-2)

Room on the Broom

by Julia Donaldson

This classic Halloween read about problem-solving, friendship and making room for everyone is sure to bring a smile to young readers.

How to Catch a Monster

by Adam Wallace

This sweet bed-time story is just spooky enough to qualify for Halloween. It reminds kids that things aren’t always as scary as they seem.

Bonaparte Falls Apart

by Margery Cuyler & Will Terry

This Halloween story is chock full of monsters. With encouragement and support, they help Bonaparte keep himself together during a stressful transition.

Frankie Stein

by Lola M. Schaefer

One of my favorite Halloween stories of all time. Frankie Stein is not the child that his parents expected. This story about love and family teaches children and parents alike that it’s okay to be different.

Young Readers (Grades 2–4)

Case Closed #1: Mystery in the Mansion

by Lauren Magaziner

This choose-your-own-adventure story is packed with puzzles and clues. The readers join the story to help Carlos and friends solve the mystery and save his Mom’s detective agency. This book is the first in a series so it’s a great way to get kids excited about reading.

The Nocturnals

by Tracy Hecht

Three unlikely friends learn about friendship, teamwork, and laughter as the Nocturnal Brigade solves unexpected mysteries of the night. This series is perfect for virtual learning. Visit the website for printable online activities and educator guides.

It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green, My Weird School Special Series

by Dan Gutman

Another kid favorite! I couldn’t included a list of Halloween books without a selection from My Weird School. Join A.J. and the gang from the laugh out loud funny My Weird School series in a holiday-themed chapter caper about candy, costumes, and more.

Middle Grade (Grade 4–7)

Ghosts

by Raina Telgemeier

After Maya and Cat learn their new town is haunted, Maya becomes determined to meet a ghost. But Cat is not interested. Can Cat put aside her fears and make the spirits appear?

The Haunted Lighthouse

by Zander Bingham

A classic mystery that kids will love. After Jack’s aunt buys an old lighthouse, odd things begin to happen. Mysterious figures in the windows, strange noises, flickering lights. Could it be haunted?

Ghost Squad

by Claribel Ortega

This action-packed debut novel weaves a thrillingly spooky tale about family and phantoms.

Premeditated Myrtle

by Elizabeth C. Bunce

This smart new series combines unexpected plot twists with a strong female lead trying to earn the distinction of most daring and acclaimed amateur detective ever. You can’t help rooting for Myrtle.

Spirit Hunters

by Ellen Oh

We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh bring us this captivating ghost story about a seventh-grader who must face down the dangerous ghosts haunting her younger brother. Its twists and turn will have you guessing with every page.

Young Adult (Grade 8–12)

One of Us Is Lying

by Karen McManus

This New York Time Bestseller is one of my favorite reads. The twisty plot keeps you guessing until the end. Five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out? Who did it? Can you guess? You can’t go wrong with any of McManus’ books.

Cemetery Boys

by Aiedn Thomas

This modern ghost story is perfect for Día De Muertos. A transgender Latinx boy summons a ghost to prove to his family that he is a real brujo. Only now he can’t get rid of the spirit? A wonderful book for Halloween and beyond.

Rafa and the Real Boy

by Emily Juniper

This exciting new release blends family drama, romance, friendship and suspense. Readers will find themselves engrossed in Rafa’s complex, emotional journey and guessing at what is real and what’s not.

Smartphone Fatigue

Recently a 19 year old I know told me something shocking.  She said that she wished her friends would use their cell phones LESS when they are together.

I have to say, I was really surprised – and elated!

She said that everyone’s constant phone use got in the way of talking to each other.

HALLELUJAH!

Here was living proof that even teenagers get tired of seeing their friends on their phones all the time!  It’s not just parents who feel this way!

And I suspect that plenty of teens feel this but just don’t say it.  I suspect, as I said in my last post (see “Attentional Insult”) that teens, kids, even adults feel a little bit hurt each time they are wanting to talk to someone and instead see that person looking at their phone. 

