I remember a car conversation from many years ago. One of my boys was just five and experiencing some difficulties on the playground. After he lamented about how horribly he was being treated by some of his friends, I said this:
Buddy, this is going to be a little hard to hear, and it is something that many adults don’t even know. But, I know a secret to living a happy life. Do you think you are old enough to hear this secret?
He wanted in on the secret. Little did he know that this secret, although accurate and important, is something that people choose to deny, fight against, and even start wars over.
Okay, I think you are ready. Here it is.
The only person you can control is YOU.
This means that even if those boys are being very mean and what they are doing is wrong, you cannot change them. You can only change you.
So, if you’d like the situation to get better, what do you think you could do to help it?
He went on to share some ideas of things that he could do to change the boys. Maybe he could be very nice to them, and then they would change. Maybe he could tell a teacher. Maybe he could use kind words to ask the boys to stop what they were doing.
You could do those things, and maybe they would work. The important part of this message is that you cannot change others. Only they can decide to do that. You can only change yourself.
This is so hard to understand because there may be times when you are doing absolutely the right thing and someone else is doing absolutely the wrong thing, yet if you want the situation to change, you have to be the one to change. That doesn’t seem fair at all, but it is the way life works. If you wait for the world to change for you, you may wait forever.
Some people never understand this and spend their entire lives pretty unhappy as they wait for others to change.
If you’d like things to get better right away, how could you make a change that you have control over? What could you do?
He decided he could walk away, find other people to play with, and try not to get upset when his friends were not being kind. He knew that he could turn to an adult at school if things got bad, but the challenges he was facing were ones he would face for the rest of his life. I wanted him to get some practice resolving issues on his own, beginning at this young age.
I will never claim to be a parenting guru. I have had my share of parenting ups and downs, and I will continue to have them. This is one lesson, though, that is important for all children to have, and it is a lesson that is often missing from conversations with children.
Children deserve the opportunity to learn that there is so much within their control–their own actions, their own thinking, and through those two things they can control much of how they feel. Waiting for others to change is a battle they will not win, and they deserve to know that too.
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. -Barack Obama
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That is what I tell my kids all the time!