Teach the Children Well

By Karen SolomonJuly 10, 2014

There are two extreme ways some people seem to view life. One says, “Life is long, painful, and we all die in the end.” Wow, that’s a downer. Are you sure you want to keep reading? Well, how’s this? “Life is a sweet, melodious journey filled with love and joy.” Much better. But what about the truths in between? What about the balance of dark and light? And more importantly, how do you communicate that to a child? How do we ensure they look at life as a joy and a gift, in spite of the moments when it feels like a chore? How do we let them know they are valuable and their life will be what they make it, not what someone else says it is?

It’s not easy. I know, because somewhere along the line, I didn’t get the message. My failure to see the glass as half-full brought me to my knees. Actually, it was more like I was in sand up to my neck. Laxatives became my best friend, and they are related to bulimia. Bulimia was more than happy to bring in her friend depression, and then completed the party with her close relative: suicide attempts.

Thankfully, hospitalization jumped in and helped me out. She had a little help from the small voice in my head that managed to filter through all the poisonous noise and guide me back to health. This whole process started when I was 11 years old and ended with three suicide attempts at age 25.

In reality, it hasn’t really “ended.” Each day is a new silent struggle, but I manage to get through it by telling myself the things I wish someone had told me when I was young and knowing that while it’s true life will have its end, somewhere in between there will be happiness.

What are those things I wish someone had told me? Well, it’s not just saying something; it’s living and emulating behaviors. Things that will transform a child into a compassionate, self-aware adult. In the ever-changing game of life, there is not one magic formula to prevent a person from spiraling into depression, succumbing to the lies of a bully, or continuing a cycle of violence. We never know what action or affirmation might pull someone from the rubble—so we’ve got to offer as many as we can.

You Don’t Have to Be a Parent. Some of the greatest influencers in my life weren’t my parents. They were the neighbors with whom I have been friends for nearly 40 years, my Big Sister who was matched with me over 30 years ago, and my beloved grandmother. They always seemed to know when I needed someone and cared enough to provide support. Whether or not I shared my feelings all the time was irrelevant, as long as I had a friend to call my own. You too can be the mentor, “big brother/sister,” great neighbor, coach, or advocate a young person needs.

Be Kind. Give children more than words of praise; show them kindness. Bring them into the circle if they are standing off to the side. Offer them a chance to show their strengths. Kindness is powerful. When a young boy desperately needed attention, I welcomed him into my home and treated him like family. That was eight years ago. Now 12, he comes over to brag about his accomplishments, ask for advice, or offer to help around the yard. When there is trouble at home, he visits until he feels things have settled down. His parents once thanked me for giving him a safe place to go; whether or not it was his own home, the important thing was that he had one.   

Be a Friend. We are told we can’t be a mother, father, aunt, uncle, etc. and still be a friend at the same time. But yes, you can, and you must. Every young person needs an adult friend. They need to know there is someone standing behind them to pick them up when they fall, to laugh and cry with them. If they don’t have a trusted friend, they will never learn to ask for help when they need it. It’s a fine line, but I trust you can learn how to walk it.

Communicate. Each night after the lights are turned off, I ask my kids if there is anything on their minds, anything they saw or heard that confused them. The darkness gives them anonymity to speak freely. Some of our best conversations are held at this time, and it’s built a foundation for trust and confidence. Find your communication groove with the young people who need you in their lives.

Have Faith. I am not a religious person, but I had faith in something when I needed it. You can have faith in a pet rock for all I care—if that rock gets you through the day, it’s the most powerful possession you have. Teach your child to believe in both themselves and something outside of them.

Move On. We all make mistakes, some of them more serious than others, but we’ve got to pick ourselves up and move forward. We can’t let the mistakes define us or fester inside. The mind is a tricky thing; it can consume you and bring you to a place from which you may not be able to return. Don’t give it that chance. Teach children to forgive themselves, and if they can do this, they can recover.

Share. Be honest. Tell them you’ve had a hard time. Don’t be ashamed. It’s OK to struggle. Where you are today isn’t the only thing that matters; your journey does. Let others learn from it—like Aesop’s fables, every story has a moral.

Above all, tell young people there is hope when they feel lost, that they must ask for help when they need it, that they can talk to you—no matter what—and you will hear what they say. There are many things in life that hurt like hell, but there is an incredible rainbow on the other side waiting for us. All the angst children and teens are experiencing may define their life, but it can do so in an incredibly positive and powerful way. Make them believe that.

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Comments (12)

  1. Sandy Sandmeyer

    Thank you for being so vulnerable, Karen. You are a wonderful example despite all those silly things you do. 🙂 I know your kids love having you as their mom. I love having you as my friend.

    Reply  |  
    1. Karen

      XO! Thank you Sandy, I am lucky to have you!

      Reply  |  
  2. Lorri Morris

    One of the most heart touching written pieces I’ve read. Beautiful.

    Reply  |  
    1. Karen

      Thank you Lorri, I am so glad you enjoyed it

      Reply  |  
  3. Sofia

    Reading this made my heart feel so heavy because I’ve never had someone like this in my life, someone there for me or someone to even talk to. This bottomless pit of loneliness inside of me will never go away.

    Reply  |  
    1. Karen

      Hi Sofia,
      I am so sorry you have so much loneliness. I know how hard it is, there is no magic formula to find someone and I hope someday you do. Please make sure your heart is open and you can see when someone wants to help you. I had a very hard time seeing for a very long time. I didn’t realize that I actually had people to help me, I was too closed off to notice. I wish you the best of luck and love in your journey.

      Reply  |  
    2. Kelly

      I used to feel the exact same way, and then I stumbled upon this story about a group of friends helping a girl into rehab. I’m not trying to belittle your feelings, because I do know how heavy that feeling is, but this organization has always been evidence that these kinds of people exist, and that even though they’re far away or not in our lives yet, we can look for them. Better yet, we can become these kinds of people, sharing our stories and being heard while helping others and seeing them through their darkest days. I hope you find the strength and courage to find someone to talk to. I know they’re out there, and that you’re stronger than you think for acknowledging your lonely journey.

      Reply  |  
  4. June Whyte

    Very good info very true we need. I think this type of info shoukd be included in school aswell. Thanks

    Reply  |  
  5. Kelsie

    Thank you for inspiring me. Very well written. It’s so important for kids, or anyone for that matter to reach out when they need help. Some people are scared or ashamed to, but if they don’t reach out no one will be able to help. Please reach out!

    Reply  |  
  6. krissy

    Share. Be honest. Tell them you’ve had a hard time. Don’t be ashamed. It’s OK to struggle. Where you are today isn’t the only thing that matters; your journey does. Let others learn from it—like Aesop’s fables, every story has a moral.

    Reply  |  
  7. Jo Ann Keith

    Hi Karen,
    Thank you for your story. At your convenience, please email me outside this web. I would like to give you my contact info and speak with you brieflyon something that helped me. Thank you. Jo Ann Keith, Chaplain LRPD, PCSO

    Reply  |  
  8. Michael

    Amazing courage and honesty. I respect and honor your journey more than you know…

    Reply  |  
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