I can remember the moment, six years ago, when my son started kindergarten. I was like every mom with her first child: I was nervous about how he would be regarded by his teachers and peers. I was nervous if he’d be cared for with kindness. I hoped his teachers would see the light I see in him and nurture it to shine even brighter. I worried about our schools in America being over-crowded, our teachers being under-resourced, and all adults being so busy that they forget to see the tender souls right in front of them.
I hugged my son and stood there watching as he crossed the threshold into his new classroom. What happened next made my heart leap with gratitude and then settle. In that moment, I knew he would be okay.
You see, his teacher at the time, Mrs. M., greeted my son at the door. She bent down to his height, looked him in the eyes, and with such a big, welcoming smile on her face, she extended her hand to shake his and she said, “Good morning, (his name). I am so happy to see you!”
Every. Single. Day. She did the SAME thing. TO EACH STUDENT.
It was such a simple gesture, but one that sent the message to each and every student, “You matter.”
She stopped what she was doing. She looked at her students. Her eyes lit up and she smiled.
It is a moment when time stopped and all she saw was the child standing there in front of her. It was a moment of truly being seen.
Believe me, she could have been running around trying to get everything ready for the day. This was the first year our school was opened. There were many fires to put out, systems to be established, and children to be properly oriented to the Montessori approach to education. Mrs. M. would have had good reason to be distracted and tending to other things. But there she was, every single day, engaged in her morning ritual of welcoming each student.
And the assistant in the classroom, Mrs. A., had the wise, grounded, loving presence of a grandmother. Her steady patience with a small group of children at a table learning to read or do math created a sense of safety…to investigate, to make mistakes, to take time, and to celebrate the moments of “Ohhh I did it!” She cheered children on – with smiles and warm words. She encouraged children with positive, resiliency-building words and warmth. She regarded each student for who they were.
What Children Are Hungry For
Many of us are asking right now, “What can we do about our CHILDREN being killed by other children in our schools?”
We must work for justice on a political level WHILE we are creating change on a very personal, local level: with each child we parent, teach, or coach.
Here is just ONE way we can both impact the short- and long-term for our children with an experience that EVERY SINGLE CHILD is hungry for at home, in school, and in their activities.
Moments of Regard.
Such “moments of regard,” when repeated every single day, begin to “take up residence” in a little one’s soul. A boy begins to believe “Hey, I’m worth noticing!” A girl begins to believe, “I am somebody special!”
And in such “moments of being regarded,” children learn how to love and regard others. I often volunteered in Mrs. M.’s classroom that year. And I witnessed firsthand how children treated one another. Mrs. M.’s sense of regard for each person created an atmosphere – and expectation – of regard for one another. Mrs. A.’s grandmotherly nature was like wrapping each child in a blanket with warmth and kindness.
A seemingly insignificant thing, like greeting someone with your full attention, before they enter your classroom, office, or kitchen, can have a significant impact on a person’s soul — and behavior.
In this fast-paced, no-time-for-loving-eye-contact world, we can forget to really “see” one another – especially our children. We can forget to regard one another. We can forget that all of us want to be seen, to have someone’s full attention for a moment, and to be fully accepted.
We can forget that each day we are dealing with tender hearts.
“The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.”– Nelson Mandela
Our children need us to reflect their goodness and beauty in order to see it for themselves. Day in and day out. Not just when they are babies and cute. But also when they are sassy, edgy, and hard to live with. Not just on a “special night with mom or dad” once a week. The need little moments of regard every single day. Not just when they win the soccer game. But when they lose, they do poorly on a test, they mess up, and they feel ashamed. Our children need us to keep reminding them of their goodness in order to believe it deep in their bones.
This is the kind of wise, compassionate leadership, parenting, coaching, and teaching our children need from us.
~ Each of us has the power to help our children recognize their beauty.
~ Our eyes have the power to mirror our children’s goodness.
~ Our presence has the power to say, “You matter.”
~ Our words have the power to communicate, “You are not alone.”
~ Our tone of voice has the power to encourage, uplift, and inspire – our children and each other’s children.
~ Our everyday pauses – “moments of regard” — have the power to weave a thread of tenderness and gentleness into the fabric of who our children are.
