Somedays, I feel like a cranky old lady and feel like the reason some people decide not to listen to anyone over thirty. Other days, I cheer up because I am not alone. I know I am both special because I am me; and not special because everyone is special.
This graduation speaker had the courage to say something far too many kids need to hear.
And yes, children are special and need to feel special. And we all want to be special in one way or another. Watch a toddler as she starts moving around the world. She wants your attention, loves your applause. We need others to see us. But seeing is and should not always be through the rose colored glasses of love or the applause of praise.
Very soon in a child’s life, just about the time he or she learns to read, something happens that parents and all the love in the world cannot control. Three stories come to my mind …
One of our sons loved painting. His productions were so full of color and shape, an artist friend collected them. Then one day, this son tore up a painting and never painted again. As he explained, “I can’t make things look real.” He had learned to judge his work independently of our and our friend’s praise. Parental praise no longer felt so good.
Same thing happened with the son who was sure he was going to be a major league baseball player. He sat on the bench most of the time in little league, but when the broader thoughts of adolescence came with his change in hormones, he lectured me on how few major league baseball players there were. He blamed his father and I for encouraging his false dreams. You can’t win sometimes. Anyway, he stopped watching baseball while he mourned the loss of his false dreams, but now enjoys keeping an eye on the races.
I also remember when I was in Junior High I volunteered to be a playmate in the school for a first grader. My “playmate” was a tubby, serious faced, black girl (called negros in those days at least in polite circles). Anyway, this little one asked me a question I didn’t answer properly. “Why is my skin brown and yours white?” I probably mouthed some platitude. But the question hurt me and I couldn’t answer because I knew her hurt in our world was going to be much bigger.
I lived through the many name changes trying to do away with racism. I understood the need to say “Black is beautiful” and yes it is. But when we don’t have to say it, we will have moved more surely away from racism than when it needs saying to counter racism.
So children are special, but as the speaker notes, no more special than any other human being.
WHAT IS A PARENT TO DO?
Walking the line between creating a child who feels special, and has hopes and dreams, but who is not not self-centered, is not easy. In the real world being special too often means becoming “Top Dog” or wanting to be. Moreover, as the book Lord of the Flies and every history book notes, wanting to rule is part of human nature. Some are willing to do what a lot of us would not dream of doing in order to be Top Dog. Parents have to be a willing to promote caring and respect for others.
First tip: Make a big deal with the the little ones needing their efforts applauded; doing so promotes self respect. However, as soon as you see the power of your praise is dwindling, switch to less praise and more reality testing. Offer moderate amounts of sympathy for hurt or dashed dreams, but also mouth short slogans to counter the “Me only” messages. “We can’t be a star in all the ways we want.” “Finding your special talent is your job right now. It is part of growing up.” “Everyone can be a star at being kind to others AND it really matters in real life.”
Second tip: Encourage family events that show respect for others and practice charity. Our two and a half year old grandson loves putting coins in our pushin or tzedakah (charity box). Next time we go to MickyD’s I plan to have him put some money in their Ronald McDonald Collection box.
We do care packages for the homeless and always give to Toys for Tots. There are many organizations wanting and needing volunteer help from food kitchens, to hospitals, to libraries, to our armed forces. My son leads a group of volunteers every year to beautify some public space. He is a landscaper. With a bit of research, all families can find a way to give that fits in with theirs and their child’s interests.
Keep caring, keep sharing, practice kindness it works. Share this if you know someone who will be strengthened.
Katherine [Image Source]