Opinion | Why Trump Disdains a Virtual Debate

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To the Editor:

What happens when the bully in the bully pulpit can’t be a bully anymore?

President Trump declared on Thursday that a virtual debate format — one in which the two participants and their audience are all in separate remote locations — is “not acceptable.”

The Commission on Presidential Debates wisely announced the change for the Oct. 15 debate because Mr. Trump is infected with the coronavirus. Mr. Trump elaborated: “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That’s not what debating’s all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate, it’s ridiculous. And then they cut you off whenever they want.”

Just what is debating all about for Mr. Trump? A competition of ideas? Hardly. For Mr. Trump, debating is about physical intimidation, continuously interrupting one’s opponent and soaring decibel levels — anything but ideas.

John R. Scannell
Sammamish, Wash.

Child Development in the Pandemic

To the Editor:

Re “Will the Pandemic Socially Stunt My Kid?” (Parenting, nytimes.com, Sept. 30):

Children are resilient, yet we do have concern about the pandemic’s effect on their development. Masks are far from a nonissue for infants and toddlers, who learn to read cues and use facial expressions to build relationships, relate to peers and develop their sense of self. Infants look at mouths to learn language, and read facial cues of loving caregivers to develop feelings of security and trust.

Children can adapt and bounce back with the loving support of a caregiver. Yet the assumption that children do not need to see faces to develop foundational emotional and social skills goes against decades of research.

Nuanced nonverbal communication in the first three years develops into lifelong skills. The pandemic calls upon the intentionality, creativity and sensitivity of astute caregivers and early childhood professionals to tune in to the needs of our youngest, just as parents have been doing to buffer and interpret what is happening for their young children, responding in ways that help children make sense of the vast changes to their world.

Intentional, sensitive and reciprocal interactions that respect the strengths and vulnerabilities of infants and children are necessary to highlight what children may not garner through masked communication.

It could be as simple as having a caregiver in a day care setting say to a toddler: “I am so happy to see you this morning, and I am smiling so big! Do you see any clues in my eyes that let you know I am smiling even though my mouth is covered? See how my corners crinkle?”

Tovah Klein
Aliza Pressman
New York
Dr. Klein is director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, and Dr. Pressman is a co-founder of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center.

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