Friends. Buddies. Acquaintances.
Every child, teen and young adult – not just the most popular – need someone who notices them. Who is kind. And who then goes one step further to acknowledge them.
My five traumatized sons included.
In spite of my best efforts, play dates were few. Birthday parties even less. Sleepovers non-existent.
Then there was Claire.
During the elementary school years, my sons were blessed with Claire – a wonderful neighbor girl.
She happened to be in the same grade as two of my sons. She also found time to shower all five with kindness and understanding.
To her, their special needs didn’t matter. She simply focused on the similarities, rather than becoming stuck on the differences.
Meeting Claire at the elementary school bus stop was a bright spot for my sons each morning. No wonder they never missed the bus!
She always initiated a conversation. She asked appropriate questions. She learned about their interests. And she started their morning with a smile that often carried them through the day.
In other words, she made them feel good about themselves. In real time. In five minutes or less.
She made them feel good about themselves.
As a young girl – who I watched mature into a beautiful and balanced woman, she knew exactly what to say and do.
Hats off to her mother Dana. She was a special friend to my family and me – which easily explained Claire’s character, openness, optimism and sincerity. Both mother and daughter consistently modeled caring relationships. Each time making the gesture look effortless.
Everyone was accepted. Everyone was included.
No judgment displayed. No cliques allowed. No behaviors deemed too annoying.
That says a lot when many people often walked away from my sons.
The beauty of Claire’s relationship with them was its spontaneous nature.
She wasn’t a Best Buddy or part of a special school program to build bridges with exceptional kids – although she would have been great in the role.
Claire was simply being Claire.
She did what came naturally. She liked being nice. She was sincere. And she made being nice look like the cool thing to do.
The result? My sons never failed to respond to her with courtesy and confidence, even when fixated on having a bad day. Or sabotaging any chance for enjoyment.
Even when mad at me or one of their siblings.
That is huge and underscores the importance of peer relationships at school.
A culture of acceptance. No bullies allowed.
Without question, parents – and teachers – need to nurture more young people like Claire. Lots more!
At least one for every classroom. Maybe two or three. They are a compassionate yet powerful force.
She liked being nice.
In fact, I will go one step further.
Claire had more impact than my sons’ behavior plans – because she gave them positive peer attention which they immediately shared with their classmates and teachers.
The good will was infectious.
At the same time, she motivated other capable students to do the same.
Yet she never expected anything in return.
Even today when my young adult sons see Claire – who has since graduated from college and will be married this summer, their hearts instantly melt. She even invited them to her wedding.
Good memories overflow.
Better behavior results.
Thank you, Claire, for your unselfish ways and ongoing commitment.
Is there a “Claire” in your children’s lives? If not, do they need one?
Can you find an eager boy or girl to accept the role, perhaps with help from a teacher or neighbor?
Perhaps through a school-wide initiative? Talk about a compelling way to address trauma and depression among students.
It might be easier than you think.
It will make more of an impact than you ever imagined.
We all can play a role. Reach out and be kind to someone new today. And every day. A smile and a handful of affirming words is all it takes. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To learn more about Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love, Craig’s soon-to-published memoir about raising six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold