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Front Line Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management / Storytellers

Strengthening the Oaks

oak tree roots-flexible

I have three nephews who are the lights of my life.

At six, three and one years old, they are going through the beautiful stages of discovering the world, imaginative play and pepperings of endless questions. Their energy, giggles and pretends are all gifts that I cherish each and every day.

My one year old nephew is pretty much happy to climb inside his mom’s tomato pots, dirt notwithstanding; my three year old nephew is already expressively pragmatic, wanting to know how things work and why. If there’s a more logical process that can be used to achieve and end, it’s almost guaranteed that he’ll think of it. For him, crossing the monkey bars hand over hand makes no sense. He’s fond of telling the other kids at the park that it would be easier if they just got down and walked across.

My six year old nephew, however is the creator.

He imagines stories, people, worlds and games. He sees opportunities for innovation and doing things in crazy ways, and loves to show us his projects and discoveries. I could tell him our couch fort is really a cave of pirate treasure, and he’ll pick up the story all by himself and in minutes everyone will have pirate names, costumes, and even a way to the plank.

But one of his daily struggles is his inflexibility.

If he begins a game, he needs to finish it; if he makes a discovery, he must turn over every rock or look at every bug; and if he’s designing some art work, his heart and mind need to complete it until he feels it’s time to stop. Otherwise his entire world is out of whack. He’s a “strong oak,” rooted in where he is in the moment, while his younger brother is more of a “gentle willow,” able to bend and flex with the times. When we see these kinds of traits in our kids as parents, teachers, after-school care providers, extended family or friends, how do we respond?

In terms of rigidity, our immediate response is to somehow massage ways into our children’s lives where they can learn to become flexible. A great irony in our world is that our world demands we be flexible. For some kids, that’s just not how they’re wired.

That’s not to say I can’t begin helping my six year old nephew with transitions, giving him a generous heads up before we leave the park; or perhaps offering a select few, easy-to-understand options to his one-and-only-way of doing things with another generous amount of time for him to think about those options. Usually if he considers them in his own head without the pressure of everyone looking at him, he’s more than amiable to come to a compromise.

Today, however, I want to underscore the strengths of our strong oak children who struggle with transitions, change and being inflexible. It certainly is in their best interests (and ours) to find gentle ways to help them learn to adapt to an always-changing world; but far too often we ignore the strengths of being so rooted in self, ability and character.

For example, a strong oak could show a great capacity for faithfulness.

Once a friendship is struck, that friendship will stick. A strong oak might very well show incredible focus; the need to finish what’s begun is a sign that detail is important, completion is important, and paying attention to the world is important. A strong oak can be reliable and dependable; those chores will get done, the homework will be completed, and curfew will be respected (even if the boundaries are pushed, as any child will do to varying degrees).

Sometimes we look to assist our children in adapting to the world so much that we forget that their “undesirable” traits aren’t all that undesirable. They’re powerful parts of who they are and will support their character growth in years to come.

For breakfast today I had Cinnamon Flax Blueberry Cereal and a Gala Apple.

Author Profile: @erinthomas

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