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Cultivating Empathy in the Coronavirus Crisis

To avoid isolation and self-focus, shift your attention and concern to the needs of others

March 18, 2020
Modeling empathy illustration of two women passing a heart shape

With children and adults encouraged to stay inside and practice social distancing, it’s easy for children and caregivers to draw their focus inward toward themselves or their nuclear families. However, research suggests the best way to combat feelings of isolation is to grow and strengthen concern for others.

Developmental psychologist Richard Weissbourd, director of the and Making Caring Common Project, emphasizes the important role parents play in modeling and strengthening their child’s capacity to care for others. 

“It’s a time to expand children’s circles or concern, to focus children on those people who are especially vulnerable to this virus, including senior citizens and economically disadvantaged populations — people many children may not think about,” Weissbourd says.

Parents can help their children expand circles of concern through:

Modeling empathy
Listen carefully to children when they speak. Act as a guide to help children empathize with family members or neighbors who may be vulnerable.

Taking action
Talk with your child. Think about ways you might be able to help, including:

  • Making care packages for nurses, elderly neighbors, or people whose jobs have been directly impacted.
  • Offering to shop for groceries for senior citizens in your neighborhood.
  • Supporting local businesses by buying gift certificates to use at a later time.
  • Looking for ways to support workers who have been laid off.
  • Thinking about how to show gratitude to people whose jobs make them vulnerable (grocery store workers, bank tellers, food service workers).
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Read more in our ongoing series, Confronting the Coronavirus Outbreak, on how schools and communities can prepare and respond, support young people, build resilience, and keep the learning going.

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Early Childhood K-12 Parenting and Community Social-Emotional Wellbeing