I never knew I was stupid until I went to school

Stupid is a very broad term for kids. In their minds, it includes their academic performance but also their behaviour and level of social acceptance.
Before I went to school, I just lived my life. I liked myself. Life was good. When I went to school, everything became about levels and scores and grades. Everyone started measuring my performance and comparing me to others. Now I’m the stupidest kid in the class. I’m stupid because I don’t know the answer, but I’m also stupid because I get in trouble.
By the second or third week of school, the honeymoon ends for too many kids – especially boys. I have had a number of calls and emails from mothers who have just received their first “call home” of the year. Their son is “having trouble.”
It’s never the school or the teacher who is having trouble – it’s always the boy.

All behaviour is logical. If you put a squirmy boy in a room and ask him to sit still for long periods of time holding a pencil, he is going to react. His behaviour is normal.

His behaviour appears as a problem for two reasons – the environment is not hospitable to his nature and the expectations of the adults around him are not realistic. “He should be able to sit still and focus on a worksheet for 15 minutes.” No he shouldn’t. The yardstick I suggest for a child’s natural attention span (for things they are not particularly interested in) is their age in minutes. If a child is interested in the task (think video games) this attention span can go up to hours.

Kids’ academic performance suffers when they are frustrated and stressed – not being able to move, not being accepted for who they are and how they naturally act.

When boys cannot move in appropriate ways, they will move in inappropriate ways.
Liam was bored and frustrated by a morning of worksheets, so standing in line, he playfully pushed the boy in front of him – just to have some fun, human connection, stimulation, anything! He ended up standing in the office while the principal called his mother to report on his “bad behaviour.”
“Is he standing there with you now listening to this?” asked the mother.
“Yes,” replied the principal.
“Well, I don’t think it’s appropriate that he be subjected to this humiliation.”
“Well, he’s just got to learn that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated,” replied the principal.
He will learn that, and he will learn some other lessons as well: I am bad.
This place doesn’t work for me. Everyone else (especially the girls) seem to be able to do all this. I must be stupid.
Adults like to say the child is “making bad choices.” Young boys are naturally impulsive. They act first and think later. The impulse control center develops later in boys than it does in girls – thus making girls appear more compliant.
The other place where the “trouble” comes is in reading and writing – skills which generally develop later in boys than they do in girls. When boys have trouble with reading and writing, they compare themselves to others in the class and conclude “I’m stupid.”
The solutions are simple:
  1. Allow squirming (if it’s not negatively affecting anyone else)
  2. Allow standing up while doing school work
  3. Create opportunities for movement
  4. Anticipate and manage impulsive behaviour
  5. Understand the developmental differences between boys and girls
  6. Show empathy and compassion for boys who are struggling in school
  7. Don’t shame, punish or medicate normal boy behaviour

Here’s a simple idea! One School Council made this their fundraising activity.

Stationary Bikes in the Classroom. CBC The Current



Four Promises to Myself for a New School Year

There are a couple of things I want to do differently this year. Now is the time to decide what they are.


1.  I will not let homework ruin our family evenings.

Life is too short to let homework ruin my relationship with my kids. If I had to bring home that much work from work, I wouldn’t be happy doing it either. My child is right. They’ve put in 6 or 7 hours at school. Why should they have to do another hour or two?

Show empathy. Don’t take the side of school. Be on your child’s side – literally. Many kids work better with an adult sitting beside them redirecting their focus. That’s OK. They haven’t developed “regulation of attention” for things they find boring. They will. 

In case of emergency, download this tip sheet: Homework Tips for Extreme Non-Compliance

2.  I will use this change of routine to change our family’s routine around screen time.

During the summer, I let a lot of things go. I forgive myself. With the new school year starting I have the chance to re-introduce some limits.

Researchers recommend a maximum of one hour for a single session of game play and a maximum of 2 hours of screen time for every 5 hours of free time. That might boil down to an hour before dinner and an hour after dinner. Homework must be done first. No screens a half hour before bedtime. No screens in bed. Be firm, fair and consistent. Discuss these limits at a family meeting (dinner) before school starts,

Download this template which I’ve posted previously. Video Game Schedule. Edit it to suit your own situation and post it on the fridge door.

