Frontline Workers: Helping Children Learn from These Leaders!

Frontline Workers: Helping Children Learn from These Leaders!

Education November 18, 2020 / By Joanne Foster, EdD
Frontline Workers: Helping Children Learn from These Leaders!

Do children know what frontline workers do - and why? What might kids learn from the experiences of these real-life heroes? I discuss the possibilities, and convey thanks to all those who serve.


“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” ~ Aristotle

As I write this, 2020 is starting to wind down, but COVID continues to take its toll worldwide. In the wake of this grueling pandemic, people have had to find ways to deal with the stark realities of illness, mortality, responsibility, fear, lock-downs, vulnerability, and loss. Countless frontline workers—those caring and dedicated people who strive valiantly to keep lives on track—also experience these same realities. And yet they continue to serve day after day after day, treading into the thick of things. What underlies their strength?

There are millions of people on the frontlines including (but not limited to) doctors; nurses; military personnel; hospital technicians; physical and occupational therapists; personal healthcare workers; police officers; firefighters; paramedics; foodbank operators; and first responders. (The list goes on…) They are deserving of respect, and HUGE thanks.

Even when confronting alarming obstacles or harsh circumstances, these frontline warriors spring into action. What motivates them to respond? Perhaps it’s passion, family tradition, determination, challenge, selflessness, opportunities to be innovative, or the possibility to contribute to society. Each individual is fueled by different—and often personal—motivators. Nevertheless, children can learn much from the lived experiences of the heroes in our midst, including how to begin to develop drive, positivity, resilience, and creative energy. And, parents can help in that process!


“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” ~ Helen Keller

Here are some suggestions to help parents foster children’s learning alongside an appreciation of the efforts of frontline workers who overcome some of the toughest situations.

  • Focus on core attributes. For example, resolve, ingenuity, commitment, teamwork, and empathy are all galvanizing. They can propel people forward, and they engender self-fulfillment. These strengths develop over time, and trusted adults can reinforce and demonstrate their value—preferably in real time. Parents should act as role models, showing by example how and why these attributes matter, as well as pointing out instances of how they are applied in everyday life by essential workers.
  • Answer children’s questions about the many ways in which people can assist others. Altruism and kindness are impactful, and they are learned. (See the article Kindling Kindness in Children for lots of suggestions to help kids develop an experiential understanding and appreciation of kindness.) Discuss with them what’s involved in being supportive, and considerate of others. Talk about helpfulness—how it can be cultivated and shared, and why it flourishes alongside optimism.
  • Investigate a “day in the life.” The daily experiences of a frontline worker, volunteer, or medical professional are like snapshots in time, but any given time interval is liable to be both rewarding and demanding. Children can find out more by chatting with individuals involved in particular careers of interest, or by reading stories about their professions. Kids can draw connections with their own lives, ask questions, and engage in reflection—thereby developing a greater appreciation for others and for experiences that extend beyond their own. (See Through the Lives of Others… Inspiring Children’s Creativity and Productivity.) Children can learn about some of the challenges, while coming to recognize that putting forth effort and giving of oneself can be gratifying—nurturing the soul, and helping to build community. (See the article Why Community Matters for Children AND Adults.)
  • The creativity factor is immeasurable. People on the frontlines frequently have to think imaginatively and on the fly. Whether it’s coming up with solutions to problems relating to therapies, personal protective equipment, technologies, safety protocols, or something else altogether and possibly out of the ordinary, these professionals are well-served by having a creative mindset. This means being flexibly responsive, cooperative, and open to the ideas of others. That’s important for children to grasp, especially now. We are all co-reliant during the pandemic, depending upon one another to think creatively, act responsibly, coexist safely, and look after each other, too. (Nevertheless, some children are reluctant to be creative. See the article What if Children Avoid or Struggle with Creativity? for reasons, and practical suggestions.)
  • Allay children’s concerns. Frontline workers often toil through turbulence and uncertainty. Some circumstances (such as homelessness, illness, shootings, massive fires, floods, major accidents, hurricanes, and poverty) are complex, confusing, upsetting, and not easily resolved. Parents can talk with children about doing something meaningful together. For example, check out community-based organizations for possibilities such as assisting with local food drives, joining recycling efforts, or helping at pet shelters. And, of course, parents can offer reassurance as needed. (See Reassuring Young Children During the COVID-19 Outbreak for strategies, and for several resources to consult during trying times.)
  • Adversity IS tough—but it can make us tougher. It may be cliché, however difficulties do have a way of increasing fortitude and bringing people together as they problem-solve, find silver-linings, and support one another. Scott Barry Kaufman discusses various aspects of struggling with and overcoming challenging life situations in his article Post-Traumatic Growth: Finding Meaning and Creativity in Adversity. Kaufman notes several areas of growth, including “greater appreciation of life…, increased compassion and altruism…, the identification of new possibilities or a purpose in life…, greater awareness and utilization of personal strengths…, and creative growth.” All good! Messages about “growth-fostering” and resilience (and about people who experience these first-hand) can inform and inspire, and can be shared with children.
  • Learn. It can be moving to discover and read about essential workers, and what motivates them. For example, in the “career guide” Healthcare Heroes, 28 different medical professionals share their stories. Contributors represent a variety of vocations including surgical technologist; physician; biomedical engineer; clinical/counseling psychologist; social worker; emergency medical technician; and (I had to look this one up) phlebotomist. Each person describes their job (mostly high points!) and reveals why they chose it. In addition to contributors’ personal accounts, the book’s co-authors Mary Choy and Michele B. Kaufman provide information about requirements, specialty areas, and links to “search and explore.” Children and parents can be inspired by material like this, showcasing the power of purpose, courage, helpfulness, and jobs well done.
  • Encourage children’s alliances. Support children as they build comforting friendships; develop new relationships or fortify existing ones; create teams; and (safely) forge collaborations with people online or through other channels. Strengthening social connections within the neighborhood can be advantageous for children’s development. (Dona Matthews addresses collective efficacy and more in the article Say Good Morning to Your Neighbors.) Consider, too, the benefits of structuring a mentorship with a front-liner whose work a child admires. (See what this might entail in Mentorships and Kids.) Connectivity has the potential to springboard collective triumph and positive change; promote learning; strengthen social and emotional well-being; and bolster confidence.


“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.” ~ Margaret Mead

Parents can encourage children’s understanding of the fundamental and increasingly vital human experience of being able to confront adversity. How? By helping one another. Anyone can make a difference and contribute to the greater good. It is a personal choice, just like so many other aspects of life. In the article Ambitious, Purposeful Kids (In an Increasingly Chaotic World) I discuss ways forward, including how kids can increase their own competencies by harnessing perseverance, creativity, initiative, life balance, cooperation, and more. Frontline workers are the embodiment of this, and they tap these strengths in the course of their efforts every day.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, and with immense gratitude, I convey heartfelt respect and appreciation for those hardworking people and all that they do to help make the world more bearable—whomever and wherever they may be, and however they serve. I hope children also take these workers into their hearts, think about how to grow stronger and more caring by following their lead, and pray that the months ahead bring a sense of restorative calm to this planet that we all share.

For more information on learning and ways to nurture children’s optimal development, see Dr. Joanne Foster’s most recent book, ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids: Hundreds of Ways to Inspire Your Child. And, visit the Resources Page at for articles on intelligence, creativity, productivity, and more. (COVID-related material is marked with a red asterisk.)

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