The global coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of families to cancel plans, stay home from work and school, and self-quarantine together. This can be frustrating and boring for a lot of us, especially for children. But it presents an excellent opportunity to teach kids about social responsibility, and how their own seemingly small acts of sacrifice and kindness — from washing hands and staying home, to volunteering for those in need — can improve the lives of many others.
This is perhaps the greatest opportunity in decades to teach children about life’s delicate balance between looking out for ourselves and doing what we want, and looking out for others and doing what is best for the country. You can’t teach social responsibility unless your kids understand what, exactly, it is. Keep the explanation simple: Social responsibility is the idea that our actions affect others, and we should aim to have a positive impact on other people and on society as a whole. Put it in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic by explaining why hoarding supplies or over-buying at this time is not the right thing to do.
Show them videos and talk about the millions of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, grocery store owners, and other critical workers who are working long hours to keep the country going. Share the stories of people who are showing kindness in their community by shopping for the elderly, donating blood, or sewing face masks and donating to workers on the frontline.
So what are some ways we can encourage our kids to practice being socially responsible right now, when they’re basically confined to their homes and their contact with other people is so restricted?
One way to show kindness during the COVID-19 era is to reach out to anyone in the high-risk group — people age 65 or older and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions. Ask if you can do their grocery shopping for them, or run any essential errands that will allow them to stay inside their home.
If you need some inspiration, think about writing to your neighbors using sidewalk chalk, , donating surplus non-perishables to a local food pantry, and checking in with grandparents and other vulnerable people on a daily basis. Whether the goal is to break through social isolation or ensure people have all the food and essential supplies they need, these acts can illustrate to kids the value of social responsibility — not just in the next few weeks and months, but for the rest of their lives.
Write a “gratitude list” with your kids and displaying it in your home. This might include gratitude for doctors and nurses, food, people who keep you informed, and a neighborhood of people who care. By reminding your children of all the ways in which others are showing respect and love for them, they see the importance in paying it forward.
It’s difficult to keep kids away from social media at the best of times, and with so much focus on the new coronavirus, there’s the risk of overexposure to negative stories. Scan the news for positive messages of people who are doing good or positive. Just the other day I saw the most amazing video of a the choir at a South African’s school’s rendition of Hallelujah. By sharing the good we are seeing in the world, we give children the language of hope and possibility in a time that is filled with worry.