Emily Oster

7 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

It’s Going to be Weird, Right?

Emily Oster

7 min Read

As we all contemplate the possibility of sending children back to day care, or to camp, or eventually to school, a number of parents have written to ask some version of: “It’s going to be weird, right?”

The most specific question people have is about day care and masks. Is it going to mess up your child’s development to be around a bunch of people in masks all day? Isn’t it odd not to see people’s mouths?

But this extends to a wide variety of questions.

My kid’s day care says the kids over 3 have to wear masks? How will this even work?

Soccer camp is opening, but they can’t play big games. Isn’t that going to be odd?

School says if they come back the desks will be far apart and the classrooms will be “dedensified”. Huh? Did they make that word up?

(To the last question: yes, I think so, but as someone responsible for planning the reopening of a higher education institution, I can assure you this will not be the first or last time you hear the word “dedensificaton”. )

Basically, it’s all going to be weird. And the question is: is this a problem? I don’t have any great answers here, but I thought some perspective would be useful.

Regulations versus Reality

Let’s start with a level check. States and cities are going to write all kinds of COVID-19 related regulations, like requiring masks for all child care workers, saying that kids shouldn’t interact at recess, etc, etc, etc. States write a lot of rules like this in non-COVID-19 times. Providers are going to aim to adhere to them, and there will be some oversight (probably more now than in typical times). But there is likely to be some slippage. Things will inevitably look more “normal” than the stylized pictures that your state has posted on their re-open site.

Second, I think we will learn over time which of these regulations are realistic, which matter and how those interact. To give a concrete example. In a day care with young children, where kids touch everything and adults are (among other things) changing diapers, it seems extremely unlikely that having children wear masks will matter at all. Also, it is very hard to get young children to wear masks. It will result in them touching their faces a lot. This actually might make viral spread worse. Together, this will mean I think we’ll learn that this is a waste of time. Although regulations may start with this rule, I do not think it is likely to persist in practice.

On the other hand, some rules are likely to be easier to implement and much more important. To continue with the day care example: not sending your child to school sick is likely to matter a lot. If child care settings (day care, camp or school) can really stick to keeping sick kids out, this will impact viral spread. Yes, people can be asymptomatic, but those with symptoms tend to spread the virus more. Both parents and providers are going to need to be vigilant. I know that sometimes in the pre-COVID era one might be tempted to react to a kid with a fever of 100.2 (IT’s NOT OVER THE 100.4 LIMIT) by dosing them with Advil and sending them off. We cannot do this anymore.

I think we will learn this limit on sick kids and teachers is very important to keeping the virus at bay, but it’s also something which actually doesn’t really change the day to day experience. Going to school with kids who have borderline fever level is not a key element of child development.

All this is to say: there will be changes, but if you are imagining your child’s day care is going to be some dystopian 1984 style orphanage setting, that’s probably not right.

But Seriously, Will Masks Affect their Development?

This question has come up a lot in the case of day care and masks. Don’t babies need to see faces? Won’t toddlers be freaked out? What does the data say?

Like with much in the grand COVID-19 experiment, there is much that is unknown here. There is no precedent for a widespread switch to mask usage among day care providers. It is certainly true that some kids are afraid of masks (and beards and other face stuff). There are a few articles in the literature on, for example, perceptions that kids do not like seeing health care workers in hospitals in masks. But this is hardly relevant: surgical masks may well be scary to hospitalized kids due to the surrounding circumstances. And the fact that your kid freaked out at the trick-or-treater with the werewolf mask…again, not quite the same.

The real fear people seem to have is that somehow seeing the mouth is really central to learning about emotions. And there is some good news here. Americans are really into the mouth. But East Asian cultures are more into the eyes as indicating emotions (perhaps this is a result of higher mask usage in normal times, or maybe the causality goes the other way, but who knows). And there is actually some evidence that people in East Asian cultures are relatively more responsive to eye cues for happiness or sadness than mouth cues.

