No matter how certain you are of the efficacy and safety of vaccines, putting a new vaccine in your child’s arm is a hard decision. As adults, we can show children that life is full of hard decisions and demonstrate how we have learned to approach them. We can teach them that it’s our responsibility to care for others, even when it costs us something. We can show them how we deal with anxiety.
Questions surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine and its rollout.
Children are always watching us. That’s what Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and the author of “Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine,” reminded me. “The first way that kids learn values, how they learn to handle life, how they learn resilience — they need a model, and they are tuning in to us far more than we ever give our kids credit for,” she told me. “A lot of kids are saying, ‘My parents can tell me to be calm, but they’re not.’ So we’re saying one message when we’re sending another.”
The same goes for the way we talk about other people in front of our kids, Dr. Borba said. We’re failing to model empathy when we preach kindness and then bash other parents for their choices. Kindness and empathy, she said, are built over time, over many small conversations based in curiosity about how other people experience the world. She pointed to the work of Samuel Oliner, a sociologist and altruism expert, and his interviews with rescuers who risked their lives to help Jews in peril in Europe during World War II. One common thread, she said, was a family culture based in empathy and helping others.
In her own more recent research, Dr. Borba interviewed a group of teenagers in Illinois who told her that they coped with pandemic-related stress and anxiety by making gift bags filled with cookies and handwritten notes for students they were worried about during remote schooling and lockdown. The phone calls of appreciation, some tearful, made them feel better and more connected. “Empathy nurtures crucial abilities that help children handle stress,” she told me. “Empathy in action is the antidote — doing something.”
One way to take action, for children, is to get a vaccine when it’s available to them. We can acknowledge that getting a shot can be scary and that our arms might be sore, and we might feel crummy for a day or two — but that it’s a small price to pay to help our whole community stay healthy, especially people who are immunocompromised, older or sick. Getting vaccinated is also a way to help protect people who choose not to do so — and it shows that we see their value as fellow human beings and care about their welfare, even if we don’t agree with them.