Ben Zoma would say, “Who is wise? One who learns from every man.” Ben Zoma would say, “Who is wise? The one who learns from every person, as it is said, “from all those who taught me I gained understanding.” Psalms 119:99
As we begin a new school year, I am mindful of the need to stop and take a moment to reflect on the lessons acquired from the countless number of children that I have learned from in the many years of working with young people. Whether it was as a camp counselor, youth leader, educator, therapist or mom, I have spent thousands of hours with children, my own and others. When I think about why I choose to work with children, the answer is simple… because I like them. I like them because they are honest, kind and open minded. I like them because they are flexible, willing to try new things and accepting of change or a new way of doing things.
There are so many moments, too many to count, during my years of working with children, where I have had an “a ha” moment. I have realized that I was just taught something new, that I had been changed for the better by the wisdom and voice of a child. Children are more than capable of challenging the wisest of adults, with their thought-provoking questions. For example, I work at a sleepaway camp for three weeks every summer. The camp has an inclusion program and every year, we start the summer season by having meaningful conversations with campers about ensuring others inclusion despite our differences. While speaking to a bunk of 8-year-old girls, I was overwhelmed with this conversation. The dialogue was mature, their comments were inclusive, kind and compassionate. At that moment this summer, I realized again the wisdom of our children is astounding.
As adults, we have an obligation to our children… do not underestimate them. Talk to them, challenge them, learn from them, listen to them. If we take time to listen to the voices of our children, we can learn something about kindness, how to treat others and human-kindness. Children challenge us to ask why not, rather than why? Children challenge us with ferocious optimism, humility and gratitude. Sometimes, as an adult, we just need to stop talking and listen, listen to our children. Ask them their opinion, engage them in a meaningful conversation. I promise you they have truly remarkable ideas, thoughts and feelings to share.
One of my most memorable moments of my recent summer at camp, and perhaps one of my most memorable moments with a child, came from a walk I took with a young camper who needed a kind ear. If you know me, you know I have a silly side. During our walk together, I passed one member of the leadership team that I have been working very closely with this summer and I commented to the camper that she is my “PIC”, my Partner in Crime. I had to explain to the child walking with me, what that mean, that it was a fun way of saying we do a lot of fun things together every day. The camper turned to me and said, “You are my POMS.” I asked her what that meant and she quickly replied, “the person on my side.”
My job as a therapist and parent, is to wake up each morning and always try to be the person “you needed when you were younger.” That caring, trusted adult who will listen, empathize, guide and support without judgment. As parents, we all have that incredible opportunity to inspire our children, to teach them resiliency, kindness, gratitude, flexibility, tolerating disappointment, the gift of failure, inclusion and so much more. I am honored to have a job where I work with children, people who I not only care for, but learn from. I always strive to be someone else’s POMS (person on my side). “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” (Angela Schwindt)
As parents, we are all gearing up to start yet another school year. Whether you are a parent, aunt or uncle, grandparent, teacher or a trusted adult, I encourage you to open your heart to the wisdom of our children. In my many years of working with children, I have learned that young people have the power to teach me each day. My own daughter, just yesterday, reminded me the powerful lesson of activism. While at the bus stop, she overheard a boy saying unkind and hateful words about a minority group. She stood up to him and said in front of her peers, “Don’t talk like that.” When he ignored her, and kept going on being mean, she decided to tell her school guidance counselor. At home, my husband and I teach my children to be unwaveringly accepting and kind to everyone, always, no acceptations. Our children know that there is a zero-tolerance policy for unkindness. It is amazing to learn that when we are not around, our children stand up for others. They are upstanders, not bystanders. Our children fight for the rights of others. A favorite quote of mine, guides my parenting style when it comes to accepting others:
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Benjamin Franklin
Every day, if you listen, children will teach you to always give someone a second chance, to believe in surprises, remind you that we don’t need screens to have fun, that we all have measurable imaginations, our differences are what make us the most special, it is never too late to say I’m sorry, being an upstander is not negotiable and to find the good in all things. It is my belief that when we listen to the voices of our children, hear their thoughts and feelings, pay attention to their message, we become better adults, better parents, better teachers, role models and human beings.
Emily Greenberger, LCSW-C is the co-owner and Clinical Director of Collaborative Counseling Center. She has three children.