Every 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.