Tagged: Learning

When It’s Just You And Me I Feel Like I Won Something

The end of the year and the holiday season can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. There’s so much to do, we’re exhausted, and let’s face it parents, guardians and educators…we have really high expectations of ourselves (sometime unrealistically high). I know a way to help relieve some of the stress of the end of the year, holiday season emotional rollercoaster. The challenge is, in order for it to work, you have to actually do it. 

Cast your mind to something that brings you joy. Imagine you’re in a place where you experience peace and balance. No matter what struggles persist in any given moment, we all have memories of good things. 

Is it making pancakes with your kids on a snowy Sunday morning? Is it a walk with your dog on a lazy afternoon? Is it the first sip of an excellent cup of coffee as you prepare to start the day? 

Time is generally short, but you should be able to manage a moment here and there for quite reflection. Our thoughts do guide our feelings, and our feelings do guide our actions. Rather than slowing you down or hindering progress toward your goals, stopping every now and again can steady your pace, enhance your resolve and bring you closer to achievement. When you do stop, do it with purpose. 

Have you found that moment of joy? Can you envision that peaceful, balanced place? Bring yourself there. Feel how it feels. Let yourself sink into it. Set a timer if you think you might get lost. It really only takes a moment. 

A moment of feeling positive emotion, connecting yourself with something meaningful, and engaging in mindfulness can fuel an extended burst of energy. Periodic moments of this type of mindfulness can generate consistent productivity and increase well-being. 

For example, last night our 7-year-old and I decided to take a trip to the skating rink Campus Martius. The two of us spent that day together. We started by making breakfast, we went for a walk, we baked a cake (which took most of the afternoon) and finally we drove downtown for an ice skating adventure. 

As tired as we were from a jam packed day, he was so enthusiastic about going downtown. I thought he was being fueled by the excited vision of gliding around the rink immersed in the glowing, downtown holiday energy. I think I thought wrong. 

As we pulled out of the driveway and headed off together he said, “Daddy?”

I said, “Ya, Buddy?”

Then he exploded my heart by telling me, “When it’s just you and me I feel like I won something.”

Even though you weren’t there you can imagine how that landed? Joy, peace and balance. A wonderful feeling. A moment of overwhelming emotion. A feeling you can’t exactly describe, and at the same time one you understand with an uncanny depth. One you wish you could hold onto forever. Euphoric. 

I was elated. I replied, “Me too, Bud. I defiantly won the prize of being your dad.”

To which he added, “…and I won the prize of being your kid.”

Aah.

There’s one. It’s a gift he gave me. I can recall that moment and feel uplifted whenever I’d like. Uplifted by generating the feeling of spending meaningful time with loved ones, celebrating togetherness, focusing on the heart rather than the mind, and on the who rather than the what or the where. I own that feeling. It’s mine to call on.

Through the triumphs and the challenges of daily life in a fast paced world we each own some such moments. Hold on to them. Write them down if you have to. Keep and recall them periodically. You don’t have to be feeing down, stressed or overwhelmed to enlist a mindful moment, either. Remembering that which brings us joy, peace and balance is a good practice no matter how we’re feeling. You can use it to lift you out of a funk or to keep you moving along when you’re light on your feet. 

Stay connected to the best parts of the journey and you will stay connected to what truly matters. Memories are only memories because they were initiated in the past. In fact, if you allow them to, they can stay with you in the present, through the emotions they generate. 

Feel and allow yourself to connect with your feelings. Use memories of positive emotion to drive continue positive emotion and well-being. If you try and fail, forgive yourself and try again. Give yourself grace during this time and throughout the year. You, and those around you, will be better off for it.

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Don’t Yuck Someone Else’s Yum

We were sitting at the dinner table the other day when a dish was served that was beyond the ability for our pickier eaters to understand. I don’t remember if there were onions on a burger or tomatoes on a slice of pizza. Regardless, our 7-year-old was digging in with a huge smile on his face. Yum, yum, yum.

After a few bites he turned to one of his big brothers and offered a taste. The offer he was met with a wrinkled up face and a reply laden with pure disgust. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

The little guy quickly fired back with, “Don’t yuck someone else yum.”

I stopped in my tracks. 

“Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.” I love it. 

This time it applied to food, but that’s not the foundation of the message. I found out later that he learned if from his incredible first grade teacher. It means just what you think it means. 

