It’s Not About The Mask

It’s Not About The Mask…

This pandemic has been a chaotic, humbling, and shifting experience.  It feels as though information can change daily, plans can change daily, and (personally) my mindset can change daily.  Moreover, as a parent and professional I realize that this pandemic is an opportunity for me to teach my children the importance and power of collective thinking.  This pandemic has brought to light new social norms, some of which seem unnatural; such as remaining away from those we love.  It has also highlighted how sometimes we can get caught up in being an individual with individual desires, rights, values, wants, needs, etc.  You can be beautifully individual and still be part of the group goal.  In fact, we as humans have always depended on each other.  This time is no different.

Except that…

We need to remain physically apart.  While mentally and emotionally we need, more than ever, to come together.

 In order to accomplish goals as a group we have to think about how we all impact each other’s thoughts and feelings.  How our actions can benefit the group as a whole.  What is our common goal?  What do we want to achieve?  There is an expression: “Everything you ever needed to learn you learned in kindergarten.”  When children play together and their games evolve, so do their rules.  They have a common goal: to have fun.  They learn to think flexibly through play, they learn to think collectively, they learn that thinking together means the game lasts longer and is more rewarding.  Whereas, when you become entrapped in only getting what you want the game usually ends.  The teacher steps in, other children don’t want to play anymore, the small problem you had during the game is now a much larger problem that hurts much more.

We have a collective problem.  That is going to require collective thinking.  We can teach our children through the pandemic that a fixed way of thinking of things would be to only see these new social norms (ex: wearing a mask) as robbing you of your individual comfort level.  OR we could also teach the next generation that thinking collectively and with empathy and flexibility is valuable.  It’s what will make their “sandbox” a better place.  We can teach them to focus (as Mr. Rogers so wisely put) on the HELPERS.  We can teach them how they can be a helper.  It’s not about shaming, or ONLY believing in ONE side of information.  It is about teaching them that they can OBSERVE, they can THINK, they can RESEARCH, they can PRACTICE.  They can view themselves as a collective part of the solution. We live in New Jersey and our playgrounds have re-opened.  This was a huge source of excitement for my two-and-a-half-year-old.  Moreover, for me as a parent it was an important teaching moment.  I had to explain that it was a new social rule that she needed to wear a mask to play.  If she took it off, we needed to leave.  All of us as individuals are asked millions of times a day to adhere to social expectations to keep others around us safe.  For example, when I get in my car, I do not drive the wrong way down a one-way street just because I think it’s a faster alternative.  That would be incredibly socially unexpected.   Yes, these new social norms feel odd.  They feel different.

But, part of my responsibility as an adult and parent is to show her that I can work through my own discomforts and I can adapt.  I can think collectively to benefit others and be a helper.  It is not my job to point out those choosing not to accept this new social expectation.

It is MY job to draw her attention to those that are HELPING.  The people who are doing their part to benefit the whole.  The people who are keeping that game in the sandbox going strong! Because, that is who I want her to be.

In short.  Who am I thinking about?

I’m thinking about the nurses and doctors in my community who are inherently GOOD people.  They need me to listen to their needs. 

 I’m thinking of the essential workers and their families.

 I’m thinking of those that desperately need and want their jobs back

 I’m thinking of the local business owners in our community we love, who deserve to have ALL the support I can give to keep their dreams going.

 I’m thinking of someone else’s grandparent or parent.  They love theirs like I love mine. 

 I’m thinking of the teachers who deserve our respect.

 I’m thinking of those who have lost their loved ones.  

 I’m thinking of my children’s futures.

My community has asked me to be a helper.  There really is not greater example I could set for my daughters. 

What are five things we can teach our children during this pandemic?

  1. Look for the helpers and for ways you can help. Nothing is too small.
  2. Think about and with others. If an action is going to hurt someone or cause damage it is not the right thing to do.  It is also not A RIGHT.
  3. Be curious! Look for information, history, politics, science, etc.   Think and learn and learn to think.  The generations before you don’t hold all of the answers, but they have valuable information to integrate with your own thinking.
  4. Talk about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. Have respectful disagreements, practice perspective taking as a family. Show your children what trying to understand looks like, how a flexible mindset can result in increased learning.
  5. Show them you are a leader and have power by VOTING. Teach them what voting is, and the effects it has (ex: Have the family vote on what cereal to buy, what show to watch, etc.) teach them that their knowledge and voice matters.

It’s not about the mask. 

 It’s about thinking about each other.  It’s about caring for each other.  It’s about working through discomfort together.    It’s about recognizing that we are all in this collective little bubble together.  My actions effect our neighborhood, our town, our city, our state, our country, our world.  Which actions can I CHOOSE to aid in keeping this sandbox a safe and productive place?

By: Sarah Ott

*Sarah is a Mom of two daughters and Speech-Language Pathologist living in Hoboken, NJ.  She is passionate about incorporating social emotional learning, metacognitive strategies, and mindfulness into her profession and parenting.*