Teaching Kids Kindness in the Face of Fear

Paris (1)

For the first time in forever, I was able to savor a quiet, un-busy weekend at home, so I curled up with a blanket and a cup of tea on Saturday morning to catch up on my long-neglected newsfeed. Lucky for me, I stumbled upon this essay written by a talented mom who blogs at You Have Six Kids? In her post, she reflects on the question of how to teach kids kindness in a world where unkindness often feels like the norm. Her post caught my attention because she drives home the point that we, as parents, as people, cannot allow fear to seep into our hearts and erode our own values of love and generosity toward others. Recent events in Paris and Mali have fed into our darkest fears, fears that aim to manipulate and isolate us.

In her post, she explores the truth that when bad things happen in our lives, we are tempted to disconnect from others, to focus on self-preservation at the expense of what is inherently good about ourselves and our country. Helping people who need us can be scary. It can feel risky. It can even be painful. But that doesn’t mean that helping is any less right than it was the day before something terrible happened.

And these ideas really got me thinking about how my feelings do not give me a one-way ticket out of difficult situations. About how uncomfortable predicaments that test my convictions not only allow me to help others, but also promote my own personal growth. About how if I am able to help, and available to help, and especially if God has put me in the right place at the right time to help, then helping is not so much my choice as it is my responsibility. About how our children learn to do good by watching and participating when we ourselves do good, and about just how many opportunities to help others exist all around us every single day.

heart rock

Now, I don’t know the mom who wrote this article, but she has street cred, for sure. Her personal story is the epitome of faith in action. You can check it out on her blog. She is selfless. She is generous. She is inspiring.  I am grateful to have read her words this morning.

But there was something else that stuck with me after reading her essay, something that I just couldn’t shake from my brain. Here it is, in the second part of this statement from her post: “Teaching kids to be kind to one another can be difficult, considering we live in a world fueled by hate and evil.”

Teaching kids to be kind can definitely be difficult. Preach it, Sister!

But a world fueled by hate and evil?

Whoa.

That. Is. Depressing.

And I just can’t believe that it is true.

Now let me just say, based on the rest of this writer’s essay, that I’m not so sure that she and I disagree on this point at all. In fact, I have a feeling that we would actually be on exactly the same page here if we had a heart-to-heart conversation over lunch, like mom friends do. But this IS a scary premise that many people embrace these days, and it feeds anxiety, and it has influenced some smart people to do and say some crazy, hateful things, exactly the kinds of things that this writer challenges in her post.

Don’t get me wrong. There is hate and there is evil. We saw it in Paris. We have seen it on American soil. We have witnessed it through vile acts of international terrorism and through deplorable examples of domestic crime. We watch it on the news locally, nationally, and globally every day. It runs as a constant stream across our newsfeeds. It interrupts normal broadcasting. It screams for attention through “Special Reports” and “Breaking News.” Photographs of perpetrators of evil flash across our television screens and glare at us from the front pages of newspapers. We watch footage of bombers hiding their secrets in crowds at marathons and planes crashing into buildings over and over and over again.

And we start to believe that this is all there is outside our front doors. The world is hate. The world is evil.

Except that it isn’t.

Remember that fear we were talking about? Well, he’s a liar.

As the writer at You Have Six Kids? explains, we teach our kids kindness by showing kindness ourselves, especially when being kind is a difficult, scary, or inconvenient thing for us to do. She is so right! Let’s also teach our kids kindness, even when frightening things are happening all around, by helping them to SEE THE GOOD in the world outside of the bubbles that we have created for them.

Because it is everywhere.

Because it is powerful.

Because it is contagious.

Because it can change people.

Because it can build a bridge where there is only a divide.

Because it can speak English. And Arabic. And Chinese. And Russian.

And because last week, we all learned to speak kindness in French.

Good is always present, even in the dark places where evil lurks, even in the face of terrible atrocities. There are always some people who are choosing to do what is good. Always.

I want to help my children see them.

I want them to know that there were many, many more people praying for Paris than attacking it, that there were many people from many places sending resources to help, that there were many countries offering assistance.

You see, my goal is not to shield my children from the harsh realities of the world around them, but I do want them to see a world that is fueled by faith and hope and love, a world where evil, while it may threaten, cannot maintain a strong grip if the people who are working for good are working together. I want them to focus on the heroes. I want them to see the servants. I want them to know that in the battle of good against evil, the good guys outnumber the bad.

It is my goal, just like it is the goal of the mom at You Have Six Kids? and the goal of the other moms who are part of my village, to raise children who become the men and women who someday lead our communities and our nation in pursuit of what is right.

We can teach our kids to DO the good even when the work is hard or scary.

We can teach our kids to SEE the good even when the bad demands our attention.

And we can teach our kids to BE the good wherever in the world life takes them.

Paris (2)

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/33011324@N00/502116633″>gratuitous eiffel tower shot</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/28232355@N05/7966684542″>Rock Hard Love</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/85608594@N00/14493000464″>Johann Wolfgang von Goethe A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

 

 

To My Son’s Soccer Coach

Soccer Boys

To My Son’s Soccer Coach:

Last weekend, after the final game of the season, you posed with my son and his seven teammates in front of the goal for some team pictures. There you were, one man towering over eight little boys with their arms linked like a chain, big smiles on each face. You tolerated the parent paparazzi and even humored the boys with a crazy-face picture. You didn’t complain; you just acted like a nine-year-old, too, but I’m pretty sure that you were glad when the photo session was over.