3. I will keep the spirit of summer alive.

Why does going back to school mean not having any more fun? Life doesn’t need to be binge and purge. Let’s have some kind of fun every day – however small! We still have our weekends. Every weekend I will do something fun with my kids and something I enjoy myself – however small!

Adults talk about having a healthy work-life balance. Kids need a healthy school-life balance. For children, life means play – and play doesn’t have to just mean screen time. It can also mean getting outdoors. Fall is a great time for hiking or biking local trails. Google “trails in your town.”

4. I will not let school define my child.

I will not let test marks, report cards or teacher comments make me think my child is somehow a failure or I am somehow a failure. My child is not a “student” to me. This is my baby. I love him no matter what. There is no judgement school could pass on him that would make me love him any less. He is perfect. School measures people with marks and “comments.” I only have one way of measuring my child – by how much I love him. 

I work with many kids who have been “labelled.” There is nothing wrong with having a child’s cognitive exceptionality identified, but no label or assessment can sum up a child’s nature.  All children are gifted with a unique nature. Honour the nature of your child.

What Your Child Means When They Say “I Hate You!”

When children become angry and frustrated with us, it usually has to do with issues of power and control.

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We are always trying to strike a balance between controlling and managing our children on the one hand and giving them the freedom to decide for themselves on the other.

All children are looking for autonomy. They want to be their own boss. This is a good thing. We want to raise children who are self-starting, self-directing and self-regulating. How do we get there? By giving our children freedom of choice and the responsibility that comes with it.

All behaviour is logical. A parent’s job is to try to figure out the logic behind a particular behaviour.

When kids say, “I hate you” it could simply mean they feel a loss of power and control. In this situation all they have left is their “attitude” – which they express through words and actions.

Viktor Frankl, the great Austrian psychologist who survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany said,

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

This is what kids are doing when they say “I hate you.” They are choosing an attitude that will leave them with some remaining sense of power and control in a situation where they feel they have none. It can be seen as a positive and healthy reaction to the limitations they honestly feel.

The only question parents have to ask is: Are the limitations I am imposing on my child reasonable – or are they arbitrary? Are they for the benefit of the child, or am I just satisfying my own need for power and control?

Barbara Coloroso suggests three questions parents can ask themselves when deciding to say yes or no:

  1. Is it harmful to yourself?
  2. Is it harmful to someone else?
  3. Does it violate a moral code?

“I hate you.” Big words for big feelings.

These words are not to be taken as an overall assessment of your relationship. They are the child’s way of dealing with strong feelings. The wise adult needs to understand what’s behind these words, not punish them, fear them or feel guilty about them. Your child doesn’t hate you. Your child loves you and feels safe enough to tell you what they really feel.

What is the appropriate response?

“I can see you’re angry. I understand your frustration, but this is a decision I have to make.”

When the child has a meltdown on the kitchen floor or runs into their room and slams the door, we just have to wait until the storm passes. Let the child have their feelings. There is nothing to be cured, stopped, solved or punished. It’s messy for a while, but it will pass. Deep down the child knows you care.

But the most important fundamental question remains: Are your limitations fair and reasonable or are they an arbitrary exercise of your own power and need for control? Could you just as well have said yes or arrived at some kind of compromise? Freedom teaches responsibility. Excessive control teaches learned helplessness and passivity.



What is the one thing all men want?


Men want what women want – love. Love does not mean sex. It means connection. Where does the myth come from that “men only want one thing” meaning sex?

It comes from the way we raise boys.

Boys start out as touchers and feelers and lovers. Over time, they slowly learn to shut all this down.

Girls and women are permitted, even encouraged, to be nurturing. The words “male” and “nurturing” are seldom used together. Boys and men are raised to be uncomfortable with touch, with their own feelings and the feelings of others.

As they grow into adolescence, all desire for love, connection and touch become reduced to genital sex. This is how you show love, and you can only “do it” with women. All other expressions of nurturance become suspect.

Sebastian Junger, in his book, Tribe: On Homecoming, says the thing men value most in war is not the pleasure of killing other people but the pleasure of close connection with other men. Men bond in battle in a way they bond nowhere else. Soldiers report that their main goal in combat is to protect and take care of each other. He believes the high rate of PTSD and suicide among veterans is caused by the loss of deep connection upon returning home to the isolation all men experience in North American culture.

