The goal of every workshop I give is simply to plant seeds—to get children to think before they take action. I make it a point not to tell them what to think, but I do hope to inspire an understanding that every choice we make creates who we are and carves out our path.
I ask endless questions. Have you ever felt left out? Bullied? Have you ever accidently, or on purpose, bullied others? I make sure to include the teachers so kids can see them raise their hands—hoping students will feel more open to imperfection and take responsibility for their own mistakes if they see adults admit to their faults.
I do the same with my own kids. I don’t always provide the answers. My intent is to inspire thought—and maybe a connection with their conscience. It isn’t a big step. But I’m hoping they begin to make it a habit to examine their motives, learn from their bad decisions, and make good choices that define their character.
One day recently, while picking up or dropping off—from somewhere, as we parents do—I sat behind the wheel listening to a backseat conversation between my daughter and son. They talked about school, friends and other events of the day—as kids do—without much thought—at first.
Then they began reminiscing about the move we made the previous year from our home upstate. We’d packed up and headed back to Westchester County after spending seven years in the country. It was a challenge for both of them.
My son was entering his second year of middle school and my daughter was about to become a fifth grader in a new school, after experiencing the kind of popularity that won her a third-grade student council election by a landslide.
I remember spending a good portion of that year trying to make sure my girl developed a sense of compassion and empathy. I wanted her to understand that popularity carried a certain level of responsibility. She did pretty well, but I knew that compassion is usually earned by experiencing a few pitfalls.
Clearly, the new town and the new school year would bring its challenges, but I hoped it would also build the character of my kids and help them grow as people. I worried, even though my son not only reassured me he’d be fine, but emphasized the value of his sister possibly seeing life from the “other side.” I remember feeling more than a bit awed by the insight of a 12-year-old.
As I listened to my offspring chat about “the good old days” back in the country, my daughter spoke of all of her friends and how much they meant to her. Then she paused suddenly.
“Mom,” she said.
“I think I left people out, sometimes.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, knowing I was about to hear the fifth-grade epiphany I’d hoped for.
“I didn’t know it then, but I left people out and it must have made them sad. I know what that feels like now. I’m really going to try not to do that ever again,” she said, more to herself than to me. “I didn’t know I was doing it, but it still wasn’t nice.”
It’s funny, when they have our support and guidance, the bad experiences we fear most can truly become the most valuable.
It’s all about the seeds.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert is a screenwriter, performer, the author of the I’ve Got character-building book series for children, and was 2010’s Woman of Achievement in the Arts Honoree for Orange County, NY. Calling upon her professional acting experience on Broadway, film and television, she speaks out and takes her books into classrooms hoping to help kids build character, develop empathy and learn to create a positive future through creative dramatics activities.