Be Kind

On a day like today, or any day really, there cannot be too much kindness. How can we have a grateful heart? Practice being kind. Say kind things. Do kind things. Think kind things. Look for kind things. Just be kind.

It was 2 weeks ago when some girls at one of my schools were not being so kind. The fall drama was amping up as the honeymoon is over. In fact, many 9-10 year olds that I know have been looking for trouble so I’ve had no trouble with getting business! (#schoolcounselorbusiness!) When this has happened at one of my schools and I’m feeling a negative climate, I think it’s best to focus on what’s going right and not what’s going wrong. I mean, for real, we can complain all day long but watching for someone doing something right is lot more rewarding and fun.

So, I gave the girls a kindness challenge. They choose to meet at recess to make a plan to recognize others for being kind. They write simple kindness reports and distribute kindness cards to those who are ‘caught being kind’. Then, the person who practiced the kind deed gets a prize from me. So, really they are choosing to let others be rewarded, which isn’t always so easy for kids. But, they are my “kindness ambassadors” so I think they are kind of proud to have this responsibility. Not only that, I believe that they are getting some intrinsic reward too. It feels good to be good and to tell others they’re good!

I found many, many ideas on my fav, Pinterest. Here’s this week’s list that not only am I sharing with my school girls but I also shared with my children. be kind.jpg

Now, why is this one written on? I encouraged and challenged Brody and Anna to also complete 12 of the squares on this chart when I printed it yesterday. I even said I’d give them a reward if they did it. Anna was anxious to start. She asked several clarifying questions. And, she started yesterday, as you can see.  She’s on it! She’s so on it that this is what I just found on my pillow. (#meltmyheart!)love letter.jpg

Do I write about this to brag on my sweetest angel? (kind of!;) But, I really thought I should share because with some kids, it’s this easy. Ask for kindness. You too can reap the benefits! You provide the prompt and then the kindness spreads.

Am I making them do this? No…and Brody hasn’t done a thing about it! But, I think just talking about what it looks like to be kind helps build empathy. Just encouraging a random act of kindness can excite some children. And, giving freely pads the heart, making us less hardned.

When there is so much sadness and hurt in the world, there is also a lot of little things, amazing things happening too. Look for them. Ask for them. Encourage them. And, reward them. This is a grateful heart.

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My #1

1Every child deserves to someone’s number one. Every child needs to hear they are loved, feel adored, and be given hugs before bed. Every child deserves to have someone read them a bedtime story. Every child wants to hear they are good at something. Every child not only wants these things; they need it. It’s something many of us take for grated. It’s something many of us do for our children without thought.

“You’re my favorite boy in the world. You’re so smart. You’re such a good girl. You are so responsible. I love you…..”

These are things I say to my children every day because I mean it, and they need to hear it. They need to feel it. And, many, many children are not feeling like they are anyone’s number one.

The list of children that I spent time with this week is long. And when I think of a commonalities, there is one depressing theme. Many, if not most, of the children who had angry outbursts, who had a conflict or made a bad choice, or asked to spend time with me are lacking one or both parents. They are abandoned and feel unwanted. Their parents have different priorities.

They’re in jail. They’re on drugs. They have a new boyfriend. I’ve even had children tell me that they have new kids now. They have a new family. How does that make a child feel to have their parent care about something or someone more than them? It leaves a void. They feel incomplete. They feel insecure. And, they are longing for attention.

And, they look for attention wherever they can find it. In PAC (in-school suspension), in conflicts, in rebellion, and even within themselves. I had a boy tell me at the end of the day that “he would never earn a reward from me” when he saw another girl picking her toy from my ‘joy jar’. “I’m stupid and I never do anything right.” This is not how children are supposed to feel when they are nine.

But, when your mom has left you, you rarely see your dad, and you’re scared of your caretaker, you feel lost. When your mom tells you that you won’t be seeing your dad anymore, you feel sad. When your dad is in jail and you haven’t seen him since you were three, you feel disappointed. When your mother chose drugs over you, you feel angry. Children are hurting everywhere.