This teen even had suggestions!  She said that sometimes when she and her friends go out to eat, they put all their phones in the middle of the table so that no one uses a phone during the meal.  She said that she grew up in a house where phones were not allowed at the table and she actually liked this rule.

So parents – what can you do to help your kids and teens with phone use? Take a tip from this teenager – and The American Academy of Pediatrics.  Ban phone use during meals.  No phones at – OR UNDER – the table for anyone – and that means you, too!

What Does It Mean To Truly “See” Your Child?

Recently I read an article about Adam Phillips, the wonderful British child psychoanalyst. In it he was quoted as saying, “There’s nothing to you until someone sees something in you.” 

At first I wondered, is this really true?  Don’t we know ourselves and know what we are capable of even without someone else noticing?  And then I remembered my developmental training.  In studying child development, I learned that it was eye contact with the parent that helps the infant to settle down when agitated or frightened and it is through eye contact with the parent that infants learn social regulation. In fact, the greater the amount of parent-infant eye contact, the better the social regulation of the infant. 

So, quite literally, from the very beginning babies need to be looked at by the parents.

I also remembered that later in development, at ages two and three and four, the greater the ability of the parent to “see” and to admire their child, the more likely it is that the child will feel worthwhile and known. The child of this age who feels admired and valued by the parent will incorporate these feelings into their own sense of themselves as admirable and valuable. This is the basis for self-confidence.  

All two and three-year-olds will say, “Look at me!” and what they need is for the parent to see who they are and what they are doing – and then to express admiration.  Children of all ages want to know that they are noticed, that they are valued and that their particular abilities are appreciated.

Thinking about this raised the question of what exactly it means to “see” your child and to let your child know that they have been seen.

And I remembered a family I saw in my practice many years ago.  The father was a self-made man, the first boy in his extended family to go to college and the only one to ever go on for an advanced degree in medicine.  When he had his own four children, he wanted the same success for them that he had had.  He valued education and he wanted his children to do well academically.  Of his four children, it was clear that his two favorites were the two who were most academically inclined.  One of the others showed signs early on of being artistic.  She loved dance and painting from her earliest years. While her father was loving and well meaning, he did not understand her. He projected onto all of his children his own wishes and values.  What had made him successful is what he wanted for them.  As a result, his artistic daughter felt misunderstood and “unseen”.  She did not feel valued by her father and while talented, she eventually lost faith in her own artistic ability.  She became an angry and unhappy teenager.  She was furious with her father, although she did not exactly know why, and she had very little confidence in herself.

This father wanted his daughter to be like himself.  He was not able to love and appreciate her as a different sort of person.  Of course, his desires for his children came from a loving place; he wanted his children to be successful in life.  But unbeknownst to him, in not being able to value his daughter’s unique talents, he contributed to her lack of confidence in herself.

So one important element in “seeing” our children is to be able to see them for who they are, not for who we want them to be, to value their unique character traits and abilities, and to reflect our appreciation of them – just as they are – back to them.

But how do we do this?

It occurs to me that there is no one simple answer to this question – but there are some starting points.  

First of all, to be truly “seen” children need to feel that they are understood.  Every child needs to feel that their parents know what they like and what they don’t like, what is easy for them and what is hard, when they are making an effort and really trying and when they are not.  And every child needs their parents to be able to be with them for prolonged periods of time and accept their interests and their way of being.  This is related to something talked about all the time these days – being “present”.  

Being present with a young infant, a toddler or a young child means just being there with them as they do what they are doing. It means being able to hold back on our own projections and agendas and just to be.  Is your baby lifting up his head during tummy time?  Can you take joy in this moment with him in his effort? Is your two-year-old collecting rocks?  Can you be with her and collect some too rather than hurrying her along or telling her to drop them because they’re dirty? Is your four-year-old drawing a three-armed man?  And are you able to comment on how interesting this is rather than saying “but people have only two arms?”

