December 11, 2015
By Ekta R. Garg
Last night as we drove to the girls’ strings lessons, Seven spoke up from behind me.
“I feel like S. is bragging a lot,” she said.
“Really?” I asked.
“I told her that I could jump to the second bar on the monkey bars, and she said, ‘Cool. I can jump to the third bar.’”
I didn’t know what to say for a moment. I wanted to be careful with my words. In situations like these I know how easy it would be for me to lead the kids to disparage their friends, and I certainly don’t want to do that. And there are a million reasons why a child might behave a certain way, reasons that my own kids (or I) may not be privy to.
Before I could come up with a response, though, Seven piped up again.
“I feel like S. isn’t herself these days,” she said, concern edging her tone.
“Why do you say that?”
“I don’t know,” she replied, and I could hear her voice searching for the answer. “I went to give her a hug, and she said, ‘What are you doing?’ Normally when I go to give her a hug, she hugs me back. But she didn’t do that today.”
“Well, maybe she was in a bad mood about something,” I said, keeping my own voice neutral. “Sometimes when our friends are in a bad mood or feeling bad, they can act in a different way. Did you tell her you were trying to give her a hug?”
“I said, ‘I’m giving you a hug,’ but she didn’t say anything. And she’s bragging a lot.”
“Sometimes when people feel bad about something, they try to find ways to feel better,” I said. “That means they may brag because they’re trying to make themselves feel better by saying good stuff.”
“She’s not herself,” Seven repeated.
“Maybe you could talk to her about it,” I suggested.
“What if she gets mad?”
“As long as you say it in a nice way and tell her you’re concerned about her, I don’t think she should get mad,” I said. “Just let her know you’re worried about her.”
“Well, I have an idea, but I don’t think you’re going to agree with it. What if I write her a note?” Seven said.
“You could do that,” I said. “As long as you make sure you tell her in your note that you’re writing because you’re worried about her and want to help her. But,” I added, wanting to anticipate any problems before they happened, “if you write a note and tell her you’re worried about her and she gets upset about the note, you don’t have to feel bad about it. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“What if the teachers find it?”
“I think Mrs. B. and Mrs. K. know you well enough to know that you would only be trying to help,” I said. “As long as you do something with a pure heart and with love, you don’t ever have to feel bad or worry about getting in trouble because you haven’t done anything wrong.”
I know. I know it isn’t that simple. Notes or emails or anything else written, even with the most sincere intentions of concern and compassion, can come back to haunt a person. But my younger child feels most empowered when she’s helping someone else, and I want to encourage and nurture that quality in her.
To quote Tom Cruise, we live in a cynical world. Turn on the news, surf online, open a magazine, and we have every reason in the world to question others. Now more than ever I think we need to teach our children tolerance. It starts with these little things. If we all strive to teach the kids to make the right choices in the little things, it becomes easier for them to make the right choices in the big things. Teach enough kids to make the right choices, and eventually we have a world full of people making the right choices. The kind of choices that help one another. The kind of choices that make this a less cynical world.