We all have different tastes, we all have different views of the world, and while there are some universal joys we experience, we are each unique. We are all always well served when we recognize, support, encourage and celebrate one another. When our minds and hearts are open, our connections are genuine. When our connections are genuine, we are strong. 

So, don’t yuck someone else’s yum. Instead, lift them up, let them know you value them even if you don’t agree or understand. Build collective strength for the benefit and wellbeing of both of you. Strong, happy people perpetuate strong, happy communities…and that benefits everyone.

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Creative Play and Joyful Togetherness: Some Ingredients for Well-Being

We did some cider mill hopping this weekend, which had us in the car for a decent amount of time. The last mill we visited was about 40 minutes away from our house. It was me and the four kids. Lorelei was at home, patiently waiting for a blueberry frosted. 

Me and the big guy were in the front set, with a big and two littles in the back. I don’t know how it began, but before I knew it “99 Bottles of Coke on the Wall” was ringing from the rear…and they went for it.

At around “fifty bottles of coke on the wall” I realized I had never actually heard it sung all the way through. Our 12-year-old was covering himself up with his coat as the siblings chimed on. They were laughing hysterically with each round. I joined in, adding accents between the verses. We we’re all laughing at this point…even big brother under the coat in the front seat. It was fun. We were joyful, sharing positive emotions, finding meaning in our time together, strengthening our bonds with one another, and in doing so…enhancing our well-being. 

Through the laughter and the silliness we made it to “zero bottle’s of Coke on the wall” and began cheering. One of the kids had the bright idea to continue with negative numbers. He was quickly shut down by the rest of us. He agreed that would be taking it too far. We rode the energy of our singing and some great laughter the rest of the way home.

It doesn’t take much. Being together and having fun is wonderful way to build connections, make memories and again, enhance well-being. 

I remember when the kids were little and a new gift came home, they would tear into it and play for a while. Then, like clockwork, they would turn to the packaging for extended hours of creativity and engagement. 

Kids get incredibly excited about sharing their imaginative play with us. They love showing us what they can build with boxes and string, and what incredible stories they can come up with about a cardboard city. Joy is generated from within. We simply need to make ourselves available to be shared with.

Last week was the STEAM fair at school. I was overjoyed to see so many families scattered around our cafeteria and gym creating structures and patterns from coffee filters, marshmallows and various other everyday household items. It was wonderful to watch kids make sense of their imagination with purpose and to hear them so excited about sharing the process, the purpose and the excitement with their families. 

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, thinking, talking and writing about play lately. It seems that everywhere I turn some of the most deeply impactful moment are generated by play in some form. Whether we’re singing, laughing, drawing or building together, I continue to find the benefits of playful and exploration to generate among the most significantly impactful outcomes we can hope for. 

Through this pandemic and beyond, I would continue to assert that engaging in creative play and joyful togetherness with our kids might be the most important thing we can do for their daily learning and growth, and for the promise of their longterm health and achievement. 

Thank you for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Play…Really Important And Super Fun!

We we’re at the playground after a soccer game yesterday. Lorelei and I were working to round the kids up. It was a beautiful afternoon, but there were things do to and we had to move on.

Every time we encouraged any one of them to come to the car, they let us know that they, “just need a few more minutes,” or that they, “had to do one more thing.”

Kids love to play, and play is a wonderful tool for learning, growth, and well-being. 

Play allows us to explore. When we’re playing we’re using intellectual, social and physical skills, and in doing so on the foundation of interest, engagement and joy, we’re enhancing those skills and building a broader range of skills to access for a number purposes within and outside of play. 

We adults have things to do. We’re busy. It’s not feasible to play all day long. However, as I watched our kids play yesterday, I remembered that play is more important than I sometimes give it credit for. 

We can be mindful and present during play. When we’re playing, we can step away from the daily stressors that bog us down and distract us. Play can help us restore, reset and renew. It would seem that we need to be at our desks and at computers for productivity, but that may not be the case.

Instead of continuing to try to usher the kids into the car yesterday, I succumbed to their instance on extended play. Then, I took it a sept further and played with them. It was joyful. For a moment, I stoped worrying about the timelines, the work and the chores. It wasn’t long. I only played for about fifteen minutes. That fifteen minutes of play energized my body and focused my mind. 

When we did return to the car to make our way home I was more present. I was better able to organize the rest of day between family and professional responsibilities. I felt relaxed and happy. I felt joyful. Additionally, I went to bed early and slept really well last night. 