A panel of five authors who have all closely studied the life of Donald Trump and each written a major biography about him was asked “What really motivates Donald Trump? What is he looking for?” All five authors answered the same way in one word – love. He was raised by an emotionally absent father, sent to an authoritarian military school at an impressionable age, and has been looking for attention, affirmation and love ever since.

To say that men are only interested in sex is like saying women are only interested in hair and make-up.

Men have as broad a range of interests as women do, but they share one deep core need with women – the need to connect. And not just with women, but with other men and their own children.

When this need is not met, men’s lives are reduced to a lonely, harsh world of one upmanship. They turn to work, money and possessions to find meaning. They numb themselves with video games, alcohol and drugs.

We need a men’s liberation movement lead by men who are able to express love in all the ways women do. Men need to claim their capacity for nurturance.

Media and popular culture depict men as violent, irresponsible, sex-obsessed predators. Men need to talk back to these images of themselves and redefine what it means to be a man – kind, nurturing, loving.

When your son shows sensitivity and nurturing behaviour, honour it. It is not weak or feminine. It is one of his greatest strengths. It’s what will make him resilient. Shutting down emotions and acting tough do not make a person stronger. They make a person weaker.


10 Things Every Boy Would Like to Say to His Mother


1. I love you

I don’t say this in words because I don’t think words have that much power. I prefer actions. When I do something nice for you that means I love you. Usually I just think it or feel it and that’s enough for me. I forget that you want to hear it. Sorry about that. I’ll learn this when I get older. In the meantime, trust me – I love you. How could I not? You’re my mother!

2.  I need to move

Don’t always be worried that I’m going to hurt myself or break something or make you look bad by being so squirmy. I need to move, and my movements are not always predictable. That’s the way I’m made. Work with it. I’m not going to bang into anything or anybody. Stop worrying. Enjoy my need for movement. It’s how I enjoy life. It makes me happy to move.

3.  Don’t freak out

When you yell, I get scared and nervous. When I tell you something and you yell, it reminds me not to tell you things. I keep them to myself because I’m afraid you’ll freak out. I want to be able to tell you everything, but I need you to be able to handle it without scaring me. When you’re stressed, I get stressed.

4.  Sometimes you talk too much

You’re better at words than I am. Words take me a bit of time and energy. I like short sentences. I can take that in. But sometimes you talk in paragraphs – many paragraphs – and I just can’t take all that in. At the beginning, I think I know what you’re saying, but after all those words come out, I’m not sure what the point is anymore.

5.  Sometimes I need to talk back

I want to be my own boss. This doesn’t mean I’m bad or stubborn.  You’re your own boss. I want to be like you someday. I don’t talk back unless I feel there’s a good reason. Don’t shut me down. Help me to be honest, and help me to think through my anger. I will need to talk back to people in my life when I don’t like what they’re doing. Let me practice with you.

6.  School is boring sometimes

Don’t worry when I say this. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be a failure. It’s just how I feel. I’ll learn to deal with it, but it’s nice to be able to say it out loud. I can’t say it at school. Don’t try to talk me out of this feeling or convince me that I’m wrong. Just listen.

7.  I need to hug and snuggle

I don’t always ask for it, and I don’t even know sometimes that I need it, but I do. Like I said before, words don’t have that much power for me. Actions – especially touching –  is super powerful. That’s how I know I’m loved. That’s how I know I’m worth something. Words can lie. It’s hard to lie with a hug.

8.  Don’t criticize my video games

I don’t criticize your interests or hobbies. I like to see when you are passionate about something and know a lot about it. That’s how video games are for me. Let me tell you about them. They’re interesting and fun. I will admit that sometimes I do need help getting off them. They just pull me in and I can’t do it myself.

9. Take care of yourself

When you’re happy and healthy, Mom, I feel more happy and healthy. I love to hear you laugh. It makes me relax. When you take care of yourself, it’s like you’re taking care of me somehow. When you focus too much on taking care of me, you seem worried and stressed, and I feel like there’s something wrong – either with you or me. I’m not sure.

10. When I act like I’m embarrassed by you, don’t take it seriously

I might not admit it, but there is a part of me that likes when you do things that nobody else does. I feel like adults are all acting the same way sometimes, and at school, all the kids have to act a certain way. When I see you being different or standing up for something, it makes me happy. It’s you being you – and it makes me realize that I can be me.




