- Always radiate positivity. Attitude is infectious. The people around you will mirror your mood. As a program leader in a room of fifty kids, this became especially apparent to me as I had to consciously work to keep a calm and upbeat demeanour throughout the session. Kids rely heavily on a palpable sense of security and authority to act at ease, so if I started to look stressed or disoriented, I could almost immediately feel their tension rising and my control slipping. The same goes for adults. If you appear happy and lively, others will respond similarly. Another benefit of doing this is that often, in pretending to be cheerful and confident, you do actually start to genuinely feel cheerful and confident.
- Kindness is so underrated. When I lead a group of kids who are divided in teams and competing for points through athletic games, the ones who stand out to me are not the loudest or the most athletically talented. The ones whom I notice most are those who help their opponents up when they’re hurt, who congratulate the winners when they themselves have lost, who are always happy to help a teammate even if that means sitting out. This is something that my program always tries to encourage and I just wish I could see more awards for honour, loyalty, and kindness, as opposed to achievement, in other aspects of my life as well.
- Get excited and believe. There’s something so liberating about the way kids will believe in anything. One of the best conversations I’ve had was with a grade 2 who, inspired by his leader’s time-turner, decided to build his own time machine. It was so uplifting to hear such spirit and fearlessness; the kid was so excited and he really believed he could do it. I miss seeing that passion and excitement in adults. We don’t get so enthusiastic about simple pleasures anymore because we’re taught to look at everything analytically and realistically. However, I think that allowing ourselves a break from skepticism sometimes could really make a positive difference in the way we go about our daily lives.
- So much can be solved with just an apology. I used to be terrified of conflict. I absolutely dreaded having to sit down with two kids who were crying and pointing fingers at each other and make them stop. However, the first time I actually did it, it was shockingly easy. With relatively few prompts, the kids told their sides of the story in turn, then each acknowledged their fault, apologized, and moved on. It took less than a minute and made me wonder how much time and energy could be saved in every fight if the sulking silent treatment part was skipped.
- If you don’t act like it’s a big deal, then it won’t be. Kids cry a lot, and most of the time, it’s over something they’ll be laughing off in a minute. My instinct at first was to comfort them all thoroughly until they stopped. However, I soon learned that that wasn’t the best solution; fawning over them often made it seem like it was a much bigger deal than it was. On the other hand, checking in to see if they were genuinely hurt, then acting casually if they weren’t, yielded far quicker recoveries. 99% of the time, they’d be back in the game in a minute. The same is true with any problem in life; giving an issue more attention than it deserves does nothing to resolve it more efficiently.
- Treat others the way you want them to respond. A lot of adults, when talking to children, will dumb things down and simplify their language. However, I’ve found that taking kids seriously and talking to them as if they were adults brings out intelligence that I never would’ve ever expected. Kids understand so much more than many people give them credit for. I’ve had a 7 year old explain to me in detail how radios work, using terms I’d only learned in grade 10 physics. Even with abstract concepts like honour or wisdom, they responded better than many adults do. I would’ve missed out on so many amazing conversations if I’d just assumed that the other party had nothing to contribute.
- Make a decision and stick to it. Some things are not worth pondering through in detail, and as someone who loves to plan and consider all options, this didn’t come to me naturally. As a program leader, he said/she said problems come up a lot. At first, I’d always panic on the inside as I tried to quickly hear both sides of the story and make a call. However, sometimes, this is impossible because there’s no solution that will satisfy everyone. I can’t keep an eye on everything, and if one team claims they scored while the other team claims otherwise, the best thing to do is make a call, and move on. Considering every detail is a luxury that’s not always afforded. Sometimes, it’s better to not waste time on listing the pros and cons of every decision, but rather to just go for it.
- Acknowledge feelings. This is such an easy thing to do, and yet, it’s one that so many of us forget. We often ignore the fact that our reality is different from the reality of others. A situation that is fun, uplifting, and comfortable for us could very well be terrifying for someone else. If one kid claims that “this game is no fun,” it’s very easy to respond along the lines of “yes, it is! Look how much fun everyone is having!” But that does nothing to help alleviate the problem. Acknowledging other people’s realities is a huge step to understanding and problem-solving, and that can range from “I understand that your shoes hurt your feet” to “I understand that you’re feeling lonely and left out.” Only when we start becoming conscious of how often we contradict other people’s realities can the real healing begin.
- If you cultivate respect, authority will come naturally. I was raised in a culture in which respect for elders is practically law. I would be grounded for not saying hi to elders, and contradicting them was suicide. This always rubbed me the wrong way because oftentimes, they were downright ignorant and I had no respect for any of their outdated beliefs. I firmly believe that respect and authority must be earned, and you don’t get a free pass even if you’ve lived for 90 years. In all those cases, while I put on a polite face publicly, I didn’t actually care for anything they said and didn’t take it in. That’s something I always kept in mind when I began taking on leadership roles. Working with a large group of kids is impossible if they don’t want to listen. And if you want others to really listen to you, you had better work for it every day. Only then will you see results.
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” – L.R. Knost
My parents were always firm believers that they could not play the role of cheerleaders to their kids. They had to prepare us for the harshness of reality, so that we wouldn’t be disappointed when we stepped into the real world and realized that we were nothing in the grand scale of things (which is a valid point, to a certain extent). They refused to spoil us with compliments or encouragement. They had no qualms about very openly pointing out all flaws. We were never allowed to feel special. They feared our disappointment when we would grow up and eventually realize that life is struggle and competition against many greater opponents. As a result, I never believed I was enough.
The only aspect of upbringing that they overlooked was love, specifically romantic love. Since they never talked to me about sex or relationships, I grew up spoiled on ideals of true love, which only fueled my already sensitive and emotional nature (INFJ personality type). Throughout my childhood, I was surrounded by storybooks and fairytales, Disney princesses and song lyrics preaching of happily ever after. Most of all, I was witness to a very equal, respectful, and functional marriage, in the midst of a culture where marriage was practically mandatory, and divorce a rarity. For as long as I can remember, I truly and profoundly believed in the magic of love and its power to always work out beautifully in the end.
Yes, I was very wrong about a big part of that. Yes, it hurt, a whole damn lot, when I learned otherwise. It was the biggest mistake I’d ever made. It made me question everything I’d stood by my entire life.
But no, I was not wrong about everything. And no, I’d never regret it. I learned my lesson on my own. I learned to be cautious and smarter, more realistic than before. Some scars won’t ever fade. But deep down, my belief still held. I had doubts, but I never stopped believing that love was out there, and that it was still greater than anything else. I believed because it was all that I had ever known how to do.
My faith carried me to where I am now because it gave me strength to keep taking chances and carry on. It has taught me hard lessons, lessons that I might’ve avoided had I grown up differently. I could’ve saved myself much pain and years of time. But as much as I shudder to look back on that time, the most valuable lessons come from experience; I’m stronger and happier now more than ever. (Side note: “Who gives a fuck about your first love. Give a big round of applause for your second love, because they taught you love still exists after you thought it never could again.”)
I will always appreciate how I have been raised, perhaps accidentally, to believe in love despite all odds. It’s a trait that defines me, and I love being able to share that faith with others. I’m 18, and still learning. There are many things I don’t understand about love and parenting, but from my experience, that is how I think a child should be raised. So many parents believe that their kids have to be immovable, like a rock that’s able to brace the strongest currents. But we’re people, not rocks, and we’re supposed to move with the current and grow from it. It’s good to be realistic and strong but those things don’t necessarily contradict being passionate and idealistic. Children should be taught to embrace the extraordinary, even when it lets them down. Only with belief can we try again.