To allow our children to “see” something in themselves, to feel confident at least some of the time, and to move forward in development, we must first be able to “see” them clearly and be able to love and admire what we see. Secondly, we need to be able to be present with them as they are and to put into affectionate gestures and words how much we admire them.

This is the beginning of what we need to do to truly see our children and to allow them to become people who see something valuable in themselves.

And while we’re at it, we all need to try to expend some effort on “seeing” our partners and our friends as well.  We need to acknowledge more often that we appreciate their unique selves and that we value their efforts. Just saying, “You are such a good cook and you made a great dinner tonight even though you were exhausted” or “Thanks for making the effort to call/text/email” will go a long way.  

After all, we ALL need to know that we have been seen.

How To Be A Better Aunt, Uncle, Grandparent, Or Friend To A Child

Dr. Corinne Masur 

Recently, the New York Times Parenting Blog posted on the topic of how to be a better aunt (see link below).  What an interesting topic!  And I have a few ideas of my own for aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends of young children.

Some people are naturals when it comes to forming relationships with young children – and some people are not.  Some people know how to engage a child easily – and some people feel hurt when they ask a young child, “how was school today?” and the child just stares blankly at them or runs away.

Here are a few tips for those who want to be closer to their nieces, nephews, grandchildren or children of friends and just can’t seem to bridge the age gap:

1. Visit.  Visit often. Do not rely on the phone or video chats to make a relationship work with a child.

2. When you visit, get down on the floor with the child.  Whatever they are doing, join them.  Make observations about what they’re doing.  Compliment them in some way – for example, you can say “Wow!  That is a BIG lego car you’re building!” Children, especially those six and under, live in the moment.  Questions about something they are NOT doing at the moment (school, sports teams, etc.) won’t go anywhere, but discussion of what they are doing right now may.

3. Time with the child is a good investment. Each time you visit, spend at least 10 or 15 minutes focused just on the child,  Just this small amount of time will start to build the relationship you have been wanting with the child.

4. When you visit you can sometimes bring a project or an idea for a project.  Find out from the parents what the child’s interests are and clear the project with the parents first.  Do you want to make cupcakes? Would you like to build this lego spaceship with me? Do you want to do a puzzle together? Doing something together on a regular basis will build your relationship with the child and your feeling of closeness with them.

5. If you know that a parent is not feeling well or is extra busy at the moment, offer to step in for an hour or two.  This will build your relationship with the child and the parent will be eternally grateful!

6. Gifts are good – but they are not the best way to actually deepen a relationship.  All children love gifts – but many aunts and uncles and grandparents have felt disappointment when a child does not thank them or seem grateful for a gift. Moreover, as thoughtful as the gift may be, outside of the context of an already established relationship, they will probably not work to make a relationship happen.

7. Take the child on adventures. Once you feel you have a relationship with the child, after having done some projects together, with the permission of the parents, take the child on some adventures.  For young children, keep it simple: a visit to a particularly fun park, lunch in a restaurant, tea at a hotel or a trip to the zoo for a few hours is a good way to start.  If you have multiple nieces, nephews, grandchildren or young friends, try to take each child, one at a time, for an outing,  The parents will love you, and the child, if they feel comfortable with you, will feel special. For an older child, a movie or a play is fun, but even better is doing something where the two of you can talk and experience something together.

Relationships are precious and the more children in your life, the better! If relating to young children is not your forte, try some of these ideas and read more below:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/21/parenting/how-to-be-a-better-aunt-uncle.html

Will the Pandemic Ruin my Child?

Part 2: Intellectual Development

Dr. Corinne Masur

Parents are SO worried that this pandemic year will interfere with their children’s intellectual development and academic progress. So let’s talk about that according to your child’s age and stage of development:

0 – 2

Infants and toddlers will in no way suffer due to increased time at home: IF you talk to them all the time, if you read to them at least once a day and if you provide reasonable amounts of play time (with you, your partner and their siblings).