Redefining Masculinity

In the age of Donald Trump, the question of strong positive masculinity has never been more relevant.


Donald Trump represents a form of masculinity from the past that is slowly dying. It values aggression, competition and humiliation of others to gain power and control (also known as bullying). Donald Trump is a “strong” man because he shouts, attacks those who disagree with him and seems to be incapable of compassion or self-criticism.

Boys need strong positive men in their lives who model what’s next in their development. Mothers can model many things, but they simply cannot model mature masculinity.

In the past 50 years, women have completely redefined what it means to be female. One of the main ways this happened was through the power of role models – women who had the courage to step outside their gender stereotypes. We need men who will do the same.

Women went through a collective discussion of what it means to be a woman. Men need to do the same among themselves. Many men have been left confused and sometimes angry in the wake of feminism. Donald Trump represents a nostalgia for what men once were. When he says “Make America Great Again” he means “Make America White and Male again.”

The Trump phenomenon represents a teachable moment. When we watch him on TV with our children, we could discuss openly what is wrong with his message and his tone. It is particularly important that fathers be involved in this discussion because boys need to hear from Dad what he thinks makes a good man.

20 Characteristics Of A Strong Man

  1. He has his own set of values and shares these with his children.
  2. He is seen acting according to these values.
  3. He reflects on his experience and is open to learning from his experience.
  4. He takes responsibility for his commitments (marriage, children, and job).
  5. He is socially engaged.
  6. He models respect for all women.
  7. He models respect for all people (including those of different races, cultures, and creeds).
  8. He puts relationships ahead of material possessions.
  9. He spends time with his wife.
  10. He spends time with his children.
  11. He pursues his own interests.
  12. He is connected to the natural world and leads his children there.
  13. He pays attention to his own elders and passes on what has value.
  14. He prepares to become an elder himself someday.
  15. He laughs and has fun.
  16. He takes care of his own health.
  17. He is affectionate.
  18. He is comfortable in his own body.
  19. He is comfortable with the bodies of his children.
  20. He enjoys nurturing touch.

From Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys by Michael Reist

This is the best website for the project of redefining masculinity!

Good Men

Also check out…

Spur Festival 

Redefining Masculinity

Saturday, April 9 @ 5 p.m.

Al Green Theatre at the Miles Nadal JCC

750 Spadina Avenue


A panel discussion with 

Michael Reist

Rachel Giese

Jordan Peterson

Jeff Perera

Bardia Sinaee

Masculine 2

How to Manage Your Child’s Gaming

Don’t let video games ruin your family life or your relationship with your child. Don’t give games that much power.shutterstock_179625212 (2)

Family relationships can be damaged by screen time. Evenings are spent nagging and yelling and often end up in a silent standoff where one side wins but nobody wins. It’s like a bad video game.

What are many parents honestly feeling about video games?

  • I feel like I’m losing my connection with my child
  • I feel like I’m losing control of my child
  • I feel that other aspects of my child’s life, like school, are suffering
  • I feel like our family life is suffering
  • I’m worried about the long-term effects of gaming

If we’re really honest, we might also add:

  • Screens are a great way of occupying my child while I get other things done
  • I don’t understand the attraction of video games myself
  • I like Candy Crush, Pinterest and Facebook

These feelings are all valid and the concerns are real, but they can end up clouding our vision about what needs to be done.

Video games are here to stay. They are a feast of what the male brain loves – looking and moving through space (visual-spatial skill). We need to decide what our relationship with technology is going to be, and we need to help our kids do the same. Screens are not evil. They just require a conscious response.

What’s the problem?

  • letting emotion rule over logic
  • communication
  • balance
  • shared parenting

boy with ipad

What’s the solution?

1. Adopt a logical approach. No nagging, shaming or yelling. Too much of anything isn’t good for you. Nobody would argue with that. Balance your technology diet the same way you would balance your food diet. Experts recommend a maximum of one hour at a sitting for intense interactive screen time and a maximum of two one-hour sessions for every 5 hours of free time. If your kids are doing less, that’s even better.

2.  Communication must be open and democratic. Have a family meeting where you discuss the issues when everyone is feeling good. (See fact sheet below). Come up with rules and consequences that everyone buys into and post them on the fridge door. Have an evening schedule and post it on the fridge door – a central communal location where there are no power struggles – just the agreed facts for all to see. 

