On any given day, across the country there are thousands of parks and playgrounds filled with children. And on any given day, in most of those parks, there is a familiar pattern. It doesn’t always look the same, in fact most people would miss it if they weren’t paying attention – but they should be.
In these playgrounds across the country there is a child or two, who is different. Maybe they’re rich, while the others are poor, or perhaps their clothes are old or out of fashion in a suburb accustomed to more. Maybe they have anxiety, or learning difficulties. Maybe they’re uncoordinated or speak with a lisp. Maybe they have Down Syndrome, Autism or Aspergers. Maybe they’re just bright, and more comfortable with books and computers than swing sets and slides.
While everyone else plays easily this child does something extraordinarily brave. They put whatever difference they feel is so obvious about them aside… and walk up to the others. They might say “Hi” or “How are you?” or “Would you like to play?” then they wait for a moment, on tenderhooks because this means a LOT to them… and more often than not, they are ignored.
It happened to me as a child all the time. It happened to my son today. He summoned everything he had to approach kids and it took ten children pretending he wasn’t even there before one even made them effort to smile and say hi back.
I’ve seen this happen time and time again and not just to my son either.
This week the media has been abuzz that our kids aren’t resilient enough anymore. That we need to toughen them up.
What we need to do is raise them to be kind. We need to raise them to realize that everyone matters. We need to stop counting on the socialization of schools and parks to show our kids what it means to function in the community because it’s just not working. And we have the gall to say they should be more resilient?
Over protective school politics aside (some of the references in the media related to games/races etc) I think we focus too much on resilience and not enough on inclusion, acceptance and kindness. We expect from our kids things that we wouldn’t tolerate ourselves.
Honestly – if you walked in to a party and were completely ignored by ten people who you talked to how would you feel? At what point would that be ok for you? If you fell badly while walking and skinned your knee or hit your head would you always shrug it off? If you having lunch with a friend and you showed her your new phone or lipstick and she smashed it – would you be ok with that? Because we expect our kids not to care. We expect them to be hushed and pushed aside and sit still and do as they’re told and fit in and we don’t do it – if we do we shouldn’t. Life’s bigger than that. We’re far more interesting than arbitrary rules and social politics.
My son was fine today at the park. He told me that he found it upsetting but wasn’t overly bothered. He’s used to it, we talk about it. He’s not the one I’m worried about.
I’m actually just as bothered for those popular kids who pretended he wasn’t there. Because as they get older they’ll realize, like most of us do, that the kindest, most interesting, loyal and genuine people tend to be the unique ones. That quirks make friendships all the more delicious.
But it might take them a long time to get there. And that’s what we can change as parents. We can take our focus off resilience and put it on showing kids that they matter. That everyone matters. Even the people you don’t click with, or really want to play with. That everyone deserves good things – be it a smile or a greeting or a have a great day. Those things aren’t little, they’re huge.
We need to teach our kids that courage doesn’t look the same for everyone. For some people it’s jumping out of a plane and for others it’s walking into a crowded room. For some it’s talking in front of a thousand people and for others it’s stringing to words together when they seem to stick in your throat.
This doesn’t just apply to kids, this applies to everyone in our lives. Your brave isn’t necessarily the same as theirs. Appreciate their courage, their strength, because the enormity of their victories are no less because yours don’t look the same.
The more we teach our kids that everyone matters the more they realize that they matter too – and what a big role they have in changing someones day. Maybe they’ll do something huge with it one day… or maybe they’ll do something even bigger with it today – they’ll smile back at someone who needs it, and acknowledge the courage others missed.
That’s strength, right there, and that’s where true resilience comes from. Not from becoming hard, but from realizing what strength and courage really is.
Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2013