And at this age, babies and toddlers will NOT suffer from missing the programming provided at daycare or pre-school. PLEASE, do not feel the need to fill in for the curriculum that might be in place were they attending a program. What babies and toddlers need to learn, they learn in the course of normal interactions with family members, during play and during story time. Whether your two year old knows his or her shapes is actually irrelevant – no matter what you hear. At this age what is needed is basic human interaction, hearing lots of words and being able to do lots of play, both alone and with others. At this age structured classroom time is neither necessary nor optimal. And screens of any kind are not needed either – but a little bit of screen time (an hour or less a day) may not hurt.

3 – 11

Older children of all ages are having their school routines and their learning processes disrupted. This is hard for children and parents. Everything is different. Online school is extremely hard to manage – especially for parents! There is nothing optimal about the compromises that have been made in setting up virtual school, hybrid models, shortened school days, etc.

Some children in this age group will be excited about online or in person school and they will be cooperative. But if they are attending school online they still will need help choosing a place to be each day for school, getting online, having supplies and worksheets ready and staying organized – and this is very hard for parents, especially working parents. You will find that your child misses some things due to technology problems, confusion about schedules, forgetfulness, etc. TRY not to stress over these. They are inevitable. Everyone is experiencing them.

And if your child is going to in-person school – even some of the time, he or she will need help remembering to wear their mask, to socially distance and to go by all the safety guidelines in place at school. Your child may also need help understanding why it is safe to go to school now when it wasn’t a month ago. And of course this is a difficult question. But remember, at this point in the pandemic we have learned that what we need to do is minimize risk. We can not eliminate risk altogether but we know more now about how to lessen the risk of contracting COVID than we did at the beginning. You can explain this concept to your child, no matter what their age, and you can encourage them to think of ways to minimize their own risk.

No matter how much we try to prepare them, however, some children in this age group will have trouble getting used to online school or a hybrid model, When they are online, they may have trouble paying attention, they may intentionally “forget” to log back in after a break or they may do other things while class is in session. This too is hard for parents because we cannot be there at every moment to check up on what our children are doing. Especially for working parents, this is a dilemma. Again, try not to stress too much when these things happen. Young children have naturally shorter attention spans. Having to look at a screen for learning purposes for more than a couple of hours a day is very very difficult for them. Getting anxious about your child’s school participation is natural and getting angry with your child is, at times, inevitable – BUT –

Remember, all children are going through this right now. It is not just your children. Everyone’s learning process has been compromised. AND a year of this will not ruin any child’s chances at getting a good education. Children will catch up, they will make up for what they did not learn this year. They will learn again how to be in a classroom. This is important to keep in perspective. This situation is NOT forever.

11 – 22

Children of this age are hungry for learning and for the social interaction that takes place at school. Online school, hybrid models and in person school with masks and social distancing will be very very hard for many of them.

Parents, however, are not teachers and we cannot expect ourselves to make up for all that children of this age are not getting at school.

This is extremely hard. Parents are worried about standardized testing, SATs and college admissions. But again, remember, everyone is going through this. Colleges will understand this when it is time to apply. And intellectual development proceeds – school, no school, or limited school. Remember, intellectual development and academic progress are two entirely different things.

What parents can do:

Parents are overwhelmed right now. I actually think that the effects of the pandemic may be worse for parents than for many other segments of the population.

But if you CAN, supplementing your children’s school time learning to promote their intellectual development can be helpful at this time. If you do not have the time or the band width, that is totally understandable and feel free to ignore what’s below.

