Empathy Training Helps Kids Bond in Aftercare
The world is slowly going back to normal, with more and more people getting vaccinated each day. For the most part, it feels odd to let go of some of the worries that were based on the rapid spread of COVID.
Yet, if it’s hard for the adults to readjust to everything opening back up, imagine how it is for the kids.
For over a year, kids got to stay home and be in a comfortable environment. They adjusted to the online class format, and we probably didn’t think much of how the change could affect them.
Now that they’re back in school, they think it’s still okay to act the same way before the lockdown happened. However, that isn’t the case: Masks and social distancing are still enforced. They can’t interact with their friends the way they want to.
This leads to them feeling annoyed, neglected, and mostly defeated. With their friends right in front of them and no one protected behind a screen, they now have to follow new rules of engagement.
After spending some time with the kids, I realized that they still haven’t fully grasped the changes that are happening to them. It especially shows through the younger kids and when they want to all play with each other. They want to play-wrestle, go back to playing the games they played outside before there was a pandemic, etc.
There are also times when the lines get blurred and they forget about social distancing and respecting each other’s boundaries. They get so excited to be outdoors and around their friends that they end up getting lost in the fun. Then, if one small bad thing happens, it becomes a domino effect. Immediately, they come up to me and try to prove they’re the innocent ones. As a result, the truth gets lost in translation, aka, “He said, she said” or “They don’t listen to me when I say stop.”
When that happens, everyone needs to remember to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. We’re not at home anymore and we need to be mindful of each other. It’s not just about fending for ourselves. Instead, we have to come together as a unit. So, in light of October being National Bullying Prevention Month, I’ve begun to have open floor talks with the kids about really respecting each other’s space.
Learning About Respect
Talking to the kids has made me realize that they are coping in their own ways. Some tend to keep their troubles to themselves, which leads to them being more reserved when they’re in a group setting. Others tend to express themselves physically and are still learning self-awareness. They don’t realize, in the heat of the moment, that their actions have consequences and can unintentionally affect the other kids around them. So we’ve gone over some situations together, like, “What if she did this to you?” or “How would you feel if he said that to you instead?” By having it brought to their attention, they’re able to be more aware for next time.
As we talk together, everyone can see that they’re not alone. They also get to learn that not everything is what it seems when they all come together at aftercare. For example, if someone is having a hard day, they may not show it in hopes that being with their friends can take their mind off things. So, as part of explaining the importance of being kind and inclusive, I ask the kids to raise their hands if they haven’t been having a great day. Some have brought up dealing with the loss of close people in their lives, whether it was a family member or friend. Others have shared that they’ve been bullied by peers with micro-aggressions or confrontations.
It’s interesting to see the older kids share their experiences and the younger kids realize that they aren’t the only ones dealing with difficult scenarios. It has surprised the older kids that kids younger than them were going through similar hardships as well. Lately, there has been this silent agreement within the group that everyone has something going on in their lives and that they shouldn’t take it out on one another. If anything, they should lend a listening ear and offer any advice they can.
It’s our goal as a group to make aftercare a safe environment where each child can be their true self and not have to worry about “fitting in.” It may not happen immediately, but we are slowly working towards it.
We see the necessity and have started integrating this process formally into our program. We would love your feedback on the issue….
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