The stressors didn’t go away. I still have things to do and I still have things to worry about. 

Listening to my kids and deciding to take some time to genuinely focus on play with them didn’t remove me from the busy world of adult responsibilities. Instead, it gave me an increased awareness of what is truly important within that world, and it helped me visualize and plan for an increasingly balanced pathway forward.

We know that play is great for kids. Don’t forget that it’s great of us as well. Take the time to get out and play. It will be worthwhile, it’s fun, and if you let yourself…you’re likely to love it!

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

The Beauty of Weeds

A few days ago our 12-year-woke up and got dressed, only to discovered that his pant legs seemed a bit shorter than they were the day before. He walked out of his bedroom, looked up at me and said, “Dad, I think I grew last night while I was sleeping.”

He pointed to his ankles and added, “See?”

I did see. I agreed, “Wow, buddy…nice work.”

He laughed, bounced up and down a bit and headed to his closet to find some pants that fit. It’s fun to grow, and this kid is growing like a weed.

While growing is fun for kids, it reminds adults that time flies. When we blink, we run the risk of missing some of it. The challenge is that there’s so much to do and there never seems to be enough time. 

Additionally, much of what we do is done so that we can provide for our kids. The most important thing is that our kids know they’re loved, but they do also need food, clothes, a roof over their heads, and much more. Some of the things they need require us to be away from them some of the time.

We’ve all experienced the missing of moments.

Perspective. 

Growing like a weed is good because it means our kids are healthy. It’s also challenging, because it also shows us there’s nothing we can, or should try to do to slow this train down. 

This week I was standing with a partner at school, looking out the window where a kindergarten students was running around the field collecting dandelions. At a certain point in the spring the Berg front lawn is covered with dandelions. We’ve chosen not to use chemicals for a weed-free yard (no judgment, just a personal choice). 

Each year as I watch every other patch of grass in the neighborhood grown lush and green, I lament that ours is speckled with yellow. I do everything I can to keep it short enough to minimize the reality of a weed-speckled yard. In the end, there’s no escaping it, and there’s no hiding it.

Looking out that window, my partner commented, “Aren’t dandelions amazing?”

I asked, “What do you mean?”

She said, “Well, look at how much joy they bring. They’re the first bouquet our children gather, and because they come early, they’re the first opportunity for bees to get pollen.”

She smiled and continue watching the student pick and arrange. The child had an enormous smile on her face and a look of determination and pride in her eyes. My partner went on, “I don’t understand whey some people worry about dandelions so much. So what if they’re weeds, they’re still amazing!” It didn’t take much for me see the point. I smiled with a newfound appreciation for weeds. 

Perspective. 

Parents and educators, it’s ok to feel nostalgic and even sad as we watch our kids grow, with the realization that in some ways they’re growing away from us. We love them and we want to keep them near. However, their growth is the point. It’s the endgame and the mission of every step along the way. 

Thinking of the joy that dandelions bring to the child gathering her first bouquet gave me pause. It brought me to a place where I could celebrate our 12-year-old’s pant legs getting shorter. It had me seeing through a “glass half-full” lens, thrilled that he’s healthy and excited about the journey he’s on…remembering that everything I do is aimed at his wellbeing, achievement and independence. 

I don’t think it will ever be easy, but when I shift that lens and consider the wonder of my kids flourishing, even and especially when I realize it means they will eventually no longer be kids, I feel happy. 

Two years into a pandemic and ten weeks into a school year where we’re successfully providing our children the opportunity to be learning at school with their teachers and friends, we can take a deep breath, be present in each moment, and celebrate the hard work we’re putting in. Our aim is true and we’re getting it right…for them. 

Weeds and all, congratulations on steadfastly focusing on the kids…whatever it takes. The next time you have to order new pants or new shoes because your child grew our of them overnight, consider feeling joyful and patting yourself on the back. Consider letting it remind you that you’re doing great!

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Relaxation Time

This week I had the opportunity to spend some time as a guest teacher in music and art classes. I’m not a music teacher or an art teacher, but I do appreciate both disciplines, and both music and art play significant roles in my life. So I enlisted my experience with and knowledge of each, and I thought about how the creative arts bring joy and balance into my life as I prepared to teach.