But, we can’t give up. We have to be the ones to love them. Maybe they aren’t our number one, but we can try to find them a number one. Today I checked in with a friend who is being raised by her aunt and uncle. She’s been with them for years now while some of her other many siblings are living with a drug-addicted mom and other family members. In fact, one of her brothers now attends the same school yet lives with step-mom and father. He was born addicted to drugs and the impact is huge. He is so delayed and almost incapable of functioning in school. Today, he didn’t want to leave his sister when he saw her this morning. Since they don’t live together and hardly see each other, he gets so excited to see her. He became so upset upon her leaving for class that he began screaming, “I want to kill myself” over and over and over again down the hallway. It was a blood-curdling scream. It was so painful to listen to so I cannot imagine how he feels. He’s in first grade.

But, this girl who shares the same mother and doesn’t have a relationship with a different father is doing great. It was her birthday today. And while she was understandably upset by the morning incident, her ‘Big Sister’ from the Big Brothers Big Sister’s program surprised her for her birthday. She’s been matched with this girl since first grade. Her Big Sister comes to eat lunch with her often. She takes her to do fun things outside of school. And, she delivers wonderful, fancy birthday presents to this one girl. She has made her her number one! She even asked her ‘little’ to be in her wedding this winter!

So when there are children who have had bad luck and received the short-end-of-the-stick, we have to find them a number one. A mentor, a school friend, a family member who steps in….someone who will treat them like they are the most important thing in the world. And even if we can’t actually find them a mentor, we make the time we spend with ‘our’ kids meaningful. When I spend time with a child, even if it’s 5 minutes, I really try to make them feel loved. They aren’t always the most loving kids but they can be when we show them how to.

At the end of the day today, I invited a boy who’s been abandoned by his mother to come help me with my kindergarten leadership class. I had to conduct a suicide assessment on him yesterday. But today, he wanted to come with me as I taught the sweet kindergarten students about ‘filling buckets’. He was so well-behaved in this class as he served as my assistant. A boy who is desperate to be loved and is feeling really depressed chose to spend his afternoon explaining to other children how to fill buckets and make other people feel loved.

Fill someone’s bucket today, and make a child feel loved. They all deserve it.

 

positiveIt’s back to school which means earlier bed times and bye-bye to summer. And while this is always a bummer, it’s also a really exciting time to be inside a school. The floors are waxed, the paint is fresh, and the schools are all themed out. Teachers are abuzz with who’s in their class and the children are smiling when they walk in those school doors. It’s a hopeful time of year.

This week has reminded me what the impact of just a few positive interactions can do, what just believing in another person can do. It’s why I became a counselor.

Now, you know I love Bearden Elementary school. I’m completely biased as it’s also my alma mater. But, I do choose for my children to attend there while they’re actually zoned another school. I do love it and think it’s a happy, little school.

But, I also have another passion and I couldn’t be happier to be back at Pond Gap Elementary School just around the corner. This was my first week back in the school. It looks a lot different with new paint and half a new school building (pretty amazing). It does look great.

But, more than that, it feels even better. My first day back, I was flooded with warm welcomes from the staff, even those I hadn’t met before. The positive attitudes are contagious filling the school with motivation and dedication. It makes working at a school so much more enjoyable when you feel like you are valued and belong.

Kids must feel the same way. Last year, I also worked with amazing, dedicated educators and a population of very polite, nice, and appreciative children at a very different school on a different end of town. But, it wasn’t Pond Gap. I really missed the children at Pond Gap and still thought of them. Every school is different and they aren’t all for everyone. Sometimes you just feel and do your best when you click at a school. That’s how I feel about Pond Gap.

This week, after the incredible staff, team-building meeting, I was walking down the hall and saw a familiar face down by the office. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him since he was in first grade. He’s now going into 3rd grade. He’s a little taller but still has a winning smile. He squinted and did a double take before I called his name. Then, he broke into a sprint (breaking hallway procedure!) towards me. He gave me a bear-hug and we walked down the hall hugging. He couldn’t believe I was coming back.

And this afternoon, we had a meet and greet at Pond Gap. First, I ran into some familiar faces and got more hugs. In fact, one girl who was in a small group with me maybe 3 years ago, gave me my ‘building up trust’ hand signal with a big smile on her face.