So, the upshot of all this may be that your kid will learn to read eye cues better than mouth cues. But there is really nothing wrong with that.

Adaptation

All of these questions — these worries — they all come down to basically a fear about things being different. And they will be. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they will be worse.

When I teach microeconomics, one of the main topics is indifference curves and budget sets. To illustrate this, I often talk about someone evaluating a move to a new place and thinking about whether they will be less happy. Let’s say you are considering moving from NY City to (rural) Hanover, New Hampshire. One way you could think about this is to say “Hey, I really love the Museum of Natural History. Let me compare this to the natural history museums in New Hampshire.” Or, “I’m really into Momofuku Noodle Bar. How good are the noodle bars in Hanover?”

If you do this, you’ll conclude that you will be a lot less happy in Hanover. I’m sure they have great noodles, but it’s not Momofuku.

BUT: there are all kinds of things you can have in Hanover that you cannot have in NY. Like a horse. Also, easy access to hiking. Also, a ski mountain more or less in your backyard. In the language of economics, we say that “your budget set has changed” and the result is that your optimal consumption bundle is different. Basically, your happiest life in New Hampshire probably involves hiking and skiing and growing a vegetable garden, not going to Momofuku.

But it is possible you can be equally happy in the two places! And the reason is that you adapt to changing circumstances by changing what you do.

When we think about moving to a “new normal” with masks and dedensified classrooms and all the rest, it is easy to think about what is lost. And, to be fair, it probably will not be as good if our kids have to go to school only half the days in the fall. But we will adapt to many of these changes, and because of that they are not likely to feel anywhere near as bad as you fear. If your kid is only in school 8 to 12 in the fall, there will be some nice things about the afternoon. It is hard to see now, but that’s how adaptation is.

Rhode Island’s governor, Gina Raimondo, who I adore (in addition to being the governor she is also my neighbor and didn’t get mad when one of our tree limbs crushed her fence) has been talking a lot about the “new normal”. I like this phrase, since it accurately implies what is true. It will be new. But, it will start to feel normal.

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Do you brand things a certain way to get your kid to accept it? Like calling carrots “rabbit popsicles”? Or telling them to put on their “super speed socks” in the morning? Share your rebrands in the comments below! You never know who you might be helping out 👇

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings

Do you brand things a certain way to get your kid to accept it? Like calling carrots “rabbit popsicles”? Or telling them to put on their “super speed socks” in the morning? Share your rebrands in the comments below! You never know who you might be helping out 👇

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings
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Have you ever panic-googled a parenting question when everyone else is asleep? If so, you’re not alone. 

Today is the first episode of a new biweekly series on my podcast: Late-Night Panic Google. On these mini-episodes, you’ll hear from some familiar names about the questions keeping them up at night, and how data can help. First up: @claireholt!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #emilyoster #claireholt #parentingstruggles #parentingtips #latenightpanicgoogle

Have you ever panic-googled a parenting question when everyone else is asleep? If so, you’re not alone.

Today is the first episode of a new biweekly series on my podcast: Late-Night Panic Google. On these mini-episodes, you’ll hear from some familiar names about the questions keeping them up at night, and how data can help. First up: @claireholt!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #emilyoster #claireholt #parentingstruggles #parentingtips #latenightpanicgoogle
...

Sun safety is a must for all ages, especially babies! Here are my tips for keeping your littlest ones protected in the sunshine:
☀️ Most importantly, limit their time out in hot weather. (They get hotter than you do!)
☀️ Keep them in the shade as much as possible when you’re out.
☀️ Long-sleeve but lightweight clothing is your friend, especially on the beach, where even in the shade you can get sunlight reflecting off different surfaces.
☀️ If you want to add a little sunscreen on their hands and feet? Go for it! But be mindful as baby skin tends to more prone to irritation.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on the data around sun and heat exposure for babies.