When I was a child my parents enrolled me in piano lessons. I never became a virtuoso, but I gained enough understanding to be able to connect with the keys in a way that produces sound some might consider music. Occasionally I sit at the piano, produce that sound and find myself entering into and enjoying a state of mind research around well-being would identify as a “flow.” It’s a state of mind that can engender pathways to focus and calm.

In each music class I spent some time playing the piano as the kids rested. I asked them to aim at letting the music guide their thinking. I wasn’t sure how it would go. It went well. It especially went well with our youngest learners. Kindergarten and first grade students in each class allowed themselves to dive deep into the activity. The room became still and calm each time I facilitated this process. They seemed to have an aptitude for mindfulness. Moreover, they seemed to have an interest in it.

The day after my short tenure as a music teacher I received a note that described an extension of the meditation activity. A parent wrote to her child’s teacher and the teacher forwarded the note to me. She wrote that her first grader came home from school talking about having “relaxation time” in music class. She went on to share that they recreated the activity before bedtime with some music and guidance on relaxation. According to her report, the child said, “This feels nice, we should do this every night.”

I believe we all should do this every night, or during each day if it fits in better. The fact is, everyone can benefit from mindfulness as a part of a consisted self care focus. 

The world in an incredibly busy place. The stressors are real and the challenges are…well, really quite challenging. When we take the time to be present and calm, when we dedicate ourselves to a positive mindset, when we focus and deeply engage, we reflect, process and heal with increased efficiency and productivity. 

Individually and collectively, when take deep breaths and allow ourselves to live in each moment, we build capacity for a genuine focus on what truly matters…ourselves and one another. When we teach this critical life skill to our children, we enhance their futures and the future of our world. 

Slow down, breath deep, we got this. 

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Breathe. All We Have Is Now. Relax. UR OK.

Breathe. All we have is now. Relax. UR OK.

This is the message on one of the many sculptures along the path of “The Walk of Art” sculpture park (“Art Rapids”) in our lovely downtown Elk Rapids – about five minutes from the farm. If you’re a northern Michigan enthusiast and you haven’t been to the sculpture park, I recommend you put it on the itinerary for an upcoming trip. It’s wonderful. 

One of the features of the park are these intermittent offshoots of roadsigns, with messages of hope, love and inspiration. One is a stop sign that reads, “Start” instead of “Stop.”

Another is a “One Way” sign that’s not rectangular but heart-shaped, indicating that the only way is love.

Still another articulates the foundational message of this post. 

Breathe. All we have is now. Relax. UR OK.

I like the message, and given that I’ve always viewed life as a journey, I like that it’s being broadcast from a road sign in this case.

Another important feature of the park (at least during our visit a few weekends ago) was an overwhelming multitude of what I’ve come to learn are called Oak Leafrolllers. 

Oak Leafrollers are the tiny green worms that hang by threads of silk from oak trees. During this particular trip to the park it was as if we were transported into an Oak Leafroller obstacle coarse. They were everywhere.

The more we focused on the little tree climbing critters the more they seemed to multiply. We realized that they were on our clothes and in our hair. As we walked on we felt them on our arms and worried that they were getting into our ears and mouths. Phantom tickles and itches overtook us.

We began to duck and run. Then we rolled and crawled through the pathways of the woods like highly skilled military operatives. Finally, we ran faster then ever before, bobbing and weaving as we went. Occasionally one of us would grab another, sometimes dropping to the ground, frantically wiping and patting the other clean from these great green silk monsters before scrambling to our feet to flee some more. 

Some of us were laughing with such uncontrolled enthusiasm that tears were streaming down our faces (that was primarily me and Lorelei – some proud parenting moments), while others had streaming tears as a result of the deep, genuine and unabashed fear-based crying they had succumb to in the face of this newfound tiny-worm terror (the kids were getting pretty excited about the sheer volume of leafrollers – the woods were dense with them). It was pretty close to utter chaos by the time we reached the car.

What’s worse, the leafrollers had sent battalions of their kinsmen to cover our car while we were fighting for dear life to avoid them on the forest battlefield. 

We had to expertly navigate our way into the vehicle without letting them overtake us (of heaven forbid, get inside). The danger persisted. Some hung on for dear life as we drove away. We promised the kids that the wind would blow the rest off. It didn’t. We watched through the windows in terror as the strongest and most persistent among them clung on, taunting us the entire way to the farm. 

In the end we survived the vicious attack of completely harmless, tiny little bugs to whom we were not doubt the most menacing, hideous and gigantic creatures imaginable…but only by the skin of our teeth.