Finally, I ran into a 5th grade boy who is now my height. This African American boy has the cool clothes and the cool 5th grade attitude too. I’ve also known him for years. After getting a hug from him (yes, a hug from a 5th grade boy!), he turned to a new student sitting beside him. As I introduced myself to this new boy, my friend chimed in. He said, “If you meet with her, it is ON.” I was thinking maybe he was telling him that you meet with me when you’re in trouble. (I’m out of practice with this lingo so I asked for clarification!) He grinned turning to this new boy and said, “You’ll go to her room, learn some stuff, and have FUN!”.

That’s why I do this. That’s what it’s all about. I don’t know every kid. I don’t make a difference to every kid. I don’t have success with every kid I work with but it won’t stop me from trying.

This year, both of my schools are filled with adults who are hopeful and full of kids who are ready to be loved on. Don’t ever doubt that you can be that person that believed in them. You can’t have too much kindness! I can’t wait to have more opportunities to teach, connect, love, and believe in these kids!

 

 

 

It’s the frenzied time of year where even making a quick trip to the store seems like a chore. Is it really worth it with all the traffic? Forget the West Town Mall exit. And, you couldn’t pay me to go to Turkey Creek. It’s nuts out there….like really nuts! People are shooting each other in road rage? What’s wrong with people!?

We have lost perspective. Sometimes we loose sight of what’s important. And while many say that ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’, it’s often times not lived out. Jesus is the reason yet we are rushing around the mall? Jesus’ birthday is the focus but look at all my Christmas lights? ‘Put Christ back in Christmas’ but act rude to your co-workers, talk behind people’s backs, and complain about all the Christmas parties? We have lost sight of the real meaning of life, not just the season, when we get all wrapped up in all the superficial non-necessities.

Stockings, gift wrap, fancy bows, tacky sweaters, and that perfect Christmas card. It’s true that I am guilty too. Guilty of not being mindful. Guilty of getting sidetracked. But, thankfully, I have my children to help me get back on track.

Children are precious gifts. Messengers from God. Angels. Reminders of what is real, and true, and pure.

This week, as I walked down the halls of Bearden Elementary , I admired the fraction Christmas tree art and snowmen decor. So festive and fun the schools look this time of year! I paused outside of Anna’s classroom to examine the essays they wrote on “THE BEST GIFT”, the writing prompt. Some said the perfect gift was to pick up litter so the animals and earth aren’t hurt. One said a plane to visit friends and family. Some were about giving and many were about getting. Then, I saw Anna’s.

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Now, does that not show what we have lived the past couple years!? And, does it not also show the biggest gifts in the world can’t be bought!? As Anna put it last night, it’s better to give than receive.

She’s not perfect. And, she can drive me cra-zy! But, she also makes me so proud. She actually makes me a better person. She inspires me. She is a gift.

Friends and family: they are gifts. Comfort: what a gift. Peace: another gift. And, health: is that ever a gift!?

The best gifts cannot be bought, indeed. It’s a Hallmark card and also from the mouths of babes! And, when it comes from an eight-year-old, it truly seems genuine. Be mindful, older souls, that we have some many great gifts every day, even if you never make it to the mall! Merry Christmas!

#heartofgold  OR  #santaswatching!

Hi! My name is Sarah and I like warm hugs!

I am literally on a high after a little delivery I made today. The Girls on the Run team at Bearden decided on not 1, not 2, but 3 community service projects this fall. One of those was collecting warm winter coats for children in need. I suggested Pond Gap, a school in which I used to work. It’s a Title-1 school, and the needs are high. The kids are colorful, a little nutty, but also so sweet! So, as we awoke to 20 degree weather and I bundled my kids up just to walk from the car into school, I imagined many little people waiting in the cold at dark bus stops this morning.  So,  what a better day to deliver these coats, hats, and gloves than today.

Since I hadn’t stepped inside those old school doors since August (when I went to sadly say goodbye to some students I had grown really close with), I drove there with a few butterflies imagining what it would be like to see some of their surprised faces. Sure enough, as soon as I entered the same, old building, I immediately saw familiar faces. Hugs were spontaneous and tight.