#sunsafety #babysunscreen #babyhealth #parentdata #emilyoster

Sun safety is a must for all ages, especially babies! Here are my tips for keeping your littlest ones protected in the sunshine:
☀️ Most importantly, limit their time out in hot weather. (They get hotter than you do!)
☀️ Keep them in the shade as much as possible when you’re out.
☀️ Long-sleeve but lightweight clothing is your friend, especially on the beach, where even in the shade you can get sunlight reflecting off different surfaces.
☀️ If you want to add a little sunscreen on their hands and feet? Go for it! But be mindful as baby skin tends to more prone to irritation.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on the data around sun and heat exposure for babies.

#sunsafety #babysunscreen #babyhealth #parentdata #emilyoster
...

I’m calling on you today to share your story. I know that many of you have experienced complications during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. It’s not something we want to talk about, but it’s important that we do. Not just for awareness, but to help people going through it feel a little less alone.

That’s why I’m asking you to post a story, photo, or reel this week with #MyUnexpectedStory and tag me. I’ll re-share as many as I can to amplify. Let’s fill our feeds with these important stories and lift each other up. Our voices can create change. And your story matters. 💙

#theunexpected #emilyoster #pregnancycomplications #pregnancystory

I’m calling on you today to share your story. I know that many of you have experienced complications during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. It’s not something we want to talk about, but it’s important that we do. Not just for awareness, but to help people going through it feel a little less alone.

That’s why I’m asking you to post a story, photo, or reel this week with #MyUnexpectedStory and tag me. I’ll re-share as many as I can to amplify. Let’s fill our feeds with these important stories and lift each other up. Our voices can create change. And your story matters. 💙

#theunexpected #emilyoster #pregnancycomplications #pregnancystory
...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

Is side sleeping important during pregnancy? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on whether sleep position affects pregnancy outcomes.

Being pregnant makes you tired, and as time goes by, it gets increasingly hard to get comfortable. You were probably instructed to sleep on your side and not your back, but it turns out that advice is not based on very good data.

We now have much better data on this, and the bulk of the evidence seems to reject the link between sleep position and stillbirth or other negative outcomes. So go ahead and get some sleep however you are most comfortable. 💤

Sources:
📖 #ExpectingBetter pp. 160-163
📈 Robert M. Silver et al., “Prospective Evaluation of Maternal Sleep Position Through 30 Weeks of Gestation and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 134, no. 4 (2019): 667–76. 

#emilyoster #pregnancy #pregnancytips #sleepingposition #pregnantlife

Is side sleeping important during pregnancy? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on whether sleep position affects pregnancy outcomes.

Being pregnant makes you tired, and as time goes by, it gets increasingly hard to get comfortable. You were probably instructed to sleep on your side and not your back, but it turns out that advice is not based on very good data.

We now have much better data on this, and the bulk of the evidence seems to reject the link between sleep position and stillbirth or other negative outcomes. So go ahead and get some sleep however you are most comfortable. 💤

Sources:
📖 #ExpectingBetter pp. 160-163
📈 Robert M. Silver et al., “Prospective Evaluation of Maternal Sleep Position Through 30 Weeks of Gestation and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 134, no. 4 (2019): 667–76.

#emilyoster #pregnancy #pregnancytips #sleepingposition #pregnantlife
...

My new book, “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available for preorder at the link in my bio!

I co-wrote #TheUnexpected with my friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Nathan Fox. The unfortunate reality is that about half of pregnancies include complications such as preeclampsia, miscarriage, preterm birth, and postpartum depression. Because these are things not talked about enough, it can not only be an isolating experience, but it can also make treatment harder to access.

The book lays out the data on recurrence and delves into treatment options shown to lower risk for these conditions in subsequent pregnancies. It also guides you through how to have productive conversations and make shared decisions with your doctor. I hope none of you need this book, but if you do, it’ll be here for you 💛

#pregnancy #pregnancycomplications #pregnancyjourney #preeclampsiaawareness #postpartumjourney #emilyoster

My new book, “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available for preorder at the link in my bio!