Later, I looked them up on the internet. Turns out, collectively, they’re described as a nuisance. Curious. Really they’re just trying to eat some oak leaves, build cocoons, and morph miraculously into moths. 

I wondered if maybe we were actually the collective nuance in this particular situation. You know, because we ran around screaming at them, swatting them with sticks, swiping them around, ripping them from their silk lifelines and violently disrupting their beautiful, natural course with unfettered  rage. Just a wonder I had. 

It made me think about perspective. As parents and educators we often find ourselves in situations that are frustrating, and even unsettling. The Great Berg Oak Leafroller Battle of 2021 reminded me that thoughtful, compassionate reflection can serve us, and those around us well. 

When we take the time and make the effort to relax into the moments of our lives, whether or not we understand them immediately, we seem more likely to be able to enlist our capacity for calm, and as a result, we seem more likely to navigate the ebbs and the flows with strength and empathy. 

Whether we’re being attached by tiny floating worms or facing the bumpy road of child raising, calm hearts and minds tend to win the day, for all involved.

So as we continue together, if you can…breathe. All we have is now, and if you are able…relax. UR OK.

Thank you for reaching…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

The Fourth Best Soccer Player In The Fifth Grade

The other day when I got home from work our 6-year-old came running while simultaneously asking me to, “Guess what happened at school!”

I hand’t a clue, but I was certainly curious.

The words burst out of his mouth, “I stole the ball from the fourth best soccer player in the fifth grade!”

He and his fifth grade brother gave each other a high five with huge grins on their faces. Lorelei reminded him it was a good thing that we didn’t “take it easy” on him during the family soccer game at the farm last weekend (even thought he asked us to). She suggested that playing full steam with his fifth grade brother may have helped him become the new fourth best player in the fifth grade…as a first grader. He smiled even bigger. 

This is a kid who insisted he did not want to play soccer. Conversely, Lorelei and I have insisted that all of our kids play recreational soccer. Whether or not they want to continue after the first couple of years is up to them. We believe the game is a great onramp into organized sports for all kids. At the recreational level it’s really about running around and having fun, and they get to have experiences with coaching and teamwork in loving, kind spaces.

This is our 6-year-old’s first season and he’s rocking it. After his reluctance to join up, he quickly found a place on the team and a place in his heart for the game. Now, he’s running with the pack, developing skills and having tons of fun each week. In the beginning, we could hardly get him to take the field for practice. 

It was the same with piano lessons (another non-non-negotiable for the Berg kids). His energy around that weekly torment continues to ebb and flow. Ironically, he’s doing great in both endeavors. “Great” meaning engaged and demonstrating growth and intermittent joy around that growth. He’s learning to understand himself as a learner on the piano and on the soccer field, and that’s the name of the game as we sed it. He’s regularly feeling a sense of accomplishment, which research shows is good for health and well-being. 

Throughout the year there are plenty of wonderful events and activities available to our kids. I would suggest that it’s important to give them gentle nudges from time to time, and to help guide them through the resilience it takes to stay with short and long term goals, and community/team commitments. 

Keep an eye out for programs and events for kids, have conversations to determine interest, approach those conversations with enthusiasm, push a bit when you see a spark, and be a guide through the challenges that kids face along pathways to progress as they learn the range of critical skills that will no doubt transfer to a multure of areas in school, work and life.

Community and school programs are safe and caring spaces for kids to make mistakes, experience and build through failures and successes, and problem solve around challenges and celebrate triumphs. Who knows, they may even find themselves becoming the fourth best soccer player in the fifth grade! 

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Shadowy Movement And Sound

Today I’m writing from the farm. The farm is about four hours north of Detroit. Lorelei and I took the kids up to see if we could get a glimpse of some colors starting to change and to lake some long, slow, deep breaths after another stretch filled with busy weekdays. The colors are starting to change but not quite popping, and the long slow breaths are as easy as every to take on the farm. 

During the past three or four trips to the farm we’ve been hearing what sounds like a relative large animal bounding about in the woods behind the farmhouse. We walk the trail system a couple times each day. The woods are dense, and until today, I haven’t been able to catch a proper glimpse of the creature that seems to be squatting on our property (or maybe we’re squatting on his). From the sounds and the shadowy movements I have been able to hear and see, I’m guessing it’s a big deer. My goal has been to get eyes squarely on the big guy…maybe even a recognizable picture or two. 

