While the Coronavirus pandemic has had countless negative implications, research suggests that it may not be all bad. An overwhelmingly positive effect of hardship and adversity is the desire to come together and help those in need. In fact, children from a very young age show signs of empathy through nonverbal communication and gestures. Therefore, as caregivers and teachers, we can help foster a greater sense of compassion and build on children's innate compassion towards themselves and one another. Scientists highlight three main areas to do so.
The first technique is to model compassion to present a good example to our children. Through these uncertain times, it is likely that our children are experiencing emotional distress and they may be struggling to process what is going on. Based on this, it is important to validate how they are feeling in a warm and supportive environment. These conversations help the child recognize that it is completely acceptable to feel upset, and to also recognize that these emotions are temporary. Likewise, incorporating open dialogue about friends and family members who have expressed compassion in the past can help the child feel more connected to his or her social network. Recounting these stories about kind acts during difficult times, including phone calls, gifts, and quality time together, reminds the child that difficult times come and go, and that he or she is cared for by many people.
Next, scientists suggest that practicing self-compassion is equally as important. The first step is helping our child notice when he or she is in distress, including stomach aches and muscle tension. Once aware of these symptoms, we can have reflective conversations with our children about being patient with ourselves and not judging these emotions or thoughts. We can help them associate these symptoms with their feelings, and begin to express themselves verbally:
"My body feels tense right now which means I'm worried."
"My tummy hurts, but it will go away soon."
"I am feeling nervous but if I do x (drawing, dancing, playing, etc.) it will help me feel better."
We can also remind our children that people all over the world are going through this, and they are not alone. Children can also learn coping strategies and self-advocacy, such as planning a high-interest activity to look forward to at the end of the day.
Show Compassion to Others
Lastly, we can invite and foster a community in which children show compassion to others. Acts of kindness, no matter how small, are extremely meaningful to both the child and the receiver. For example, writing letters, volunteering, donating, or reaching out to a friend or relative in need are all great ways to extend compassion and feel connected to others during this time of distance. Opportunities to give back and help others will have positive effects that will promote empathy and compassion.