Last week I enjoyed helping Delaware County Christian School (DCCS.org) with their LOVE, American Experience camp for 30 Chinese middle school students. My wife and I hosted 3 girls and I was with the group for 3 and a half days taking pictures. In that time many of the kids in this group touched my heart.
I had an incident with two boys. One was 13 year old Leon, a pleasant, heavyset child. He seemed to be misplaced. Not being mature enough to hang out with the older boys who were more his size he hung out with the younger boys and stuck out physically. One of those younger boys was 12 year old Legend, tall, very thin and athletically gifted. While we were walking through a HUGE corn maze there was a scuffle. I turned around to see both Legend and Leon causing the disturbance and knocking some things over. From what I saw it was clearly Legend’s fault but I teased them both and said “Leon, did you do that?” Immediately Legend in his broken English said “No,
I did. It is my fault.” Besides being the first English “sentence” I heard him utter, I was pleased by his admission of ownership. A few moments later when there was a “private” moment I put my hand on Legend’s shoulder and I told him I was very proud of him and considered him a real man since he was honest and took responsibility for what happened. From then on I called him Honest and Honorable Legend. At first it appeared he did not care. But then I noticed that Legend was never far from me. While we had to call and gather up others in the group, Legend was always a few feet away from me. This happened on subsequent field trips as well. Legend was always close by. He did anything I asked and was very respectful and kind to me. We “bonded” over my praise of his responsible act. He even asked me to send him pictures and gave me his personal WeChat information so we could stay in touch. (Chinese students, like their American counterparts love pictures of themselves!) I still refer to him as Honest and Honorable Legend.
Then yesterday I spoke to the Parent who hosted Legend at her house. She told me she did not trust Legend. I was shocked. How could this be? To me he was honest and honorable. She went on to say that she had an incident at King of Prussia Mall, presently the largest Mall in America. For obvious reasons she was worried about her two 12 year old boys because of their young age and poor English and the size of the mall. She lectured them on staying with the older Chinese students. However, she says within 15 minutes they had broken off from the group. She told me, she is sure they understood but chose to disobey. From that point on she did not trust them. (For understanding, this parent is a Lawyer and a wonderful mom! Not someone who would easily be fooled.)
I have been thinking about this. Same child. One adult caught him being honest and honorable and praised him for that and he rose to the expectation. The other adult caught him being disobedient and she says she could not trust him for the last week and a half.
When Legend left, as is tradition for Chinese, he gave me a gift. I expressed my joy in getting to know him. He gave me a huge hug and his WeChat information to keep in contact. I have since sent him several pictures all of which he has responded with kindness and respect.
I am not defending Legend and his Mall disobedience. I know the older kids did not always want to hang out with 12 year olds. One can imagine it was more comfortable for Legend to leave that group, yet it was disobedience. But what I find remarkable, is from those incidents on how he responded to someone who assumed he would be naughty and to someone who assumed he would be honest and honorable. And based on those assumptions and establishing a respectful relationship, who now has influence over him. Someone who hosted him and had him in their home for two and a half weeks, or someone who spent 3 and a half days with him? Interesting isn’t it?
Please don’t misunderstand. I am not saying we should ignore children when they do wrong. But some how some way through prayer it is essential to see what gifts and talents God has given a child and praise him when you see those gifts and good things being displayed. Then, through the love and respect of communicating those praiseworthy characteristics and events, you will establish a relationship and have influence to be able to correct and guide.
I can’t lie, some kids are really hard to bond with. I have personally struggled with some children. My last job working directly with children was at a Daycare. One boy came to us after being dismissed from another center. Both his mom and dad had gone through rehab and were out of the home for months at a time. At age 3 he was unable to rely on any adult. He cried for the first two weeks. None of us found it easy to love this boy. Seriously, I can still remember the drone of his crying louder, then softer, louder, then softer. It was awful! But then I was convicted. Someone needed to love this child and I decided I could do it. My love for him did not happen quickly. It was HARD! I persevered and even took a turn and held him, rocked him, talked with him. Finally, he began to trust his teacher and then me. He spent another year and a half at our center. When he left there was no way to know he had such a horrible beginning. He was a typical rowdy, fun, loving boy on his way to kindergarten.
When staff discussed his leaving I mentioned my difficult journey in bonding and liking this boy. One teacher said, “Mark, you seemed to really press in and worked hard at helping that boy. And you were not his teacher. Others stayed away, but you pressed in. We thought you liked him from the start.”
I explained how I actually did not like him from the start and had to purposely be determined to like him. That was why I was, as she described it “pressing in.” In the end I was privileged to not only be able to influence him but also his grandmother, father and mother. On several occasions I was able to encourage his mom to make wise decisions. In fact his mom and father separated and it looked like they were going to enter into a nasty legal battle for custody. Between the grandmother, father and mother there were already legal maneuvers that spelled trouble. Together with a Pastor, I was able to get the father and mother to calm down and both commit to doing what was best for their son. They both backed off and separated peaceably by agreeing to a joint custody solution. I am sure my influence was a result of patiently establishing a relationship. First the relationship, then the influence.
I am saddened when I hear parents, teachers and other leaders of children talk about a child they believe to be “bad” or “naughty.” I wonder if they spent more time understanding the child’s gifts and talents and helping her thrive in those gifts and talents, the adults would have more influence in helping bring about positive change.
Next time you want to complain about a child, pray and ask God to help you establish a relationship. Then you will have the influence to make a difference. Then they will listen to you.