By: Deirdre Littlefield
As I reflect on this school year, my emotions are mixed. It’s been tumultuous at times, but both of my young kids have been successful I’d say. They’ve each had the opportunity to grow academically and creatively. They have made good friends and learned to rise above difficulty inside and outside of the classroom. Their teachers seem pleased with their progress, so I guess that means all is well.
I can’t help but notice a downward trend in the schools though. There seems to be an underlying conflict throughout. Maybe I’ve been parenting too long or maybe it’s real, but I sense a constant competition even from the youngest of students. Excluding others is not okay and it’s our responsibility as parents to require inclusion. It fascinates me that there are now consistent anti-bullying programs in our schools, but the cliques seems to start younger.
I have to think its simple empathy that’s missing. I’ve often wondered how seemingly nice kids with lovely parents just don’t have it as an automatic reflex anymore. Kids are shunning others as young as five because they don’t fit into their own self defined box of normal. I can’t imagine how these outcasted children will develop into anything other than what they’re being labeled by their peers so young. Equally as horrifying to me is that our small children are starting school with a preexisting idea of what and who is “normal.” As I recall, children that young accepted each other easily for the most part.
I’m trying to figure it out myself but I’m pretty sure empathy happens by default when we take time to explain everyday things to our children. A slow walk in the park gives us the chance to explain why you pick up a worm gently or the opportunity to get off the swing for a little girl waiting. A trip to the grocery store can teach as well; when we return the elderly woman’s carriage or offer to let somebody go ahead of us in line. A dinner out gives us the opportunity to show kindness to the frazzled waitress when she makes a mistake or even stopping in traffic to let somebody out displays empathy to our children.
I often tell my children that the goal of our day is to feel content when you lay your head on the pillow each night. Children are so innocent, and I’m confident they feel bad about themselves if they choose to miss the opportunity to spread kindness.
We cannot deny the daily chaos and even tragedy happening in schools across our country, There are so many factors we can debate but modeling sincere empathy is something we all can do today. I do believe that children who are filled with love cannot act out with hate. It’s our responsibility to teach our children to include their peers.