This morning I went out with our 10-year-old. We heard him…and then, for the first time, we saw him. He was far away and all but hidden by some thick brush, but we saw him. 

Upon hearing us coming he leapt in a zigzag motion, through the woods and away. He leapt amazingly high and turned with incredible precision. So much so, that when the kid reported back to his siblings he told them we saw gazelle. What good fortune for us. I don’t suppose there are many gazelle sightings in northern Michigan. A fun story, though.  

Regardless, after dozens of nature walks, over a period of multiple visits, with a singular goal in mind, we were able to move the needle forward on our goal. Our quest continues. This injection of energy is just what we needed to keep the momentum going, the mystery and excitement tangible, and the possibility alive. It wasn’t today and it may not be during our next visit to the farm, but we’re confident that eventually we will meet up with our bouncy, shadowy friend – hopefully from a distance, but meet up nonetheless. 

Through this experience I’m reminded of what it is to learn, for myself, for the many adult partners with whom I collaborate each day, and for the wonderful kids we serve. As we come to understand ourselves and one another, sparks of knowing swirl in our minds alongside the sparks of excitement that swirl in our hearts. 

I’m getting to know the woods at the farm. Through exploration and focused interest, I’ve come to realize that a friend seems to be living there. I’m excited to meet that friend and working to do so with intentionality. It’s the same feeling I get when I discover a pathway to learning, whether it’s my own pathway or a pathway the comes to light around the learning of another. As an educator and a parent, the hint of a pathway can propel me forward with the magical anticipation of possibility…as I believe it can for any growth minded person. 

Once we’re set in motion, visions and goals can unfold. When we know that something is possible, we can shift from imagination to eventuality. One of the challenges we face with eventuality it that it can be waiting around the corner or it can surface three years from now. Either way, with patience, persistence, knowledge and faith, we can traverse any learning pathway we set out upon. 

Sometimes we see shadowy movements along the way, sometimes we get glimpses of outcomes, and sometimes we find ourselves staring at crossroads marking the end of one journey and the beginning of another. In any case, it is our job to hold true to course, bobbing and weaving with the ebbs and flows, and putting one foot in front fo the other for ourselves and the children we serve. 

Each In Our Own Way (An Equity-Based Reflection On Helping Our Children Connect With, Appreciate And Love Those Who Look, Think, And Act In Vastly Different Ways From Them)

*The names I’m using in this reflection are not the actual names of any children involved. I’m using alternate names to protect privacy. 

Confusion, Worry And Fear

A few weeks into the new school year our youngest child, a six-year-old starting first grade, came home from school with a troubled mind. I could see that he was deep in thought. As we went about our typical after school routine he presented as worried and distracted. 

Before long he asked if he could speak with me alone. We went outside together, where he began to reluctantly unfold a story of two children at his school with special needs. As he told me about the kids, tears formed in his eyes.

First he told me about being scared. In his words, he said that Brandon was aggressive on the playground. He told me that he sees Brandon approaching kids and insisting on playing with them in ways that frightened him. 

He said that Brandon gets physical with kids; that he uses his hands and his body in ways that make him nervous and uncomfortable; that Brandon communicates in ways that are different from how the typically functioning kids he’s used to playing with communicate, and that he’s worried about having to confront the potential eventuality of Brandon approaching him on the playground. In his way, he asked for permission to not have to engage with Brandon as school.

Knowing our child, I could see the internal struggle that this ask, and this need presented for him. He’s an empathic, compassionate person. I could see him wishing he didn’t feel this way, feeling bad about himself, and feeling bad for Brandon. 

My Brain Won’t Let Me 

Next he told me about Marvin. He told me that Marvin is in his class. He said he could see that Marvin needs friends but doesn’t have any. He told me he’s not scared of Marvin because Marvin doesn’t behave in ways that frighten him, but in ways that demonstrate his struggles with communication and socialization. He told me that he thinks he could be the friend Marvin needs, but that whenever he thinks about becoming Marvin’s friend, his brain won’t let him. 

No two children are the same. That said, most children’s unique qualities don’t overtly differentiate them from the group. At least not in the eyes their peers. Most children, regardless of gender, learning style, energy level, interests, developmental readiness, capacity for age-appropriate communication, and lived experiences don’t stand out in ways that make them unapproachable. Brandon and Marvin are both visibly unique from most other kids. 

