No matter who we are, at some point in our daily walks through life, we encounter someone we just don’t like (or someone who dislikes us) for no apparent reason other than we rub each other the wrong way.
I see this condition arise among people over and over again—in the politics of a workplace, as a cause of upheaval among church congregations, within civic organizations, even on public transportation (“I refuse to ride with that bus driver!”).
I’m sure every one of us has had this reaction to someone with whom we must come into contact. Does this mean we have to rally others to stand with us against this person, or to stop attending something that is meaningful to us? We must remember that our response to these types of situations sets an example for our children.
Given the opportunity, children become quite good at working things out between themselves. They cannot, however, be expected to do so just because we tell them to. We need to give them the specific words necessary to effectively express themselves: “I don’t like it when you say this, or do that, or treat me this way—it makes me feel bad. Please stop!”, or “I’m using this right now, you can use it when I’m finished with it.” It never ceases to amaze me how quickly children respond to each other once they learn to communicate in this way.
Even as children become teens, we will find it necessary to remind them again and again how important it is to practice this kind of communication in order to get along in the world. Indeed, a lesson once learned the hard way runs over us like a train in a completely different situation, sometimes over and over.
We need to remember to learn from their example as well. Because young children live so in the moment they are able to let go of a disagreement without holding a grudge.
Children will mirror the way they see us behaving, regardless of what we tell them. We forget how much little ones pick up from eavesdropping on conversations we hold in their presence, conversations not intended for little ears. It can be quite shocking to hear the things that come out of the mouths of babes until we realize that they are parroting our very choices in words and intonations.
When I encounter a difficult relationship, I know there is a little girl inside who is reacting to something that happened long ago, and I need to remind myself that I am beautiful, capable, and competent adult.
We have a most powerful role in helping to shape these young people entrusted to our care. Rather than allowing ourselves to be sucked into feelings that are petty and mean (we all do it), we need to put principles before personality and remember that children follow our lead.
RDW (2006, revised 2010)