By Sandy Spurgeon McDaniel
In my last article, I talked about connection being the way to heal the disconnect all of us have experienced due to the pandemic. One of the things a parent who has a child on the spectrum needs to teach him or her is to read facial clues – happy, sad, angry, disappointed, afraid, etc. Having had two years of children and adults wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are raising generations of children who have trained themselves NOT to look at facial expressions. This creates two escalating problems: (1) A lack of empathy for what other people may be or are feeling, and (2) People being fearful of each other because there is no way to “check the temperature.”
Presumably at dinner, ask the children, “What do you feel when someone says something unkind to you? On your face, show me what you would feel.” (As a family, interpret each person’s face: sad, angry, afraid.) “What does my face look like when I am angry? Disappointed? Sad?” To make your children laugh, ask them to show you their ‘I’m innocent’ face. When you are out in the world with your children, people-watch with them, discussing how a certain person might feel. It is time for all of us to come out of our cocoons and look at each other.
I was walking out of a sports arena after seeing three basketball games in a row. A boy, about 9 years of age, came through the door towards me, noticed me, and came back to hold the door open. I said, “I love kindness when I see it; you wear it so well!” He surprised me by responding, “I love that!” Was it my tired expression or my gray hair that he spotted? In one brief moment in time, he gave me two extraordinary gifts: being noticed (not invisible) and appreciated (I’ve been here a very long time, and I’ve earned a drip of respect).
It’s a confusing time in which one person might favorably respond to a welcoming comment from you, and someone might not be as accepting. We need to connect to each other again! Mother Teresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest to you.” Helping can mean doing something for someone, and just connecting is a tremendous gift. Invite your child to pick up something for someone who dropped it, stop and help an elderly person put groceries into a car, hold the door for someone, take cookies to a neighbor, or just notice other people.
“When you don’t know what to do with yourself, do something for someone else.” – Lilian Jackson Braun
I invited a lady with a 4-year-old boy who was sobbing miserably to go ahead of me in line. He threw himself on the floor and would have nothing to do with moving forward. I squatted down and took off my (COVID-19) mask, saying, “It is really scary when there are so many people and you can’t see their faces, isn’t it?” Then, pointing to my cheeks, I said, “I have dimples like you do!” The boy looked at me, cocked his head, and when I added, “My name is Sandy,” he sat up. The small boy stared at me for a minute or two (so I continued talking to him in my head), then lit up the world with his smile! “Your mother needs you to get in the cart and help her unload groceries. I know you can do it!” He stood up, offering outstretched arms to his mother. Tears on her cheeks, the mom said, “Bless you, Sandy!” I smiled,“He just did!”
You seriously have no idea what people are dealing with in their personal lives so just be nice, it’s that simple. The pandemic has taught us to fear each other; in order to survive, we must build bridges instead of walls between each of us. Your children, who have been waaaay too attached to their electronic gadgets, need to be assisted, coached and invited to rejoin the world. As is always true, you teach most by what you model.
When you connect with your children, delightful stories emerge: Since my grandchildren were born, I have told them I love them more than peanut butter and Winnie the Pooh. Sitting next to grandson Evan (11) at a baseball game, I covered my homemade sandwich with my hand and asked him, “What kind of sandwich did I make for myself today?” He paused, so I added, “Hint: I love you more than……” Eyes wide open, Evan responded, “You’re eating a Winnie the Pooh sandwich?”
Let’s work on building bridges between each other, weaving our cords of connection together to create a community, united and strong.
For more than 55 years, Sandy McDaniel has been an international speaker and recognized authority on families and children. Author of five books, columnist, founder of parentingsos.com, she is a resident of Meridian and loves spending time with her three Idaho grandchicks. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or go to YouTube:Sandy Spurgeon McDaniel to see videos on specific parenting issues.