“The coronavirus won’t be going anywhere for a long time — and neither will our fears about it…There’s a lot to be scared of. But when people share their fears with you, what do you say?” A. Goldfarb, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“It may feel as if you’re offering comfort with a comment meant to lift their spirits — ‘You’ve got this!’ “’ know you’ll be fine!’ — but to those who are aching, these rah-rah sentiments can sound like you’re bulldozing over their pain, leaving little room for understanding or vulnerability.
Responding to someone’s expression of distress with an unhelpful, cheerful attitude is what the psychotherapist Whitney Goodman calls dismissive, or toxic, positivity.
An empathetic response reassures the other person that you’re seeing the situation from their side and sharing in their suffering. A dismissively positive response subtly shifts the burden of coping back onto the person who is expressing the negative emotion: If you tweaked your attitude, you’d feel better…At its root, dismissive positivity is a response from someone who feels uncomfortable in the situation aiming to make you feel better and quell your concerns, said Nicolle Osequeda, a psychotherapist. But it often ‘results in someone feeling unheard, frustrated, unsupported and alone.’Just because you say, ‘You’ll be fine!’that doesn’t mean that’s actually going to happen…‘That’s not how the world works,’said Ayanna Abrams, a licensed clinical psychologist. ‘That’s not how our bodies work. That’s not how our brain works.’
So here’s what to say — and what not to say — when people express their fears and worries to you right now.
Steer clear of fixing or reframing negative emotions.
Saying something like, ‘The vast majority of people who are infected recover,’ doesn’t help somebody manage their concerns in the moment, Dr. Abrams said.
Don’t minimize the other person’s fears. Saying things like, ‘You have nothing to worry about,’ does not make anxiety magically disappear… Nix the word ‘should.’ Statements with the word ‘should’ sound supportive, but they aren’t.
That’s because we are telling people what to do or how to feel, saidSonia Fregoso, a licensed marriage and family therapist…Instead, we should reflect, validate and be curious. A better way to phrase your concern is by using reflection, validation and curiosity, and in that order, Ms. Fregoso said. Mirror the emotion you hear in your friend’s voice. Fear, sadness and worry are all common emotions people are feeling right now…If you’ve said the wrong thing, you can still repair.
Once you realize what dismissive positivity statements sound like, you may realize you’ve botched the job as a confidant. It’s not too late to do some damage control. Dr. Abrams suggests reaching out and being transparent about missing the mark. Say something like, ‘Hey, I noticed when we were talking earlier, it didn’t seem like you were connecting with what I was saying. I realize I slipped into cheerleader mode too quickly. Can we try again? How are you doing now?’
If you’re at a loss for what to say next time you feel compelled to slip into cheerleader mode, she suggests asking the person directly what they would find helpful. Recruit them as an ally so you can face the issue together.
“European diplomats and foreign policy experts say that a Joe Biden presidency would restore the United States’ strained alliances with Europe.” Business Insider
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Examine the titles of the post and the actual article. Examine any photos, then create a list of words and ideas that you and your group members think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- It’s hard to lift someone’s spirit in times like these.
- Many people are aching.
- People are also vulnerable at this time.
- Responding to someone’s expression of distress with an unhelpful, cheerful attitude is dismissive.
- An empathetic response reassures the other person that you’re seeing the situation from their side.
- If you tweaked your attitude, you’d feel better.
- At its root, dismissive positivity is a response from someone who feels uncomfortable in the situation.
- Try not to minimize the other person’s fears.
- Try not to give unsolicited advice.
- Nix the word ‘should’ when giving advice.
Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
Try not/no to gave/give unsolicited advice. Unless/useless the other person explicitly ask/asks you for suggestions on/in managing his/he or she/her concerns, you shouldn’t offer/off your two cents. Most likely, people are just looking/look for a/an ear, Dr. Abrams said. They’re looking for a/an heart, nobody/somebody who can meet/met them in the experience and then they can better figure it out on their own.”
Reading Comprehension: Identify The Speakers
Directions: Have students read the following quotes from speakers in the article to see if they can identify the speakers.
- “Responding to someone’s expression of distress with an unhelpful, cheerful attitude is dismissive, or toxic, positivity.”
- “At its root, dismissive positivity is a response from someone who feels uncomfortable in the situation.”
- “That’s not how the world works. That’s not how our brain works.”
- “Offering counsel like, ‘You should just practice self-care’ or ‘You shouldn’t be so negative,’ is not helpful.”
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
- Have you had to comfort anyone since the covid-19?
- What advice did you give the person?
- List 3 things that one should not say to people in distress. List 3 things to say that are helpful to people in distress.
- What is one important thing Dr. Abrams warns against when attempting to help a person who has fears?
- According to Sonia Fregoso what is the one word you should “nix” when offering advice?
- After reading this article, would you change the way you give comfort and advice to people? If yes, explain how you would change.
- What new information have you learned from this article?
Directions: In 5 minutes to write down three new ideas you’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.