3. Why does this seem to be a particular issue for mothers? “It’s my Mom who’s always going on about it. My Dad doesn’t care.” Dad needs to be on board. Boys need positive male role modelling around the issue of self-regulation. It’s not fair to make Mom the policeman who ends up having all the arguments. Kids need firm, fair, consistent boundaries – from both parents.

4. Most of the arguments around video games revolve around coming off. This is called transitioning, and males find it harder to do than females. Boys hyperfocus. They need lots of warnings and transition time. The plane is flying high and fast, and it needs a long runway to land and come to a stop. If the plane just won’t come to a stop, then turn off the WiFi. (See the article below on hyperfocusing).

5. If not video games, then what? What is your family’s lifestyle going to be? We can normalize certain activities like going outside. What is your family’s normal? If parents don’t decide, Microsoft, Sony and Apple Corporation will decide for you. When they do come off the video game be ready for the boredom cry! You can fill the vacuum yourself, or you can challenge your kids to fill the vacuum themselves. Remember, that vacuum use to be called life.


Stick to the Facts

Here are some facts you can use at your family meeting. There are 7 for each side of the argument. Let’s be fair – video games are not evil. Show respect for your child’s interests, and remember to have a sense of humour!

7 Good Things About Video Games

  • Gaming is a valid social activity
  • Video games are stories. More people use video games than books, movies and television combined. The stories may be formulaic, but so are most movies and TV shows.
  • Video games relieve stress
  • Video games provide an emotional outlet
  • They exercise the visual-spatial regions of the brain
  • They can contain excellent graphic art
  • Educators are increasingly using games and “game theory” in education

7 Bad Things About Video Games

  • They shorten attention spans for non-visual stimuli
  • They do not exercise language development (speaking, reading and writing)
  • They take away from opportunities for movement and exercise
  • They take away from opportunities to experience nature
  • They can take up large blocks of time
  • They take away from family time
  • They can be addictive

Here is a sample schedule created for a 12-year-old boy who was playing about 4 hours each night. He has karate on Monday and piano on Wednesday. The schedule was agreed on by everyone. Feel free to copy and edit this document for your own use.

Download Video Game Schedule

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The Future of Gaming

In 2016 gaming will take a huge leap forward with several major corporations launching full immersion virtual reality games for the mass market. For a preview, look at these two sites.




Here is an interesting article on the connection between hyperfocusing, ADD and gaming.


Parenting Resources

For more parenting strategies around the gaming issue, read:

Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys

Raising Boys in a New Kind of World

Share this article on your social media or forward it to any parents you know.

Neurodiversity: The New Normal

We have learned to talk about cultural diversity, gender diversity and biodiversity. Now we can include the term neurodiversity.


People diagnosed with autism have challenged us to stop talking about “having” autism as though it was a disease. We now talk about the autism spectrum – which we are all on to some degree. We could apply the same approach to ADD/ADHD. We all have issues with regulating attention.

There are lots of ability spectrums we could put ourselves on. We are moving away from talking about “disorders” that we “have” or “don’t have” – like diseases – to just talking about the way we’re made. There is no one way that a brain should function. All brains are different, and there are many ways of being smart.

There is no such thing as normal.

When we talk about normal, we are simply talking about the largest part of the bell curve – the percentage of a population into which the greatest number fits.

Standard_deviation_diagram.svgSchool is designed for kids in the middle of the bell curve. The most successful students are those who fall into the normal range in the two areas school rewards most – math and language. They are the ones who get called smart and get to think of themselves as smart. They are not better. They are lucky.

“I’m the dumbest kid in the class.”

I hear this line from some of the most intelligent kids I work with. They can talk about politics, music, history, computers, video games or relationships at an incredibly sophisticated level. They are knowledgeable and skilled in many areas, but they struggle in school where language and math are the main indicators of intelligence and success.

We know about multiple intelligences, but we don’t honour them equally.


What can I do as a parent?

As parents, we are in a unique position to honour the whole child, not just their “word smarts” and their “logic smarts.” We know where their strengths lie, and we cannot let the assessment of school be the final word. Our child is more than the grades they get on tests and report cards.

Encourage your child’s personal interests and abilities through extra-curricular activities or independently. Adopt a strengths-based perspective rather than focusing on remediating weaknesses. Wherever they end up in life, let it be because their strengths were honoured rather than their weaknesses judged.

