Where’s The Empathy?

As we continue to deal with this COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of empathy is so apparent in this country.  People not wanting to do the simplest things to protect others from the virus.  Anti-maskers are shouting about their rights and, ironically, they are using the pro-choice slogan, “My body, my right.”  This totally disregards the lives of others.  If one is truly pro-life, one cares about the life way after birth!  Otherwise, it’s just pro-birth!

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes to understand as much as possible in order to try to understand what the other person is feeling or going through.  One can feel the same feelings as the other person or at least get an idea of what the other person is going through.

Empathy is a learned behavior.  While some children are born with more empathy than others, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are naturally egocentric due to their developmental stage.  This is a survival mechanism and not a “bad thing.”  Adults can help the development of empathy by modeling it to their children and pointing out feelings of others—whether positive or negative.

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Source unknown. I got it off Facebook.

Not spanking/hitting or using other harsh punishment with children also promotes the development of empathy in children.  Not using aggression to get what one wants teaches children to respect other people and have empathy.  Corporal punishment and using other harsh punishment only breeds fear and anger.  These make children turn inward in a negative manner instead of being open to other people and what they are going through.

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I talked a bit about helping children understand about COVID-19 in my previous post, but here’s a great book written by a teacher that helps further explain this highly contagious, dangerous, damaging, and deadly virus in a developmentally appropriate way.  If you are one who is not taking this seriously, please read this story!

While places are now opened and the topic of going back to school rages on, and schools are opening only to have cases of COVID-19 the first week of school, the numbers of positive cases continues to rise.  I am truly saddened by the fact that this health crisis has become political and empathy for people who are high risk, children, teachers, healthcare workers seems to be going by the wayside.  Except for the rare medical appointment and the fact that my chosen family owns a private tattoo shop and keeps people out while I am there, my quarantine hasn’t ended.  I try to wear a mask but it falls down because of spasms due to my severe cerebral palsy.  Anti-maskers laugh that I am not able to be in public because too many people are worried about their own comfort and rights to have empathy for those who can’t wear a mask and/or are high risk.  What a horrible example they are setting for our children.

As an early childhood professional,  I don’t recommend children going back to school until this virus is under control.    I know it’s hard for poor families and I worry about social-emotional development of the children, but we have to realize that even if children are less likely to get seriously ill,  some are going to get seriously ill or get the inflammatory disease that kills them.   Not to mention bringing it home to the family and then we don’t know who will get mild symptoms and who will be hospitalized and on a ventilator.

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I am so grateful  for everyone who is wearing masks and protecting people like me who can’t wear masks easily and then the health care workers busting their butts to fight this pandemic.

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Children who are old enough to wear a mask in public should!  While some children will have an easier time adjusting to wearing a mask, it is possible to help them with it.

Here are some things that we can do to help children adjust to wearing a mask:

Always wear a mask yourself when out in public.  Actions speak louder than words!

Educate them about how masks help protect others and them.  If they like superheroes, compare them to being a superhero for wearing masks because superheroes always protect others from dangerous situations.  There are some wonderful children’s books to read to them to further encourage them to wear a mask in public.   I recommend this book.

Start with short periods of time wearing a mask and do a fun activity to help distract them from the mask.

Let the child pick out a few masks and/or let him/her decorate one so he/she wants to wear it.

Try different masks for the most comfortable one for the child.

Validate feelings about wearing a mask and tell the child that it is uncomfortable sometimes but it is the only way to go anywhere.

Keep little hands busy so they don’t constantly touch the mask.

Always have extra masks on hand or in the children’s backpacks because they are going to drop, throw, spill, forget masks so they need extras on them whenever they are in public.  Also, keep hand sanitizer with you and/or them for washing their hands.

Make up a silly song to sing such as, “This is the way we wear our masks” to the tune of Farmer Brown.

Turn mask wearing into a game to see who can keep theirs on the longest.

Use mirrors in the car to have everyone put them on at the same time.

If for any reason the child has a meltdown and refuses to wear the mask when you get to have a destination and you have to go in, take some deep breaths, make sure that the child doesn’t have an unmet need, the mask isn’t pinching or hurting him/her,  and carry the child in if it isn’t possible to have someone bring stuff out to you.  

Never make wearing a mask into a power struggle.  This will make the child want to wear it even less.  If the child is showing you that he/she is not ready for a mask, make sure that he/she knows that going out is not an option without a mask.

This is a very uncertain time for everyone.  We are all extremely stressed and anxious and children are no exception.  Regression during times of extreme upheaval and stress is normal for children, so try to hold space for it and your own feelings.

The only way we will get through this pandemic is to have empathy for each other and do what we need to do to stop the spread of the virus.  We can do this TOGETHER!!!!

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