Coach, lots of kids play soccer these days, and many of them have similar pictures on the shelves in their rooms. But to my son, this picture – this team, this experience – it is all so special. This team picture represents so much more than just the hours that he spent kicking a ball around with some friends. It is bigger than his successes and his mistakes on the field. It is more significant than the assists that he made or the points that he defended or the breakaways that he finished. And every time I see that picture, Coach, I wonder if you know, if you really understand, just how much you mean to my kid.

My son is a lucky guy. He has some great men in his life, men of integrity, who are training him to be a great man, too. His dad is always cheering on the sidelines. His grandpas love him more than words. His uncles spoil him with gifts and attention. But there is something about you, the other man in his life, that matters to him so much. There is something there that is hard to explain, something special about the relationship between a boy and his coach. I don’t know if you feel it, Coach, but I know that he does, and I hear that the other boys do, too.

You should know that my son, like most little boys, complains about a lot of things. He complains about homework. He complains about taking care of the dog. He complains about brushing his teeth at night. But one thing that he never complains about is going to practice. Every cell in that kid’s body desires to work hard and play hard with his team. He is hungry to learn and to improve for himself and his friends. If he doesn’t feel well and can’t attend school, no problem, but just the thought of missing a practice or a game can reduce my little man to tears. His team gives him a drive and a purpose, and you set the positive tone for that. You teach him to sweat, to show leadership, and to strive to improve. You teach him to persevere when things aren’t easy. You teach him what the give and take of being a teammate really means. These aren’t just lessons that are important in soccer; these are lessons that will guide him for the rest of his life.

Listen, Coach, I live with two little boys, and I know how frustrating they can be. I’m guessing you’ve already noticed, but sometimes they don’t listen. Okay, let’s be honest: A lot of the time, they don’t listen. They can be looking right into your eyes, nodding in agreement, and still not be paying attention to a single word that you’ve said. I’ve been there, Coach; I get it. I also know that they are easily distracted. SO easily distracted! I imagine that if a squirrel runs by or an airplane flies overhead during practice, you probably lose ten minutes just trying to get eight little boys back on track. Then there’s that little boy thing where they can’t keep their hands off each other. I don’t understand it, but I live with them, and I know that even the simplest, quietest activity always ends in wrestle mania. And let’s not forget that sometimes little boys can be insensitive with their words while at the same time being incredibly sensitive with their feelings. Stir all of this craziness into a pot, and the fact that you accomplish anything in the short amount of time that you spend with these animals is something amazing. And you keep coming back week after week, Coach. I guess, like us parents, you also see their joy, their innocence, their loyalty, their honesty, and their pure, undefiled love of the game. Thanks, Coach, for focusing on the positive when my kid tries your patience, and I know that he and his friends sometimes do.

Your time coaching our son is busy, and our evenings are often a rush, so we don’t have many opportunities to talk to you, but I want you to know that we see what you do. You might think that we parents are judging you by the wins and the scores, but that’s not really true. Sure, we want our team to be competitive, we want to see our children grow, but we have entrusted you with our greatest treasures, so there are lots of other things that matter from the sideline. Like that time you put your arm around my son while he was sitting on the bench. Do you remember? Probably not. But I do, and I promise I won’t forget that moment. It mattered to me more than anything else in that game. I’m telling you, I notice.

Every fist bump that you’ve given him when he runs off the field.

Every pat on the back that you’ve shared when he’s having a rough game.

Every serious, one-on-one consultation on the sidelines.

Every team huddle and chant.

Every time you have stood up for a player on our team.

Every time my son has deserved your frustration but received your caring instruction instead.

And then there were the times when a player was injured and you immediately ran to his aid. Do you have any idea how agonizing it is for a mom to allow someone else to be the first responder when her child is hurt just a few feet away? But I know that my son would find comfort in you if he were suffering, and that matters more to me than the score.

There were highlights this season, moments when my son’s skills shined and his contributions made a huge difference to his team’s success. You were the first one to congratulate him on those occasions, and that meant so much. And there were times, like every player experiences, when he did not play his best. We all saw it, Coach. I don’t know why he was having a bad day, but I do know that he didn’t want to disappoint you. I saw how you treated him when he was already down. You saw him for what he is, a kid with skills that are still developing, a kid who doesn’t always perform on cue. He could have been an easy target for a frustrated coach, but you didn’t even yell at him. You encouraged him. You instructed him. You motivated him to keep trying and to want to improve at the game that he loves.

Here’s the thing, Coach. We aren’t trying to raise a world-class athlete here, although we do encourage our boys to follow their dreams. We are trying to raise a man, a man who works hard and plays fair, a man who learns from his mistakes and always perseveres, a man who encourages others and shows compassion and shares grace. A man like his dad and his granddads. A man like you.

Thank you for showing my kid that soccer, as much as he loves it, is just a game, but being a part of a productive, positive team can be his real life.

Thank you for being a part of OUR team.

Sincerely,

A Soccer Mom