More and more classes began taking bathroom breaks and coming by the front stairs where I stood. And, I was greeted with more and more love and surprised smiles. A 5th grade girl whom I knew very well, hugged me and leaned in to whisper, “My aunt died. And, my dad is back in jail.”

Then, I went down to the lunchroom. The jumps out of their seats, the squeals, and more hugs made me know my time there was worthwhile. Even children whose names I didn’t remember stopped to give me a hug (and, yes, they did ask if I remembered their name!).

For a part-time School Counselor, we don’t spend every day with the same kids like a classroom teacher. We don’t get those “best teacher ever” coffee mugs, and really much confirmation that we are indeed worthwhile. Aims web data doesn’t measure it. And, sometimes, teachers don’t really even know what we do.

But, like my School Counselor colleagues, what I DO know is that we love our students. We spend time making a child feel like they are the most important person on this earth, knowing they might not get that love elsewhere. And, sometimes, if you’re lucky, that genuine, pure love is returned.

Today, I got a great gift. Those tight squeezes we exchanged are proof that meaningful relationships do matter (man, I miss those crazy kids!). Today, those awesome kids made me feel like I was an important person to them. Or, maybe I just really needed some bear-hugs! Either way, wow… hugs are healing and what a joy it is to exchange the same genuine feeling at the same time!

warm-hugs

Thank you, POND GAP PANTHERS!

#warm hugs

#Love what you do. Do what you love!

Love you, wrinkles and all!

Simple truth: kids love unconditionally.

It’s a window of time that I recognize is fleeting. This sweet phase offers a kind of security that cannot be replicated in other relationships. It won’t last much longer. And, not everyone experiences it.

So, if you are a parent, stop and pause. Pause and be grateful that even though your child is following you around, calling your name 50 times a day, or stealing your jewelry and wearing your shoes around the house, they still love you above anyone else in this world. If they yell at you while you’re on the toilet, they are comfortable with you. If they always want to go to  the store with you and it would be so much easier to go alone, they want time with you. If they still want you to read with them, they want to cuddle you. It’s a moment that won’t last.

I had to remind myself of this recently while they were flipping through my pictures on my new Samsung Galaxy phone. I recently had a keratin treatment on my frizzy hair. Although I hate spending money on self-indulgent non-necessities, I was talked into it by Steve when I reflected on how much more we spend on our dogs’ hair maintenance cost than my own! So, fair is fair and I got my ultra straight hair. This frizz-free life will only last a couple months but I felt pretty good; I’m not going to lie.

Now I wasn’t going to make this my Facebook profile shot or daily update, but I did want to document what it looked like so I took a couple selfies! I was kind of happy with my hair, which you know is unusual if you are a female. Why not have a couple pics to remind myself when it’s afro-time again!? (Yes, a little narcissistic but cut me some slack!)

So, back to my point. Brody was flipping through my photos recently and saw my Samsung Galaxy 7 selfie. You may, or may not know (like I didn’t), that these phones lie! You can adjust, making your face slimmer, your eyes wider, darken or lighten your skin or just “autocorrect” yourself! It’s weird; it’s fake. So, whenever you see those Facebook selfie- shots where the skin looks so smooth, even, and unwrinkled, know it’s a lie!

When Brody looked at my pretty-hair selfie with the auto-filter , he looked surprised. He said,

“You don’t have any wrinkles. You look weird. I like you better the way you really look.”

Anna chimed in too and agreed that I looked better without the filter with my normal (wrinkled) face. At first, I am not sure whether to be insulted or flattered. I chose flattered. They like their mama the way she really looks, wrinkles and all.

My kids don’t want to change me. They like, even love me, the way I am. Aren’t I lucky? You are too if you are a parent (**of a child below age 11…but I’m hoping, yet doubtful,  to reblog this in a couple years)! We are so fortunate to have little people who admire and love us for who we are. What a gift.

Today, I choose to show gratitude for this kind of rare love. A love without filters where real beauty shines through sustains me. This is being a mother. Yes, kids, you helped and are still helping contribute to those laugh lines!…. And, I am so glad you love them, and me just the way I am.

