It can suck the wind from your lungs when a child shares their emotional burden with you. There is a flood of thoughts as you empathize with the struggles they so bravely share. You want to solve. You want to fix. You want to rescue. You want immediate change because no child deserves to feel pain, self-hatred, or fear in life.
I think we often get it wrong when approached with these fragile moments. We need to relinquish the delusion that our magic words of encouragement will wipe away their tears and off to learning they will go. We cannot undo trauma. We cannot magically rebuild their trust in adults or within themselves. We cannot make their tomorrow certain or their fears disappear.
When faced with a student, who relays stories of unspeakable pain: pause. Refrain from your need to incessantly derive solutions. Mute your “Here’s what you should do” comments. Stop forcing healing, while not hearing.
Instead, hang on every word. Sit with them in their pain, listening and present. Wait through the silence, and support through the tears. Allow them the space for their pain to have a voice. You are not the center of this moment; you are an anchor in the storm that ensures safety during immense vulnerability. Put down your teacher toolbox because healing does not come from the outside, it comes from within.
Though we cannot bandage the heart, we can help stabilize the spirit. We are one stop on their journey, and we have a role to play. We can be a light. We can be the evidence that not all people are the same. We can spark curiosity that maybe there is a different way to love and that loving themselves is the first step. We can offer them a mirror that provides a different way for them to view themselves. We can be a compass that guides them down a different path to their contribution in this world.
There will be a child that enters the doors of your classroom, who does not know what love, respect, compassion, and empathy look like. Some may not even believe those things are capable of existing within their world. You will be overwhelmed. At times, you will feel ill-equipped to make a difference. Conquer the discomfort of your own feelings. In your learning community love is without condition. In your learning community pain can have a voice because you know that validation comes from being heard. When children are allowed to share their hurt, they can allow themselves to heal.