Today was our first day back to school. My son was nervous to begin 4th grade. New kids, a new teacher, a different schedule, and harder work all made for a bit of a nervous tummy today. I assured him that everyone was nervous today. Going back to school is both exciting and scary. But I told him he’d have a great year, and make new friends along the way. The thing was, on the inside I was also nervous about him starting a new year. Would the kids be kind to him? Would he be bullied because he was “different”? Would his self-esteem take a hit from his own feelings of inadequacy?
All I can do is pray that the parents of these classmates have taught their own children to be kind and compassionate.
As we entered the school building, a little girl who my son knew from his class last year called out, “Hi Joey!”
He immediately walked over to her, and reached out his hand to grab hers. She let him. “Hi”, he said. “Who’s your teacher?”
The kids found out that they had the same teacher and were so excited. Joey probably more than his friend, but still she seemed happy too. Then she leaned in, and hugged him. That hug was just what he needed to bring his anxiety down. It was a loving physical gesture that said to him, “I’m happy to be your friend.”
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
Sometimes we may think teaching our kids to be kind is the same thing as teaching them not to bully others. It’s similar, but not the same. Just because our kids are taught to not make fun of others, doesn’t mean they know how to initiate a friendly conversation with a child who has a physical disability, or how to include a classmate with learning differences into their play group. What happens is that they avoid people who have physical or neurological differences because they’re unfamiliar with HOW to approach others who are thought of as weird because of their differences.
1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
As the mother of a child who has special needs, I can tell you it’s okay to come up to me and ask me about my son’s autism. Let’s not make it such a scary word which we mistakenly think only means “mentally disabled”. Because, well… he’s not. Instead, I prefer to speak about the “differences” which make my son the person God has wired him to be. Not less than an other kids, just different. It’s okay that you may not know what autism means, or that the only experience you have with autism is watching Rainman. I understand that concept.
I’m very confident that you can go up to most any parent of a special needs child from school or church and tell them you’d like to learn about their child’s differences so you can better equip your own child in an understanding, enabling them to be a loving friend. These parents will more than likely hug you, as they hold back tears of joy, and then talk to you about specific ways their child desperately needs a true friend. We all long for friends. Not avoiders because we’re so weird. Not just tolerators because we are judged unapproachable. Friends… the kind that make nervous tummy aches go away with a simple hug.
Christ-centered compassionate kids grow into kind, loving, Christ-centered compassionate adults. What a beautiful legacy, and what a positive change our kids can make in this world!
Lisa Strnad is a weekly contributing writer/blogger to What’s in the Bible? and JellyTelly. She has been a homeschooling mom of two, who works independently in Christian media in the areas of writing, promotions and marketing. She lives with her husband and children in Nashville,TN. Follow her personal blog posts on Talking Like A Girl.