A year ago, I asked our guidance counselor at our school, Deb, what she thought were the most important messages our boys needed to hear. At that time, I was sitting with the kinds of messages that we send our boys. I wanted to create a wrist wrap with those messages printed on them.
Deb so graciously shared this with me….
When I read Lisa’s request about sending a message to our boys of the world, I was immediately reminded of a group of 4th grade boys I worked with a few years back. These boys were often sent to my office for discipline referrals or concerns regarding classroom behavior or academic performance. When I looked at these boys, I didn’t see discipline or behavior issues. I saw disconnected kids.
In public schools today, we ask that all kids come to school ready to learn. Yet, many of our students are facing harsher realities than we as adults can ever imagine. As a school counselor, I view my role in the public schools as one of connection, support and advocacy. I am a helper and a hugger. I aim to connect kids with their school community, allowing them to feel comfortable and confident to open themselves up to learning.
These boys needed connection, especially with their teachers. They needed to feel a part of their school community and to know their presence and voice mattered. Our counseling group came together seemingly haphazardly, but by the end of the school year, we had a true purpose and we all had a profound effect on each other.
My first goal of our group was to establish some common ground. The boys weren’t friends and often considered each other adversaries out on the playground. Yet we all bonded quickly when given some time and space to talk and share. Together, they shared their experiences. They shared their pain. And quickly, they shared in each other’s successes. All of their backgrounds included situations like incarcerated parents, exposure to violence, gangs and drugs, and other child abuse and neglect concerns. Finding common ground was powerful because they began to understand the meaning behind their negative behaviors. They boys supported each other in ways I never could. I hadn’t faced these realities in my own personal life, but the boys had.
From common ground and shared talk, we created a safe place where being vulnerable was safe, feelings were validated and voices were heard without consequence or recourse. Empathy and trust were developed and honored by all.
The boys created journals to write, create and draw their experiences and feelings and brought them to group weekly to share. From their writings, the boys created a mantra that was shared at every session. Thinking back, it wasn’t written by just one boy in particular, but it came from all of their hearts – a collective act of support and friendship. These words became our verse, our positive self-talk message, and our reminder of the purpose of our group. Their message was simple:
I belong. I matter. I am never alone because I have you.
Their YOUs were represented by many different things: our group, me, other trusted adults, and even a Higher Power. Such powerful words from a young group of boys.
I was so proud of them. They inspired me and still do to this day. I provided them with a safe place, a room without judgment and open arms when they needed it. The boys did all the work and their perseverance paid off in so many ways, especially in the classroom.
I have 4 children, two little boys of my own. I want all of our boys to know that strength isn’t always physical power or a fighting fist. Strength can be tender and kind. I want boys to know that their thoughts and feelings are significant and should be shared and not hidden away. I want our boys to know they are never alone. Connection for our boys will save lives.
Boys of the world, you belong. You mater. You are significant. You are never alone.
I was so moved by her story. Based on her words, I created this wrist wrap – for our boys: You belong. You matter. You are loved.
I put it out into the world last year and the response was huge! People bought these wraps NOT JUST FOR THEIR BOYS — but for their girls, for their friends, for their adult children, for their sisters and brother and partners. This made me realize – we ALL need to hear the message: You belong. You matter. You are loved.
This new school year, I wanted to give them to my children. But not only because I wanted THEM to carry these messages with them…but because I wanted to remind them and talk about how they can communicate these messages of compassion to THEIR CLASSMATES.
Last week, I called my kiddos to come over to the couch with me.
“My Love,” I said to both of our children, “Would you come here for a moment?” I wanted to talk to them about school starting up. Our children go to a Montessori school where there are multi-grade classrooms. For our daughter’s classroom, that means that preschool, pre-k, and kindergarteners are together. Our daughter will be a kindergartener. For our son’s classroom, that means that first, second, and third graders are together. Our son will be in the third grade.
As they sat down next to me, I said to them, “So you’ll both be one of the oldest in your classroom now.”
We talked about some of the experiences they’ve had when others haven’t been kind to them or other classmates.
“Remember the time *Sarah was so sad because *Tom made fun of her self-portrait?” My son asked me.
“I sure do,” I said. “And I remember how you came to me and we talked?”
“Yeah,” my son said, “Your advice was right on. She felt better when I said I noticed she was having a tough day and I was her friend.”
“Yep. That made her feel accompanied. Like she wasn’t alone,” I encouraged him.
We talked about when my son wasn’t included in the football game at recess and how that felt. We talked about the jokes he didn’t quite get and the first time experiencing the heartache of how a friend could turn on you. We also talked about how we navigated those new waters – together – as a family and as a school community. And I see how my son came out of those experiences with a strong sense of self and what it means to be a good, loyal friend.
We talked about what teasing is and how that feels – when we are teased and when we tease others.
We talked about the way girls tend to be mean to each other, with things like, “I don’t want to be your friend” and “you can’t play with us.”
We sat and talked about what a leader is and the qualities a leader has. We talked about what power means, and the responsibility we have when we “have power.”
“Here’s an opportunity,” I said, “To use your power for good. To be kind. To uplift. To be a true leader.”
I gave them both a poetic wrist wrap that reads: You belong. You matter. You are loved.
“When you look down at your wrist,” I said, “I want you to remember how loved you are. I want you to remember how deeply you are treasured and how we love you for who you are.”
I continued, “AND…to remember that YOU have an opportunity to send these same messages of compassion to one of your classmates…”
~ An opportunity to be the kind of leader who is compassionate when a younger classmate who isn’t as fast or doesn’t really get the game but wants to join in at recess and you can communicate “you belong here” by including them.
~ An opportunity to create space for a timid classmate to voice his or her opinion at “community time” and you can communicate “you matter to us” by listening intently.
~ An opportunity to be a comforting presence when a classmate is having a hard time – her self-portrait gets made fun of, he forgot his favorite sweatshirt, she thinks she isn’t good at sports at P.E., he doesn’t understand the math work, she is a new first grader and it is all overwhelming. And sometimes, there is bigger stuff – mom and dad are getting divorced. A sibling of theirs is sick. Someone they love recently died. Here is an opportunity to send messages of compassion by communicating, “You are loved. You aren’t alone. I am your friend.”
Folks, more than academics, we need to teach our children kindness.
We need to give them experiences of kindness and love – where they KNOW, deep in their bones, that they truly belong, they matter, and they are loved – just as they are.
AND we need to help them develop skills like empathy and compassion. When they see someone hurting, they offer presence. When they see someone who isn’t being included, they are the ones to act.
This takes slowing down, friends. This takes talking to our children and looking at our children and engaging with them like THEY BELONG. THEY MATTER. THEY ARE LOVED.
OUR PRESENCE communicates messages of compassion every day to our children.
This new school year, what if we all decided that what truly matters is to send – to ourselves, our children, our partner, our classmates, our coworkers – messages of compassion like: you belong, you matter, you are loved?
You are loved.
We are headed this way, folks, toward a more compassionate world. Let’s encourage each other and our children to send these compassionate messages out into our world.Blessings,