BUT IF you CAN:

  • Encourage your children to read more.
  • Make frequent trips to the library if your library has good Covid safety.
  • For kids under 14, start reading to your children for a half hour to 45 minutes a day on weekends. Reading aloud does not just have to be for bedtime. Pick chapter books with engrossing stories – or books of interest to your particular children. Iceland, which has a long winter with very few hours of daylight was, for many years, the country with the highest literacy rates – because reading is what children and adults did during those long dark hours.
  • Encourage teens to read fiction AND non-fiction.
  • Have discussions at dinner time – current events should provide plenty of material! There is a civics lesson in every day’s news. Talk about the electoral process, the constitution, the Supreme Court, the way Democracy should work, etc. Ask your children their opinions.
  • Encourage teens to also have some social down time (ie something other than playing video games or looking at social media by themselves), for example, encourage them to set up game nights with friends online or to do group chats.
  • Encourage younger children to play games online with friends – and actually support their doing so rather than nagging them to get off the computer!
  • And parents, use the time that your children are online with friends to do what you need to do. One of the hardest things about enforced togetherness is the lack of privacy and downtime for PARENTS.
  • Encourage your children to start or continue playing a musical instrument. Lessons can be online.
  • If your children are interested, take some virtual tours of museums – science, art, whatever they like. And don’t ask them if they want to – because they will often say “no” especially if they are busy playing video games! Perhaps there can be one dinner a week when the family take a virtual tour during the meal.
  • And try throwing a documentary or Broadway play into family movie night.Many of these things can be streamed for free. Sweeten the deal with snacks: popcorn, pizza, brownies, anyone?
  • If you enjoy games such as Chess or Go, teach your children to play if they are interested. For younger children, intellectually stimulating games which involve matching, making pairs, memory skills and using numbers are also a possibility.

Good luck, stay safe, and please, do not despair.

Will the Pandemic Ruin My Child?

A Three Part Series

Dr. Corinne Masur

Part 1

Parents are all worried about what effect this pandemic year will have on their children’s development.

And of course, it’s complicated.  There’s the concern about how children will be affected by all the health worries.  And then there’s the worry about how they’ll be affected by not being able to see friends easily.  And THEN there’s the worry about how disruptions in their educations will affect their academic and intellectual progress.

So, let’s break it down:

The effect that the social limitations and the school interruption will have on your children will depend on their age and stage of development. So, we are going to talk about this by age group – and in this part of the series we will talk about:

Socialization

0 – 2

Babies do not require social interactions outside the home. 

You will often hear people say that they are sending their babies and toddlers to daycare because they need the socialization.  Well…this is not exactly true.  Older babies and toddlers often enjoy seeing other babies and toddlers.  They will be interested in them, laugh at their antics, cry when they cry, etc. but actually, they do not NEED to be with other babies and toddlers to develop well. What you provide for them as loving parents is what they need.  Babies and toddlers require their parents’ love and attention and social feedback. What you provide at home for them is what babies and toddlers need the most.  Talking to your baby, reacting to your baby’s facial expressions and verbalizations, playing with your baby, reading to your toddler, setting normal limits and teaching basic rules is what children of this age need.  They are FINE at home.  In fact, some parents have noticed that they are getting to know their babies and young children better than they did before when daycare or babysitters were involved – and they have found this to be a good thing – for themselves and for their children.

2 – 4

You will be surprised to know that what was said above is also true of older toddlers and young children.  

At this age, interaction with family members, play with family members and learning basic rules of socialization (what hurts another person, what’s fair, etc.) is what your child needs.  Is it fun to see other young children?  Does it give Mom or Dad a much-needed break to get together with families of other young children? Yes, of course.  But remember, for millennia there was no school at all and up until recently, very few children went to daycare, and many children did not even go to preschool or nursery school – and they did fine. 

At this age, children want their parents’ approval.  And if they say “NO!”, it’s the parent they are saying it to.  At this age toddlers and young children are just beginning to develop a sense of themselves as separate and independent human beings – and they do this best in the context of the family!

So, in essence, if you are not feeling safe about sending your children to daycare or preschool or setting up playdates, this is FINE.  You may have to spend extra time on the floor or outside playing – but you are NOT damaging your child in any way.

4 – 7

Children of this age love to play and socialize.  

