Healing The Silent Hurts

My son came home today with a giant piece of paper with his name written in the middle, surrounded by several incredibly kind words and phrases that his friends had used to describe him. He was beaming with pride when he showed me. It was, by far, his proudest moment in school to date.

To be recognized and appreciated for who we are, and to know that we are truly seen, is something that we all need in life.

When I was in grade 4, I was the new kid in school. Early on the school year I only had a few friends, and my self esteem was fragile at best. Our teacher decided one day to make the kids in our class stand up at the front of the room one by one so everyone could take turns saying something nice about them. Most of these kids had known each other since kindergarten, so their comments were the heartwarming, fun and silly sorts of things that you would expect to be said. I sat, slumped down low in my chair hoping the teacher wouldn’t see me, while I listened miserably to person after person being praised.

Eventually though, I had to take my turn. I stood, sullenly, beside the teacher’s desk with my back to the chalk board, and stared at my shoes. The room was quiet. There was a creaky spot in the floor under my foot, and I pushed on it a few times with my toe. I scratched my arm and looked up at the class.

“You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met,” said the girl directly in front of me.

“You’re really funny, too,” said the boy beside her.

I stared in disbelief as one by one the kids in my class took turns piecing my self confidence back together. Their words helped me to redefine the fractured image I had of myself. I had no idea any of these kids even knew my name, yet here they were telling me all sorts of truths that I had long since stopped believing. I wished they had told me sooner, but I was so grateful to be hearing it for the first time.

This is the kind of thing that I want to see more of in our schools. I want to see our kids building each other up with their words and their actions. I want our kids to know that they are valued, not just at home, but among their peers and in their community. I want our kids to also stand up and say something when they see that someone doesn’t value themselves. Kind words and an open heart can go a long way to healing the silent hurts of the world.


Why I Had to Undo the Damage Done by My Son’s Classroom Sticker Chart


“I feel sad, because I’m not nice enough,” was how my son greeted me when I picked him up from school earlier this week.

It turns out that his kindergarten class had started using a sticker chart for niceness that day.  This may sound innocent and sweet in theory, but I cringed at the very mention of it.  Don’t get me wrong, I think there can be a time and a place for sticker and visual charts, but I don’t think they belong with a group of highly suggestible 4 and 5-year-olds who are learning how to get along with their peers.

According to my son, every time someone is nice to one of their classmates, that child will receive a sticker. After three stickers there will be some kind of reward.

“I wonder if I’ll get a toy,” my son mused after he finished explaining the process to me. My heart dropped.

You see, kindness should not be something we do in hopes of receiving a reward. Kindness is its own reward, and that is what my husband and I have been working hard to teach all three of our children.

We teach our children to hold doors open for the people behind them in order to help make someone else’s day a little easier. We encourage them to ask their friends if they are feeling okay when they look sad, so that their friends know that someone cares. These are some of the small acts of kindness that lay the foundation for the larger ones. These are the steps we take toward understanding compassion, and knowing that the world revolves around all of us equally, and at the same time.

My son’s educators had the very best of intentions when they introduced their sticker chart, and I applaud their efforts to promote kindness in the classroom, but I wonder if they thought through the possible outcomes of this reward system:

-Focusing on getting a reward, rather than on the act of kindness itself

-Seeing a visual comparison among all the children

-Feelings of failure for not earning very many stickers

-Feelings of superiority for having more stickers than someone else

On that first day of the sticker chart, my son explained more about why he felt he wasn’t nice enough.  “Mom, I’m kind and nice every day. I always help people, and I always say and do nice things, but it’s not good enough, because some kids got more stickers than me today.  It’s not fair.”

He’s not wrong.  My son is a very thoughtful, kind and considerate person, and it’s not fair to measure those types of traits in a way that could make him feel as though he is less than someone else.

“You don’t need stickers to prove that you are kind,” I explained.  “Tell me, how does your heart feel when you do something nice for someone?”

“It feels good,” he replied.  “It feels full.  I like it.”

“And what do you like more?” I asked.  “Having a full heart, or seeing a sticker on a chart?”

“My heart,” he said immediately. “I like how I feel when I make people happy.”  

“Then that’s your reward, and it’s the kind of reward that will stay with you forever.  It’s the reward that you should be proud of the most.”

Perhaps for some of the kids, this system will encourage them to think more about kindness, and maybe it will make the classroom a nicer place overall.  For my son though, I will continue to work on teaching kindness as a way of life, and maybe those stickers can serve as something pretty to look at, but his heart is far more beautiful than any sticker will ever be.