When I ask parents what they want for their child, happiness is usually on the list. Their child’s needs may be many or few, but every parent hopes their child will find happiness in spite of their needs. When parents say this, I listen carefully to find out what they really mean. Do they want their child to develop the skills to be happy in life, or are they asking that we not make them unhappy, even if it’s just occasionally? This is important, because while we can work with the first parent’s wish, we will not succeed with the second.
I was reminded of this today when my co-teacher and I caused S., one of our camp kids, to cry. He had played a long time with a piece of equipment, and other children wanted to play with it too. We set the timer and then explained that it was time to let others have a turn. This did not go over well with him, and he clung tightly to the toy and wailed. Tarish and I didn’t even need to look at each other to know what to do. We gently but firmly stuck to our guns. We took turns sitting with him in his sadness, but even when the toy became available again, we explained that at JRA, you don’t get what you cry, or whine, or nag, or pitch a fit for.
It’s important that parents understand that JRA is not Narnia, but a place where children struggle with the day-to-day details of how to learn, live, work, play, be a friend, and yes, be happy. This isn’t easy. Kids fall short and fall down and sometimes fall apart for a while. That’s okay. We’re there to catch them. And we believe that every child deserves joy every day and so we build in opportunities for that to happen. But learning the skills that enable one to be happy in life isn’t always fun. We persevere because we know that the momentary pleasure that comes from always getting one’s way doesn’t last. It is having courage, character and resilience that come from deep within that makes a happy life a possibility. Those are qualities that must be forged and tested in order to become a lasting part of us.
When S.’s mother came today, I explained what had happened and why he didn’t get to play on the toy. She nodded and said, “That’s the rule at home too.” She seemed pleased that we loved S. enough to endure the storms he sent our way. I was pleased to realize this was a parent whose child we could help. And the hug and big smile he gave us as he left told us we’re on the right path.