Emily Oster

7 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

Will the Kids be All Right?

Emily Oster

7 min Read

I feel bad for my kids. I am trying to make the home school isolation fun (more TV time! Recess in the backyard! Take-out lunch on Mondays!) but the bottom line is that they miss school. It’s a little heartbreaking watching my son Google Hangout with his teachers and sing the “Hello” song.

And when I think about the virus, on the one hand I’m grateful that kids seem to be much less affected, but also cannot help then thinking that they are shouldering an outsize burden.

A lot of you have written with concerns about how this will affect your kids, so I thought it would be good to do a run-down of what we know, or what the data might say. I emphasize might because the truth is that this situation is really unprecedented. We can make some inferences, use some logic, but we are flying a bit blind. In a sense, we are living through the best possible study of this situation. So, I guess, in a decade or so we’ll know more. That’s not very helpful if you are worried now.

So: what can we say? Let’s start in utero.

Stress in Pregnancy

If you’re pregnant during the pandemic, your number one worry is probably your health and the baby’s. I have tried to allay some of those fears. But secondary, a number of people have written to me to say they are worried the anxiety and stress they (and all of us) are experiencing is itself problematic.

“I’m anxious, and now I’m stressed out that my anxiety is hurting the baby so I’m more anxious and then that’s probably worse. Help!”

If you have these thoughts, you are not alone (says my inbox).

A number of people have specifically noted that we have evidence on the impacts of stress in utero on long run outcomes. A recent example comes from researchers at Stanford who studied the impact of a very stressful event (the death of a close relative) during pregnancy on long term mental health using data from Sweden. They find that children who were in utero at the time of this stressful event were more likely to have mental health diagnoses as children and adults.

This is scary, and in the paper they do suggest their results might be informative about economic or other stresses. I’d put two caveats, though. First, other researchers have found that when they look at other outcomes – educational attainment, for example – these same kinds of stressors do not seem to have negative effects. Second, the events they consider in these papers are extreme – deaths of spouses, siblings, parents and older children. These may be more stressful than what at least many of us are experiencing.

Also, I hesitate to point this out, but there isn’t anything you can do about this other than just try not to think about it. That may sound facile, but sometimes it’s all we have. It’s not going to kill you to try to listen to some meditation tapes. But it’s also likely to be a good idea to steer away from the worry that your worry itself is toxic.

Babies

“My husband and I are alone with our 11 day old – we are worried about her missing out on social development in these first weeks. What can we do?”

Good news: tiny babies do not need a lot of social time! Things they enjoy include milk in all forms, pooping and sleep. Isolation may suck because of the lack of support, and the fact that grandparents cannot see their new grand kid, and many other reasons. But in these first weeks, your baby doesn’t need to be social.

As infants get older, you may start to worry that lack of exposure to other people will make them inherently wary of strangers. This is a place where the data isn’t going to help much — it’s unusual for babies to be isolated in this way. But for what it is worth, studies of what makes kids more or less comfortable with strangers tend to focus heavily on their relationship with their parents and not on outside exposures. But I’ll call this out as a place where the data simply isn’t up to COVID-19 predictions.

Toddlers

I think of all the ages, toddlers are are probably the most complicated. Your 18 month old is old enough to like to play with other kids (at least until they clobber her with a truck, or she clobbers them) but not old enough to appreciate the joys of FaceTime with their friends. Will being alone for a few months cause them to miss some window of social development?

Again, no perfect data here. But as I thought about it, the data that does seem relevant here is some I covered extensively in Cribsheet – namely, information about day care for kids versus nannies or stay at home parents. In the book, I was focused on the concerns that day care might, say, make your kid behave worse or be less attached to parents. In fact, what the data shows is that there are very limited differences across kids based on their day care exposure.

Kids who spend more time at day care before school age seem to be slightly more likely to have behavior problems at school, but also be slightly better prepared for the “academic” parts of kindergarten. But, in both cases, differences are small. It really doesn’t matter too much.

I think one could extend a bit, then, and say that we are currently living through a relatively short term (we hope) move from day care to a stay at home parent situation. Since even long term differences do not seem to matter much there, it seems unlikely this would have large effects.

A note, though: if you have a kid in the 1 to 4 range, I really, really feel for you. Zoom preschool is no ones idea of fun.

Older Kids

With an older kid, I will say I thought my concerns would be largely about social isolation. In fact, it seems like there is weirdly way more social time now than there was. My nine year old is on FaceTime and Skype all the time, and is constantly complaining about how many emails she gets.

Her: Mom, I got TEN emails today. It’s so hard to write back to them all. How may did you get?

Me: I stopped counting at a billion. They were primarily pitching me CBD products.

There is plenty of research on social isolation among kids, most of which shows that socially isolated kids are lonely and more prone to mental health issues. But this isn’t really social isolation in the way those papers mean — it’s not that you’re around peers who ignore you. So I do not think that data is very relevant.

Clearly, our kids are interacting with each other in a way that is really different and new. It was inevitable that they’d learn to interact more virtually at younger ages than even kids a bit older than them, but I think the pandemic is likely to hasten it. You can already see the learning by doing — for my 5 year old, the first FaceTime he had with a friend was odd and awkward. By the third he took my phone, shut his door, and emerged an hour later. I decided not to ask too many questions.

All this has to have some impacts. Will they be good or bad? I think we may need to leave that to researchers of the future.

Summary

Briefly: we have no idea. I think the evidence we have is mostly reassuring, but there is little of it, and it’s hard to imagine that this experience wouldn’t shape our children in at least some ways.

If there is something to take comfort in, though, humans have thrived in a wide variety of social situations. We are re-reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, and for many of the books it’s really just her and her family for years on end. Also, they were constantly beset by locusts and didn’t have FaceTime. Just something to think about.

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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
...