As parents, guardians and educators, we can tune in to subtle and explicit differences between children. Children, with their concrete, relatively inexperienced world views, tend to be less adept at identifying subtle differences, and they tend to be hyper aware of explicit ones. 

To no fault of their own, children tend to notice when other children behave in ways that appear “out of the ordinary,” and because they don’t have the knowledge or experience to process why a peer would look and sound so different, they can easily fall into worry and even fear around socializing with kids who they identify as acutely different.

Our child’s description of the struggle he’s experiencing around wanting, and attempting to support a friend with special needs (“my brain won’t let me”), tells us a lot about a critical and persistent social emotional challenge felt by all of children.

We know that, like our child, both Brandon and Marvin need to experience genuine friendships. We know that developing genuine friendships with people who present as different from us, whether vastly or subtly, is mutually beneficial. 

We also know that diminishing classroom, school and community cultures can quickly and easily (while often unknowingly and inadvertently) be built around kids who’s communication and behavior are outside of the norm. This is an incredibly important point for parents, guardians and educators to be aware of as we work hard to listen to and guide our children around challenges that surface at school. 

When children come home with negative reports and concerns about their peers, we can help them focus on an “each in our own way” lens by exploring context with them. We can remind them that each person views the world in a unique way, based on who they are and what they’ve experienced, and that our abilities and world-views tend to guide our thoughts, feelings and actions. 

We can teach them that we’re all learning all the time, and that generally, people want to do good things and be nice. When our friends aren’t being their best selves it can often be because they don’t know how, or because they’re hurting. Sometimes it’s challenging, but patience, understanding and kindness can help.

Positive classroom, school and community cultures can lift kids up and build bridges to health and achievement, while negative classroom, school and community cultures, pointedly focused on the expressions and actions of a particular child, can deteriorate that child’s self image, limit their potential, and engrain increased worry and fear in others. 

Fortunately, as parents, guardians and educators, we have the power to perpetuate change in this area, to build paradigms of understanding around diversity, to help our children uncover the inherent foundations of compassion that exist within each of them, to drive equity, and in doing so, to enhance their lives and the world in which we all live.

Not Answers…Opportunities

When we teach our children to embrace diversity, to move toward rather than away from that which is different and/or unknown to them, to be reflective in their processing of communication and interactions with others, to consider multiple perspectives, to seek understanding (even through worry and fear), and to pull from kindness where frustration persists, we give them opportunities to expand their horizons. 

When we guide children through problem solving in any area we provide them with safe, supportive spaces to grapple with specific challenges.  When we give children safe, supportive spaces to grapple with specific challenges we provide them with experiences that can support the development of their ability to grapple with other challenges. 

Children become better problem solvers when they have our permission to work on solving the problems that are in front of them. Along with that permission, they benefit from our support, our love and our guidance.

A Solid Foundation For A Lifelong Journey

Our child continues to tell me that he’s nervous around Brandon and that he still hasn’t approached Marvin or become his friend. He also continues to tell me that he thinks he can be the friend that Marvin needs. 

The other day he told me that he thinks the first step will be introducing himself. He said, “We’ve never even met…maybe if we met we would become friends.”  He’s outlined multiple pathways to officially meeting Marvin, from asking his teacher to introduce them to approaching him on the playground. He continues to grapple and I continue to support. 

I don’t have the answers. While I hope they do, they may never become friends. I nudge but I don’t push. I listen and I affirm the reality of swirling emotions. I don’t know how to ease the intensity of those emotions or impart a sense of comfort around this or any of the multitude of difficult childhood challenges. 

I do know that every child is living a life in which developing skills of compassion, along with the skills needed to communicate, collaborate, and otherwise engage with one another, is a potential pathway to increased joy and balance for them and for those who they meet along the way. 

I know that we serve children well when we drive cultures of acceptance in our classrooms, school and communities, and aid our children in understanding that they can and should love and embrace others, even those who behave in ways that confuse and worry them. 

When we help them see that the personalities, inherent capacities and lived experiences of those around them contribute to their thoughts, feelings and actions, we help them put behavior into context and better manage their  interactions and relationships.

As with all challenging journeys, the complex pathways of supporting our children’s positive progress and well-being are long and winding, they’re sometimes shrouded in mist, and they’re often confusing. I would suggest that an “each in our own way” lens is solid foundation for achieving healthy outcomes, for them and for us.