How could school be re-arranged to honour neurodiversity?

  • Identify each child’s learning style and modify teaching and assessment accordingly
  • Open up the curriculum to focus on more than math and language
  • Give just as much importance to the arts and hands-on activities
  • Give children more opportunities to move around
  • Give children more opportunities to experience nature (If only in a playground redesigned to be a natural setting rather than a concrete slab beside a large lawn)
  • Move away from standardized testing as a way of measuring success and failure
  • Allow children to specialize in their areas of strength (We don’t have to be good at everything)
  • Address the emotional well-being of students, not just their academic acheivement

Forward this article to any parent, teacher or administrator you know who is concerned about kids. (See the share buttons at the bottom of this post).



Here is the latest book on neurodiversity



Here is a must-visit website.
Some of you will already know the great children’s singer Raffi!


Here is an incredible blog written by a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. Have a look at some of his posts.




by Jim Sinclair


Here is the text of a presentation given by Jim Sinclair at the 1993 International Conference on Autism in Toronto, addressed primarily to parents. In it he challenges us to think differently about all labels.

How To Talk To Kids About Terrorism

During times of crisis people reveal who they really are. We are living through such a crisis right now as terrorism spreads around the world, and we see the whole spectrum of responses – from empathy and kindness to hatred and fear. Where do we fall on this spectrum? Our kids are looking to us to make sense of it all.


A tiny minority of Muslims would identify themselves as radical jihadists, and yet Muslims around the world and in our own communities are being attacked or discriminated against just because they look like the terrorists shown on TV.

In school, our kids learn about people who helped slaves in the last century, who helped Jews escape the Nazis, who marched in the civil rights movement. We honor people who were on the right side of history. We shake our heads in disgust at those who were cruel and close-minded. We are living in a time when we are being asked to make similar choices. What side of history will we be on? Will we hold on to our principles of empathy and kindness or will we succumb to the fear of the mob?

Compare terrorism to something kids understand – bullying

Taping a fight.

Kids experience their own version of low-level terrorism. It’s called bullying. What is bullying? The use of fear and intimidation to gain power and control. This turns out to be a good definition of terrorism. To talk to kids about terrorism we could talk about it as bullying on a global scale. The world is like a giant schoolyard, and the terrorists are like the bullies.

There are a couple of things we know about bullies that are also true of terrorists. If we remind our kids and ourselves of these things, the bully is no longer so scary.

  • They have suffered in some way
  • They feel a lack of power and control in their lives
  • They try to make themselves feel stronger by making others feel weaker
  • The bully is the weakest kid in the schoolyard
  • The bully wins when all the other kids live in fear
  • The bully wins when the kids who see it don’t say or do anything

We need to respond to terrorism the same way we respond to bullying. We can punish the bully, but we need to understand the bully as well. We need to look at the causes. Where are all these bullies coming from? If we had this many bullies in a schoolyard doing this much damage, we wouldn’t just keep sending them all to the office. We wouldn’t equip all the kids in the schoolyard with weapons to fight back. We wouldn’t punish all the kids who look like the bully. We would start to ask deeper questions. We would start listening to them. We probably should have started doing that long ago.

Responses to terrorism

  • Justice for those who are oppressed thereby alleviating the situations in the world that create terrorists
  • Peace-making through words as a solution to conflict in the form of multi-lateral negotiations
  • Love of one’s neighbor no matter what their race, creed or gender
  • Empathy and respect – even for bullies

What do adults tell kids to do about bullying? Use your words not your fists. We need to take our own advice. Bombs are not the answer. Every time a bomb is dropped in the Middle East, it creates a hundred new terrorists.

What can I say to my child about the Muslim religion?

The Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths all descend from one common ancestor – Abraham –  who lived around 4,000 years ago. All three religions see Abraham as the first person to establish a relationship with Yahweh, God or Allah – three names for the same “person.”

Use the metaphor of a tree


If we think of it as a family tree, it started with the Jews (who believed that God made a special covenant with Abraham), then a new branch formed from that central trunk called Christians (who believed that Jesus was the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for) and then another branch grew from the same central trunk called Muslims (who believed that Mohammed was the last in a line of great prophets that included Abraham and Jesus). These are the three great monotheistic religions (those who believe in one God) in the world today. They are all branches of the same tree. They have their roots in the same earth, and the branches are reaching for the light of the same sun.