#nofilter

#reallove

 

Each kindness

Each Kindness  is a sad and meaningful children’s book written by Jacqueline Woodson. With some magnificent illustrations by E.B. Lewis, this simple story really gives children a visual understanding of how acts, small and large, make a big difference. In this story, a poor girl moves to a new school. The kids snicker and tease her about her used clothes and looks. No one wants to sit by her. A group of girls exclude her at recess, and she’s left to play alone. As the narrator tells the story, it seems as if she wants to reach out to this lonely soul but never takes the opportunity and then, one day, Maya is gone. She never shows back up to school and the narrator is left to live with guilt, knowing she should have and wishing she would  have been kind to her. The teacher does a little demonstration with the class in which they each have a small stone to toss into the water.

“Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple.”

The narrator can’t think of a single kind deed to share, while other classmates give little examples. The story ends with an illustration of regretful girl sitting on a pond’s edge. As she throws a rock, she watches the water ripple in and out like each chance she had, come and gone.

This school year, my sweet Anna has already started a gentle ripple. So, I got an email at the end of summer from a Bridge worker about a new refugee family we’d be getting. There are 3  new girls from Iraq. I was excited to see even more diversity at our school and happy for this family to be joining us. But, I was even more excited when we discovered one of the girls is in Anna’s class. I talked to Anna a little about this new girl before school started, explaining refugee camps again and how she probably doesn’t speak any English. I reminded her to reach out to new kids in her class. And, she talked about E. after the first half-day of school.

On day two, her sweet teacher assigned Anna to teach her about some labeled objects in the classroom. Anna was excited to tell us about it at dinner out , leading her around the classroom to point to chair, tables, carpet, and door. Then, yesterday, when Bo took Anna to school, he said that E. was coming in at the same time. She got a huge grin on her face and started waving at Anna!

Last night, Anna told us she asked her to play with her and her best friend on the playground yesterday. Anna explained that she doesn’t haven’t anyone to play with and was just wandering around. So, Anna said she went to get another Iraqi boy who was in her class last year to translate, “Do you want to play with us”. She did.

Are there any words? No. She doesn’t speak English. But, Anna proudly says she learned to say ‘chair’ this week and is following instructions quite well. She also repeated ‘Anna’ and another girl’s name after they had her repeat it over and over. Anna imitates how she teaches her, and how E. softly speaks.

*Melt my heart.*

Friendship isn’t just words, or who’s your “BFF”. Kindness is little tiny actions, spoken and unspoken. I don’t care if she scores 100 goals in soccer or gets straight A’s and E’s because this girl is already passing second grade in my books!

#eachkindness

#betherightkindofripple

#actionsspeaklouderthanwords

ocean drop

Little acts of kindness, or are they so little?

Children are gifts from God. I truly believe that every little innocent soul has a message, a truth, or a gift to give. We just have to allow them in. We have to acknowledge that they are important, and value them. Then, they will give us these gifts. Many adults don’t have the intuition that kids have, but kids get it. They don’t have to have the words but words can be false.  Actions show love, little or small.

Recently, I’ve been struggling. Struggling with life and meaning. Struggling with life being hard. And, although I haven’t told my children a lot about these feelings, they know. They know me. And, my children have always and continue to be my angels.

My precious, humble daughter sensed my distress despite my feelings being verbalized. Before bed, she went upstairs. Moments later, she came down to watch a movie with her “ba-ba” (blankie) and my prayer cloth. It’s a beautiful  purple shawl hand-knitted by a friend’s mother and her church group from Memphis. It was mailed to me last spring when Brody was in the hospital. There, it rested and wrapped me in comfort in the hospital and then back at home. I cried in it, I prayed in it, and I found comfort in it. I continued to sleep with it for 4, maybe 5 months. And, then one day, I realized I didn’t need it. I was ok for then. So, I folded it up and placed it on a shelf in my bedroom. I haven’t used it in months.

Well, this weekend, my thoughtful, sweet girl went up to my room, grabbed my prayer cloth, and brought it downstairs. She wrapped it around my neck and said,

Here,  mama.

And, that was all. That was all it took. Little words but big, meaningful actions. Little loving actions that are so much more than little. That’s a blessing and children will give these away without you earning it. They are gifts. They are messages from God that the world is not all bad. Take them. Open yourselves up to them. And, be grateful in them.