Starting around age 4, most children love to have friends.  In fact, they start to create their own small worlds with their friends – and this is the beginning of being able to operate as people separate and apart from their parents.  As children get to be 5 and 6, they often develop best friends and are pleased to play with these friends without the intervention of their parents. Socializing at this age is an important part of their development.

As a result, even during a pandemic, it is helpful to allow 4 to 7 year olds some time with other children if you can do so safely and comfortably.  Playing outdoors, going to a local park, riding bikes and scooters, playing running games with masks can all be possibilities. And if you can find one or two children whose parents’ views on COVID safety are in line with your own and regular play get togethers and be managed, even better. HOWEVER, again, what you can comfortably provide for your children is what is most important. Children of this age are hungry to learn about the world – and if you are not comfortable organizing play dates or pods, if you can take them on outings, read to them, play together for an hour or two a day and teach them the rules of interaction with others, they will be getting most of what they need socially.  You may not believe that this is true – but again, in many societies, children do not even start school until age 6 or 7.

7 – 11

At this age the peer group is what kids really care about. By this time children are keen observers of other children and their behavior.  They know who they like and who they do not like.  Their relationships are complex and alliances can be strong…until they shift. Children of this age generally love to be with other children they know.  Games with rules are of great interest and playing games can take up hours.

Given this, allowing your children, if they are at home for school, some time to play with other kids each day is important.  If you are not comfortable allowing them to get together with other children this often, then allowing them to play video games with other kids can fill the bill during this unusual time.  Zoom conversations and virtual play dates are also an option if your child likes them. And if you can manage to allow your children to get together with friends outside once in a while, even better. It may not feel like enough to them or to you – but a year spent this way will not ruin their social development.  Learning social skills is a lifelong process – and again, do not underestimate what you provide at home. When you say things like, “No, we cannot play that game AGAIN” or “No, you cannot have the last donut” or “Figure out what to do when you’re bored” you are providing your child with necessary social feedback. These are basically the same things they learn from their peers when they play together. At this age children are learning what is fair and how often they can expect to get their own way.  They are taught by their peers what they can and cannot do if they want people to like them, what is right and wrong, what rules are and how often they have to stick to them.  When you interact with your children at home you are also teaching these things just in the normal course of everyday life.

11 – 20

Kids of this age often seem to care more about interacting with each other than they do with you. 

Social contact with others their age is important. This time of limited social contact is especially hard for this age group. 

Parents will need to work on their own flexibility and patience with children and teens during this quarantine/pandemic time because kids of this age will feel deprived and angry if they do not get to see their friends.  

 If you feel comfortable allowing this, perhaps you can let your child get together with certain friends at your house – or you might allow them meet up outside at a park.  But if you do not feel comfortable with this amount of contact then in this case, technology is your friend. Perhaps some loosening of limits on phone/pad/computer use will be necessary. Kids need to be able to text and Instagram and Facetime and IM for at least a few hours every day. Most will want to have their phones with them all the time.

Summing it Up

So – in summary, from a social standpoint, the pandemic and the quarantining required is NOT ruining your child or his/her social skills.  It IS hard; it IS limiting and frustrating. It DOES require us as parents to do more than we ever thought we could.  But a year of limited social contact will not stunt the development of your children.

*****

What can parents do?

– When you are not working, play on the floor and outside with your babies, toddlers and young children as much as you can manage.  

– If you have reached your limit with meeting your children’s needs and feel you just cannot do it all, bringing in an older teen or a babysitter or nanny (whose COVID safety you trust) to help at home may be necessary and may ease your burden.

– If you are working either from home or from your work place then day care or a sitter may be the only way your family can realistically manage AND allow your children some socialization time. Parents who are trying to help their children with virtual school while working are finding that this is just not possible.

– Set reasonable limits on device use for older children.  These can include no phones during school or homework and a set bedtime after which no phone use is allowed – but otherwise?  Let them go for it!