~ Our touch has the power to quietly, sweetly, and tenderly reconnect when we need to “begin again.”
~ Our steadfast love has the power to be the voice they hear “I see you and you are beautiful” in a harsh and competitive world.
Don’t go for perfection. Go for authentic connection.
Children – from little ones to teenagers – can feel the authenticity. And they flourish under it.
We are a culture HUNGRY for MEANINGFUL CONNECTION. We are addicted to busy. We prize productivity more than people.
One participant in a workshop I facilitate this past week with the Women’s Leadership Alliance at Georgetown University, said, “We are just so busy. It’s like I can’t find a moment to rest, to feel myself calming down. I’m always ‘on’ and what I notice is that I’m shorter with people. I have ‘less time’ for people. That’s a problem.”
That IS a problem, people.
The Kind of Leaders Our Children Need Us to Be
We are all leaders when it comes to our children. We are parents, teachers, and coaches. The current political leadership speaks with such harshness, hate, and disregard. This creates a climate at home, school, and country of harshness, hate, and disregard. A wise, compassionate leader knows when she needs to stop and get refueled. He knows when he needs to pause and get resourced. Because she recognizes that to be a compassionate presence for her children, she must practice compassion for herself. He recognizes that to treat his children with regard, he must model regard for himself and the people around him.
We must take responsibility for our self-care and treat ourselves with regard so that we are fueled with love to encounter other people. So we have the bandwidth to notice our children. So we have the capacity to show gentleness when confronted with harshness, love when confronted with hate, and regard when confronted with disregard.
Focus on what you CAN do.
That’s what a responsible, wise, compassionate leader does.
When we start to take responsibility for our lives and realize what we CAN do – to connect, to love, and to engage in meaningful ways with our children and dear ones – we stop feeling helpless. And we start feeling empowered.
We start to see that there are many moments in the day that matter to a child. There are many moments in a day when we can communicate I CARE FOR YOU. I REGARD YOU WITH MY PRESENCE.
Several years ago, I made a vow to myself: no matter how busy I was, no matter how involved in my work I was when my children came home, I would pause to greet them. I would say, “Hello my babies! My dear ones! I am so happy to see you!” And I’d stretch out my arms to hug them. Some days, they don’t want the hug. Some days, they are just tired and want to chill out. But even if they quickly move on to the next thing, they see that I have paused to look at them with regard. They get the message that they matter.
I do NOT do it perfectly. Nor do I do it all the time.
But I am devoted to regarding them in the perfectly imperfect, human ways I can.
So Dear Ones, pause and juuuuuuuuust connect.
GIVE your children everyday experiences of regard.
Give them everyday experiences of meaningful connection.
Such “moments of regard” and “meaningful connection” fill a person’s soul. It wire our children’s brains for empathy. It teaches them that they are not alone. It reminds them that they are beautiful and loved, especially when the world may say otherwise.
Like all of us, I am deeply troubled by the school shootings – mostly carried out by boys. As a trauma therapist, parent, faith leader, and student of compassion and mindfulness for decades, I get that the issues are complicated.
But “complicated” doesn’t have to be an excuse for inaction.
One very concrete, doable solutions that we ALL can do RIGHT NOW that will impact both the short- and long-term is to treat our children with regard. We can give them experiences of meaningful, authentic connection EVERY SINGLE DAY.
And I know the impact that this has on a person – in the moment, and over the course of a lifetime.
Now six years later, my son still remembers his kindergarten teacher and the assistant teacher. When he talks about his teachers and recalls any classroom experience he had that year, I see the ease on his face and in his breathing. He softens. He still carries Mrs. M’s morning greeting and “moments of regard” with him. He carries Mrs. A’s warmth and smile with him. He still looks back and says, “She really cared about us. She really cared about me.”
Dear Readers, we call can do this. And our children deserve it. THEY NEED IT. They are hungry for us to step up as wise, compassionate leaders. They are hungry for moments of regard and meaningful connection. We can do this. Today. With a gesture as simple as a greeting — a moment of regard and meaningful connection, we can build a future of generation of compassionate adults.
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If you are local to Frederick, I offer Somatic Psychotherapy (sorry, I don’t see friends in therapy! But I do have excellent colleagues who I could refer you to).