Hug it Out

 

hugging_animals_17

One thing that many children I know are missing is simply love and affection. Every day that I go to work, there are children literally reaching out their arms to me. When I am at one of my low-income schools, I get more hugs and desperate pleas for me to “see” them than I could ever count. Who are these needy kids and why do they act out so desperately to get attention? Here’s my hypothesis:

  • Most are being raised by single parents, with multiple siblings.
  • Many parents are either too detached, depressed, distracted, or tired to take quality time with their kids.
  • Some parents are struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues; They are stuck on themselves.
  • Some are so busy dating that they neglect to focus their time and energy on their children.
  • Some children are not being raised by their parents; many times an aunt, a grandfather,  or a grandmother are the substitute parent.
  • And, sadly, there are some parents who clearly didn’t intend to become a parent and are resentful of the inconvenience of their children. (I know this sounds harsh but I’ve had some pitiful students even tell me their parents have told them this. So, if it sounds harsh, it is.)

Basically, there are some needy kids because they do need something. They need more than they are getting at home. They need stability, routines, and especially love and affection that they aren’t getting.

Yesterday in a kindergarten guidance class, I was literally mobbed by the boys and girls when I entered. I don’t think it’s because I’m so great. There’s something that’s lacking in their lives to so desperately need a hug and acknowledgment. There was one tall African American girl, in particular, who had a moment half-way through class. I think she was triggered by the boy’s team earning a ‘point'(we do some friendly competition to manage and motivate the students with ‘girls vs. boys’). She stood on the carpet with her arms crossed and her pouty face on as I continued with the class, ignoring her behavior. This stand-off lasted maybe five minutes until every student was seated at the table completing their extension activity. She continued to pout on the carpet, clearly wanting my attention as she didn’t take her eyes off me. (This girl has a history of some anger issues).

When it was convenient for me and all the others kids were busy, I went up to her, her face still crinkled up and her bottom lip sticking out. I gave her no angry reaction and spoke to her in a matter-of-fact tone, “when you get your paper and start working, you earn another sprinkle” (of my magic wand). She continued standing erectly. So, I took her tall body in my arms and just hugged her tight. Her eyes began welling up and I literally saw the anger melting away. What was left was sadness. Behind most anger is actually sadness.(and eyes are the window to the soul) Her body posture and facial expression totally changed as I gently released her and handed her the paper. She quietly went to her table and began working away. Less than five minutes later, she came back up to me.

Oh, great…What made her mad now? No, actually, she wanted to tell me how she used her ‘I-message’ productively with her friend, explaining what she wanted, and it worked! She smiled proudly.

Hugs don’t solve everything but many children are lacking physical touch and attention. Remember the studies on orphaned Romanian babies who were left in their cribs in the 1900’s? They didn’t get human touch as they were left in their cribs all day. As a result, they simply failed to thrive and were more likely to die. Institutionalized children suffer long-term brain alterations and consequences, as do neglected children.(Read more.)

And, then there was the Harlow’s monkeys experiment in the mid 1900’s. Monkeys who were isolated and deprived of touch from a real monkey suffered severe psychological and physical consequences. And, then he studied the difference between wire ‘mothers’ who fed the babies vs. cloth machines. The monkeys went to the cloth. In summary, touch is vitally important as it’s a primal need.

And, many children’s needs are being neglected. No, not just food, shelter, a quiet place to sleep, clothing, and a safe place to play (although, that’s happening a lot more than people believe in this society too). It’s the love and physical attention these kids need. In our society, we don’t overlook abuse but neglect is harder to define and easier to overlook. But, I’m hearing about it and seeing it every day. Sometimes all kids need is a hug or a hand to hold down the hall.

Some kids could literally benefit from a pat-on-the-back. Humans need physical contact and affection. They’re not getting the snuggling in bed while reading books or sitting on the lap of a loved one while talking about their day. And later on in life, they may search for it in the wrong ways and from the wrong people because they have been deprived of appropriate affection.

Words can be complicated, confusing, and misleading to some children. As adults, we rely on them. But, a warm hug, gentle back rub, or walk holding hands can do more for some children than words can ever. So, ‘hug it out’ people!

lion hugging

 

 

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