So far, my children have had amazing teachers. One of my favorites is a teacher Amira, now 7, had in Montessori pre-school. This woman preached two very important lessons: "you're in charge of your own imagination" and "everybody is a part of the community." These two principles are guiding forces for how Amira understands and moves through the world.
A couple of weeks ago, Amira encountered behavior that really challenged these values. To be fair, her class has really struggled to get along. There have been incidents of bullying, biting, and hitting. Amira has chosen to deal with this by staying out of the fray and spending time with a very sweet group of friends she made last year. Recently, a classmate formed a group of students to "teach" during recess. Amira and her friends were excluded because they don't have black hair. She clearly felt rejected and hurt, and didn't understand how people could be excluded because of the color of their hair. In her world, everyone's a part of the community, and no one can be excluded. There were tears and anger and confusion. At one point, I was ready to march up to the school and have a heart-to-heart with her teacher. Amira asked us not to. She didn't want to anger her classmate, and she wanted to handle it herself. OK, I can wait.
As parents, we have worked hard to create and find environments that will nurture the healthy development of our children. I realize that we can do this because we have the resources, time, and energy to do so. This is clearly not true for everyone. What I wonder sometimes is how resilient can our children be if their lives have limited opportunities for adversity. How do they learn to trust themselves if they never have to struggle and figure things out on their own? Where is the line that divides protection from over-protection, that may inhibit the development of self-trust and competence.
I have a close friend who has a child, "E," who's in high school now. A while back my friend and I were talking, and I was saying what a star E is. My friend agreed, because she is, and then stated, "but she's never had to deal with anything hard." She was wondering the same thing, does she have the resilience to deal with the hard stuff of life?
Another close friend of mine has a son who is graduating from high school this year, and will be going off to college in the Fall. One of my all time favorite kid stories belongs to him, "J." One day, while in elementary school, a boy came into the bathroom and threatened to beat J up. J looked him in the eyes and said, "I guess you can try" and then walked past him and out the door. That incident fizzled away into nothing. I do think our children face adversity. The politics of the "playground" can be very challenging at times. They may not have to deal with life-threatening trauma, but they do have to negotiate complicated relationships and power dynamics.
So Amira had two hard weeks of being sad, angry, confused, and hurt. Last week, I asked her how school was. She was talking about a girl in another class. I asked her if this girl was a friend of hers, and Amira said "no" that she was like her class mate. Then she said, "You know mom, not everyone has a beautiful heart." I love that answer. Now we can collectively assume that all children have beautiful hearts, and that their responses to themselves and others are partly a function of their experiences. So what IS so great about Amira's answer? She didn't personalize the rejection.
Back to resilience. In the above example, Amira didn't let the other child control her internal narrative. Amira's classmate decided that because Amira doesn't look a certain way, she wasn't allowed in this exclusive club. Instead of taking it personally and/or shaming herself, Amira decided that that kind of thinking doesn't work for her. She's bounced back, as only a first grader can, and is learning that she's in charge of her own beliefs and her own imagination. If you can take charge of your internal dialogue, then you can better manage difficult situations. In the story involving J, he heard the threat, apparently didn't get lost in all the possible implications, trusted that he could handle it, and walked away. Now that's power.