As a mother of two thoughtful, intelligent, beautiful children (19 and 15) and a co-caregiver to my live-in in-law, our household is in constant motion. When the global pandemic and stay-home guidelines flooded our everyday existence this past March, we all stood frozen for a moment, wondering how to adjust. The entire world seemed to flip upside down overnight. My daughter’s high school became online lessons and learning. As my son was completing his second-year university, the campus closed, he moved home early and finished lectures and exams online. My husband suddenly converted to working full time from his home office. Due to the high-risk age group of my Mother-in-law, she was confined to the house. When to work, where to work, how to work – just like that, all was different.
Initially, this had the most significant impact on my daughter, who at 15, socializing is vitally important. It was exceedingly difficult for her to accept all the changes being thrown her way all at once. It was my job to help her transition through it all. We took a few moments and imagined what other people might be going through as well. Like others, her teachers were experiencing a sudden adjustment to their regular routines, and possibly even homeschooling their own kids. Our essential front-line workers were also thrown into an environment that was unknown and scary. Having to deal with a tremendous medical crisis in real-time. As well, many of our family members, friends and neighbours were unable to go their workplaces and were now faced with an unrecognizable way of life and figuring out how to use Zoom!
How do we step into the shoes of another person and view the world from their perspective? To really try and comprehend where someone is coming from and how they got there. Everything they have experienced and felt that brought them to that point in time. If we can understand their needs and concerns, we can take necessary actions aligned with their feelings. I believe humans have compassion wired into our brains; however, few of us have achieved our full empathetic potential.
At moments like this, it is vital to have these conversations with our kids. How do we truly know what another person is experiencing if we do not take a moment to imagine what they must be feeling? We really are all in this together and need kindness and compassion more than ever. We each have a responsibility to work together and help where we can, and in the end, we will get through this.
My daughter and I focused on how she was feeling, and I checked in with her regularly, as this was a shifting state. We talked openly about the uncertainty of this unique situation. In our lifetime, we have never witnessed a global crisis like COVID-19. Talking through it is so important. Acknowledging those emotions is a vital jumping-off point to work through all those feelings.
The idea for my book, We Can Do This Together, was developed based on these conversations I was having with my daughter. I wanted to create a little space where it was okay to have a bunch of feelings whirling around inside of you all at once. The story seeks to reassure children it is alright to have new and different emotions while providing hope for a better future.
As we approach the end of my daughter’s school year, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have slowly but surely adjusted to the new normal way of life. Then recent news events present an unimaginable view of our world and stir up more powerful emotions. Kindness and compassion are again needed more than ever.
Empathy can be a beacon for living a mindful life and a powerful instrument for social change. Just maybe, we are establishing a generation that will emphasize the power of human relationships.
I have shared a list of children’s books below that touch on the theme of empathy. These are just a few of my favourites that have been enjoyed by my family over the years.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS & EMPATHY:
1. Freak the Mighty, Rodman Philbrick (ages 9-12)
I read this story with my daughter in middle school and cheered, then cried through the pages. It is a fantastic story that follows the unique friendship of two unlikely companions as they triumph through challenges, bullying and loss with loads of empathy.
2. Wonder, R.J. Palacio (ages 8-12, also We’re All Wonders ages 4-8)
One of my all-time favourites! How can you not love someone who wears a space helmet, likes Star Wars, and dreams of going to space? And his dog’s name is Daisy, I love daisies! Born with a facial deformity, Auggie is hoping his new classmates will look past his physical appearances and appreciate him for what makes him distinctly him. This is a compelling story of friendship, acceptance, kindness, and perspective that leaves us cheering for the little guy.
3. The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes (ages 9-12)
I picked up a copy of this lovely book at a public library book sale. Written in 1945, it is a timely reminder that we all have a story, and it is up to us to tell it. How do we adjust to changing situations? Although we have differences, we have more things that are the same, and that is what we need to focus on.
4. Come With Me, Holly M. McGhee (ages 5-8)
An inspiring little story explores how to courageously embrace what makes us uniquely us. We can make the world a better place, by simple acts of kindness and appreciating our differences with love and friendship.
5. The Rabbit Listened, Cori Doerrfeld (ages 3- 5)
An adorable picture book for little ones to connect to those situations that do not always go their way. Sweet illustrations show us how to help each other by taking the time to listen. Sometimes, that is all we need.