All three groups are seeking truth. All three groups preach the power of love, peace and justice. Throughout history there have been people who have used all three of these beautiful religions to justify violent actions, and that is happening again right now.

We can talk to our kids about terrorism by comparing it to bullying. We can also model for our kids a way of dealing with bullies – showing empathy and not letting emotions rule over reason. If we don’t do these things, we run two risks – the risk of letting the bully win and the risk of becoming bullies ourselves.

Too Many Kids Are Suffering At School

Where are empathy and compassion in our schools?

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This recent e-mail is typical of the hundreds I get from distraught mothers. 

“Today was not a good day and the reason for my email. We were called to the school where he had overturned pretty much everything.  It was like we were looking at someone else’s child.  And he kept repeating he was a “bad boy.” It was heartbreaking. I was not aware that his teacher is not able to remove him from the room. Instead they are trained to remove the entire class…We are really struggling to find the right course of action for him.  The school is going to have a speech pathologist come in to see if he is struggling with language and speech.  We have made appointments to have his hearing & sight tested just to rule it out.  My gut tells me there is a disconnect with his classroom teacher and maybe a combination of him struggling with worksheets and more structure.  I really don’t know, all we know is this is not the boy we see at home.”

The only thing missing from this e-mail is the recommendation that he be put on medication. I’m sure that suggestion will be made eventually. The solution is always a technical one – professional specialists or medication. It is never a human one. This five-year-old boy needs empathy and compassion. He needs to be held. No one is listening to the mother’s “gut.”

Are teachers to blame for this situation? It’s more complicated than that. We all know there are good teachers and bad teachers. A good teacher has empathy and compassion. You feel for the child, and you act on those feelings. A good teacher doesn’t let institutions get in the way of their humanity.

Unfortunately, teachers become the product of policies, systems and procedures that they feel compelled to follow. Teachers have imbibed more than anyone the central lesson of school:

“Do what you’re told, and don’t talk back.”

Fear keeps people silent. Parents fear their child will be disadvantaged somehow if they speak up too much. Teachers have even more fear.

Students and teachers at The College School for brochures and the website.

They live under the shadow of administrators whose goal is to make the school look good. Administrators, in turn, obey their own superiors. It is a completely top-down system where no one is allowed to talk back, where we are all just following orders.

Kids have no organization to represent their interests – other than mothers and fathers. Teachers do, but even this protection comes at a cost. Teachers are given strict instructions from their unions about what they can and cannot do or say. They are constantly coached about how to protect themselves.

Over arching all these systems of control are professional governing bodies with the power to discipline teachers. At any moment a teacher can be accused of any number of things and submitted to a ritual of public shaming made even more efficient by social media. Fear rules teachers lives, and kids are the ones who suffer.

“If a child comes toward me crying, I was instructed to put my hands in the air.”

Are you saying we should get rid of accountability and transparency? I am saying we need to balance them with humanity – with empathy and compassion. Systems are set up to serve us and safeguard us. When they begin to hurt us and hurt our children, we need to do something we weren’t taught how to do in school – talk back.


Half of all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years. They report that the culture of school is just too oppressive. There is no tolerance for creativity or innovation. There is no place for human connection. Empathy and compassion are not just ignored; they are frowned upon. And this is the environment into which we send our kids. They can’t quit in the first five years.

What is the solution? Individuals. In the age of conformity and herd behavior, we need individuals who will stand up and speak out – teachers, parents and administrators who will talk back to systems based on fear and have the courage to connect authentically with children.

Advice for administrators

Question policies and procedures that are not kid friendly – that are put in place on the advice of insurance companies to avoid litigation. Schools can practice due diligence without shutting down our humanity.

Advice for unions

Do more than protect teachers’ interests. Protect children’s interests too.

Advice for professional governing bodies

You were set up to “protect the public interest.” Don’t just protect the interests of the fearful public, but the compassionate, progressive public as well.

Advice for teachers

You have as much freedom, humanity and compassion as you claim for yourself. Do not let fear, instilled by systems and institutions, rule your decisions.

Advice for parents

Keep talking back to school – teachers and administrators at all levels. You can be a powerful voice for children’s rights – your own child and all children. Listen to your gut. Always be on the side of your child.