If you ever start to feel like no one is listening to you, my suggestion is to go and spend some time (even a few minutes) talking to a six year-old. I think you will notice that they aren’t just listening to you, but are holding on to every word you say so tightly that you might even wish they were paying you less attention. To a child, your words are like spell-binding magic. You are everything that they hope to become one day. And to a child who is all too familiar with losing lives prematurely, talking to young adults who are trying to make something of their lives is like an injection of hope — that one day they too can not only make it to that age, but thrive.
When developing a mentor-style relationship with a child, stability and consistency are of the utmost importance. It is not so much about being present the most amount of times, but being present every time that you say you will be present. “I'll be here again next week,” means that you will be present again next week — not a day later. But why does it matter so much if you show up to spend time with a child on a Tuesday rather than on a Monday? Because if you had always spent time together on Mondays, that child might go all of Monday thinking that was the day you finally chose to stop showing up.
We all have busy lives — things comes up and plans change. I assure you that children have plenty of emotional depth to comprehend and respect this. However, what they cannot comprehend(as I also often cannot comprehend as an adult) is when people change their plans and can no longer be present, but do not say anything about what happened or if they will be present at another time instead. This great unknown leaves children who have watched person after person walk out of their lives stuck saying the same thing on repeat, “Well I guess they’re gone too.”
All it takes is one phone call to say, “Hey buddy, I’ll see you on Tuesday instead of Monday this week, ok?” That is perfectly enough to let the child know that you are still there and that you still care. In fact, there’s science that backs all of this up.
For children experiencing adversity and chronic stress, it only takes one relationship with a consistent and loving adult in order to begin developing the crucial resiliency skills necessary to rise above much of this adversity. This is a statement of fact straight from incredible research out of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child that has been coined the ‘Science of Resilience.’ To learn more about the ‘Science of Resilience’ please visit: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/ne...3/science-resilience’
Resilience isn’t just a buzz-word — resilience saves lives. Empowering children with the stability and support that they need to foster these resiliency skills provides them with what can be imagined as an invisible, yet incredibly powerful emotional toolkit. Resiliency skills help children to adapt to new environments, process and express their emotions, stand up for their own bodies and fight for what they know is right. Resilient kids build resilient communities and resilient communities stand strong in the face of adversity.
The strength that I have witnessed living inside the bodies of the little ones who I have had the privilege of knowing is astounding, humbling, awe-inspiring, but nothing unexpected. For the last year I have been running a Zoom reading group with a small group of 5 and 6 year-olds, all of whom are from families experiencing significant adversity. The little ones who I work with take it upon themselves to protect me, the 21 year-old, from all of the trauma that they are experiencing in their lives. At first when we began meeting on Zoom I could not understand why their cameras would constantly flicker on and off, why they would abruptly mute and unmute, why sometimes when I would say, “Alright, are you boys ready?” I would be met with silence. Now one year later I say with a heart that is so overflowing with love and respect for these boys that everything that they do in our weekly, hour-long reading sessions together is to protect me. When their homes get a little too loud or a little too sad, or a little too angry, their first reaction is to make sure that I do not have to see, hear, or witness any of it. Because in their own words to me a few weeks ago, “Ms. Anika you don’t need to see this, ok?”
I was heartbroken over this for several days until I realized that being heartbroken doesn’t do anything to empower or to heal. So instead I have decided that although I cannot see it all, I can be there through it all. Quite simply, I can be the person who stays.
When a child welcomes you into their life, honor that. Hold that in the highest regard because on that day you have not only become a friend, but a glimmer of hope. You represent a world where people don’t make empty promises, tell lies, or disappear without a warning. In the eyes of a child who is more familiar with grief than joy, you very well could be the key to the elusive stability they have always heard about, but never known.
People often laugh at kids for being so blunt with their words. If a kid doesn’t like your hairstyle, they will probably tell you right away. Although you might not love the criticism, you never for a second have to wonder about how they are feeling or what is going through their head. As adults, I think we could learn a lot from the plays in this playbook. I’ll give you a sneak-peek at play #1: Say what you mean and mean what you say, because words matter and they matter and they matter.