The Allegory of the Oxygen Mask
I have been flying on airplanes since I was a very young child. Spending my mid-80s childhood-summers in Kansas, I would often fly alone to and from the Midwest; armed with a chapter book, a stuffed animal, and a super-secret safety word to ward off questionable strangers.
I witnessed the flight attendants’ safety spiel so often I could probably perform it myself.
The one thing that always stood out to me as a kid was their oxygen mask advisory, detailing the steps to take if there were to be any sudden loss of cabin pressure during the flight. It informed the adults that they should first put on their masks before assisting any children sitting next to them with theirs. Without the security of my parents’ presence, I remember scoping out my would-be heroes and thinking, “Whoa! HEY!…This can NOT be right!!!”
Even now, as an adult with an understanding of why, this protocol still feels wrong. Being a child-care provider and educator, my first instinct is to provide assistance to children who need my help. Putting myself first doesn’t seem like the selfless moral thing to do when a child’s well-being is at stake. Yet every airline’s safety message remains the same after all these years, because it makes perfect sense.
In the field of Afterschool, there is much to learn from this oxygen mask scenario. It is a fitting metaphor because our overall goal is, literally, the well-being of children in our care. So much so, that we often neglect our own well-being to give our children 100% of our focus, attention, energy, and time. We need to allow ourselves a moment to sit back and adjust our own life-line first. We must find our breath and balance first or we will never be in a place to guide our children to greatness.
The lesson here is basic common sense but, as the saying goes, common sense is not always common practice. If we are going to be role models of good character, behaviors, and appropriate choices for our children, we ourselves need to exude good character, participate in positive behaviors and make appropriate choices. If we are going to preach character values, we should be practicing them as well.
I have included the Oxygen Mask activity that can be completed as a staff meeting activity and takes around 20-30 minutes to complete with discussion and debriefing. It exemplifies the Oxygen Mask metaphor and is a concrete and fun way for your Team to find focus regarding their personal self-care habits and professional goal-setting. To access the activity please click here.
Chaelyn Lombardo is the Site Director for the Middlesex YMCA’s Kids’ Korner Before and Afterschool Program at Macdonough School in Middletown, CT since 2006.