The power of small footsteps

The first week of school can be tough at any age. From the moment they step out of the house and onto the bus, kids enter a cauldron of shifting friendships, academic pressures, and confusing hormones. Anxious parents wave them on while wiping away tears, hoping the stings of their own adolescence won’t find their offspring. Everyone hopes things will go well.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s why things don’t always go well.

Perhaps relying on hope isn’t enough. What if parents and children alike realized we had the power to make the world a better place with just a few, small steps? More importantly, what if we stopped making excuses for failing to take them?

There are no sidelines in the life of a child, no stands from which to cheer them on. We all share the same field — whether or not we choose to participate, the game goes on around us. Better we get involved now rather than wait to rally the community after tragedy strikes.

Parents, take the time to plant the seeds that allow your kids to blossom. Send them off to school with the mission to make someone else’s day. Teach them the importance of empathy, of noticing when their peers are struggling. Embrace the idea that reaching out to others is the surest sign of character. Leave them notes in their lunches reminding them that not only are they great, but so are the other kids in the class. Train them to accept others for who they are. Encourage them to act when they see their peers being picked on because bystanders are as dangerous as bullies. Teach them that self-esteem comes from doing the right thing. Share the wisdom of philosopher Lao Tzu: “From caring comes courage.”

Students, look for opportunities to build a friendlier world around you. The fact is you have more influence than any adult in the building when it comes to creating a better school. Find new kids you don’t know and slip a note of encouragement onto their desks. Invite that girl that’s always alone to sit with you and your friends at the lunch table. Pick that one kid first when choosing teams even though he always drops the ball. Never underestimate the effect of a kind word, a quick smile, or an open ear.

Remember that real power doesn’t come as a result of aggression or intimidation. Being able to change someone’s state, to make someone smile when they’ve just started crying? That’s power. That’s making the places marked by your small footsteps better for your having been there. Use that power, then go out and make more footprints. Be the Johnny Appleseed of good deeds and watch how quickly others join in.

Please know how much the world needs you. As much as we might tell you to follow in our footsteps, don’t. Blaze your own trail. We tried, but our path is still filled with needless obstacles and pitfalls. At times it’s too narrow to accommodate everyone who wants to use it. Make your path wide and true so we can walk behind. We’ll follow your small footsteps until we catch up.

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