I co-wrote #TheUnexpected with my friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Nathan Fox. The unfortunate reality is that about half of pregnancies include complications such as preeclampsia, miscarriage, preterm birth, and postpartum depression. Because these are things not talked about enough, it can not only be an isolating experience, but it can also make treatment harder to access.

The book lays out the data on recurrence and delves into treatment options shown to lower risk for these conditions in subsequent pregnancies. It also guides you through how to have productive conversations and make shared decisions with your doctor. I hope none of you need this book, but if you do, it’ll be here for you 💛

#pregnancy #pregnancycomplications #pregnancyjourney #preeclampsiaawareness #postpartumjourney #emilyoster
...

We are better writers than influencers, I promise. Thanks to our kids for filming our unboxing videos. People make this look way too easy. 

Only two weeks until our book “The Unexpected” is here! Preorder at the link in my bio. 💙

We are better writers than influencers, I promise. Thanks to our kids for filming our unboxing videos. People make this look way too easy.

Only two weeks until our book “The Unexpected” is here! Preorder at the link in my bio. 💙
...

Exciting news! We have new, high-quality data that says it’s safe to take Tylenol during pregnancy and there is no link between Tylenol exposure and neurodevelopmental issues in kids. Comment “Link” for a DM to an article exploring this groundbreaking study.

While doctors have long said Tylenol was safe, confusing studies, panic headlines, and even a lawsuit have continually stoked fears in parents. As a result, many pregnant women have chosen not to take it, even if it would help them.

This is why good data is so important! When we can trust the data, we can trust our choices. And this study shows there is no blame to be placed on pregnant women here. So if you have a migraine or fever, please take your Tylenol.

#tylenol #pregnancy #pregnancyhealth #pregnancytips #parentdata #emilyoster

Exciting news! We have new, high-quality data that says it’s safe to take Tylenol during pregnancy and there is no link between Tylenol exposure and neurodevelopmental issues in kids. Comment “Link” for a DM to an article exploring this groundbreaking study.

While doctors have long said Tylenol was safe, confusing studies, panic headlines, and even a lawsuit have continually stoked fears in parents. As a result, many pregnant women have chosen not to take it, even if it would help them.

This is why good data is so important! When we can trust the data, we can trust our choices. And this study shows there is no blame to be placed on pregnant women here. So if you have a migraine or fever, please take your Tylenol.

#tylenol #pregnancy #pregnancyhealth #pregnancytips #parentdata #emilyoster
...

How many words should kids say — and when? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article about language development!

For this graph, researchers used a standardized measure of vocabulary size. Parents were given a survey and checked off all the words and sentences they have heard their child say.

They found that the average child—the 50th percentile line—at 24 months has about 300 words. A child at the 10th percentile—near the bottom of the distribution—has only about 50 words. On the other end, a child at the 90th percentile has close to 600 words. One main takeaway from these graphs is the explosion of language after fourteen or sixteen months. 

What’s valuable about this data is it can give us something beyond a general guideline about when to consider early intervention, and also provide reassurance that there is a significant range in this distribution at all young ages. 

#cribsheet #emilyoster #parentdata #languagedevelopment #firstwords

How many words should kids say — and when? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article about language development!

For this graph, researchers used a standardized measure of vocabulary size. Parents were given a survey and checked off all the words and sentences they have heard their child say.

They found that the average child—the 50th percentile line—at 24 months has about 300 words. A child at the 10th percentile—near the bottom of the distribution—has only about 50 words. On the other end, a child at the 90th percentile has close to 600 words. One main takeaway from these graphs is the explosion of language after fourteen or sixteen months.

What’s valuable about this data is it can give us something beyond a general guideline about when to consider early intervention, and also provide reassurance that there is a significant range in this distribution at all young ages.

#cribsheet #emilyoster #parentdata #languagedevelopment #firstwords
...