This morning as I was walking our dog, I came upon a group of middle schoolers waiting on the corner for their bus. Or I should say, corners. On the right were two groups of talking, jostling kids, huddling close together under shared umbrellas in the rain. On the opposite corner was one boy, without umbrella or hood, weighed down by a soaking backpack. He was looking away from the group, unsheltered and disconnected.
This scenario hit close to home. For the last three years, my partners Linda and Jillian and I have devoted ourselves to developing, writing and publishing our Peace of Mind Curriculum. We believe that teaching mindfulness skills to elementary school students as the foundation for social and emotional learning lessons leads to kinder, more empathetic, happier children, and more inclusive schools. I wondered how much emphasis the school the corner kids were heading to placed on social and emotional learning, and whether the group of kids had considered the lone kid.
As I was approaching the corner, contemplating what I could do to brighten the boy’s day, I saw the kids on the opposite corner begin to look his way and talk a bit louder. My heart sank, my breath constricted, my stomach hurt, and my body’s emotional memories of middle school were triggered, expecting the old story of exclusion and teasing to play out. And then, unexpectedly my whole body relaxed as I watched what unfolded:
The two groups of kids on corner merged into one, called out friendly greetings to the boy, and crossed the street, covering him with their umbrellas – not to make him uncomfortable, but to include him. As I passed I saw a slow smile forming on the boy’s face, and felt an easiness in the group.
Beautiful. Hopeful. Profound. A new story.
We know that children have the innate desire and ability to be kind. We know they want to have good relationships with their friends, and nearly every child would rather work out a problem peacefully. We also know that young children, not to mention older children and adults, often have a hard time noticing and managing their emotions so that they can act or speak kindly and make decisions that strengthen relationships and make compromise possible.
Mindfulness helps. Someone in that group on the corner was mindful of the lone boy’s predicament and motivated his or her peers to make a kind choice. It’s hard to know if this changed the boy’s life in any meaningful way, though it did bring a smile to his face on a cold wet morning. But we do know, based on current research and our own experience, that the kids who acted in this kind way are likely to feel happy about it, and to act in kind ways again.
Even though this is what we teach, this simple kind act of moving the umbrellas from one side of the street to the other took my breath away. Our children already have the innate ability to create a more peaceful, fair and kind world. It’s our job to help them see this and to model and nurture the behavior that will get us there.
– Cheryl Dodwell, E.D. Peace of Mind Inc, 2/23/18