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Sitdown Sunday: Can less praise help you be a better parent?

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

Image: Shutterstock/fizkes

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.  

1. Eat out to help out

Loving father and husband Bob Pape contracted Covid-19 and died after a trip to Birmingham. His family want to know if England’s ‘eat out to help out’ scheme contributed to his death.

(The Guardian, approx 21 mins reading time)

Where did Bob contract Covid? From the touch-screen he used to place his McDonald’s orders? At Five Guys, where they were careful to sit at a large table, away from everyone else? Amanda thinks about this now, late at night, running through all the places they visited on that weekend when everything was still right in the world and her partner of 11 years was by her side, smiling and carefree, and she thought this blasted pandemic was coming to an end.

2. The Black Death

Did it emerge 100 years before scientists originally believed it emerged?

(Smithsonian, 10 mins reading time)

“The Black Death and other pre-modern plague outbreaks were something everyone learned about in school, or joked about in a Monty Python-esque way. It wasn’t something that most of the general public would have considered particularly relevant to modernity or to their own lives,” says Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America. But now, “with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, suddenly medieval plagues became relevant to everyone everywhere.” 

3. Therapy apps

Can they really replace in-person therapy?

(The Cut, approx mins reading time)

Much of what appears if you search “therapy” in the App Store does not provide the services of a human therapist. Some of it does not address mental health at all, in the strict sense: It is the digital equivalent of a scented candle, wafting off into coloring apps and relaxation games. Many services occupy an area somewhere in between professional care and smartphone self-soothing. 

4. Women artists and the mirror

How the mass production of the mirror changed art as we knew it – especially for women.

(Frieze, approx 10 mins reading time)

What is rarely mentioned in cultural histories of the mirror is how liberating it was for female painters. For millennia, for reasons of propriety, women were forbidden from depicting themselves or anyone else naked while men could paint and sculpt however they saw fit. (The Renaissance artist Lavinia Fontana is an early exception to the rule; she included naked figures in her large-scale religious and mythological works and is considered the first woman to do so. Artemisia Gentileschi soon followed suit.) Easier access to mirrors meant that, for the first time, a woman’s exclusion from life classes at art academies didn’t stop her from painting figures. Now, with the aid of a looking glass, she had a willing model, and one who was freely available around the clock: herself.

5. Memory

Elizabeth Loftus is a lauded psychologist who has done important work on memory. But her recent testifying for people like Harvey Weinstein has complicated things.

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(The New Yorker, approx 41 mins reading time)

She resisted the job for about four months, but Weinstein and his lawyers eventually prevailed, persuading her to fly to New York and testify on his behalf, in exchange for fourteen thousand dollars, only ten thousand of which was ever paid. “I realized I was wanting to back out for selfish reasons, and I didn’t want to live with that feeling about myself,” she told me. (The only time she has ever turned down a case for reasons of repugnance was when she refused to testify for a man accused of operating the gas chambers at Treblinka.)

6. Can less praise help you be a better parent?

An interview with Micheline Doucleff about how she travelled around the world looking at how different cultures parent children, and what she discovered. 

(The Atlantic, approx 10 mins reading time)

One of the craziest things we do is praise children constantly. When I was first working on the book, I recorded myself to see how frequently I praised my little girl, Rosy, and I noticed that I would exaggeratedly react to even her smallest accomplishments, like drawing a flower or writing a letter, with a comment like “Good job!” or “Wow! What a beautiful flower!” This is insane if you look around the world and throughout human history. Everywhere I went, I don’t know if I ever heard a parent praise a child. Yet these kids are incredibly self-sufficient, confident, and respectful—everything we want praise to do, these kids already have it, without the praise.


The novelist Larry McMurtry (who wrote Lonesome Dove) died recently. Here’s a profile of him from 2016.

(Texas Monthly, approx 36 mins reading time)

In American letters, he is something of an icon—winner of both a Pulitzer Prize (for the novel Lonesome Dove, about a cattle drive in the 1870s) and an Oscar (for the screenplay to Brokeback Mountain, which he co-wrote with Ossana, about two sexually conflicted modern-day cowboys). His storytelling has been compared to that of Charles Dickens and William Faulkner, and even the famously self-absorbed novelist Norman Mailer—himself a winner of two Pulitzers—once confessed his admiration. “He’s too good,” he said, explaining his resistance to McMurtry’s novels. “If I start reading him, I start writing like him.”

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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