Don’t label so quickly

Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, August 21, 2018

By Nathan Rice

There was still a line of kids being registered, but a group of children had already entered the playground and were exploring the area, reconnecting with friends from previous years, and starting conversations with those they had not yet met. I monitored the playground and tried to make a connection with as many as possible.

I noticed two who looked and acted like brothers. It’s hard to explain how I knew, but I had a feeling these two may provide some interesting times throughout the week. I suppose it was just their overall demeanor that tipped me off. I walked over to them, glanced at their nametags, and introduced myself to them.

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It didn’t take long before my suspicions were confirmed. They did indeed need a little extra guidance when it came to following the rules and listening to the adults in charge. There were even times when they made things a little difficult.

There was something inside me, however, that made me want to be extra careful to make sure they felt welcomed, accepted and loved at this place. I made it my purpose and goal to personally welcome them every time they checked in the children’s area. I would say in the happiest tone of voice I could muster, “I’m so glad you’re here.” I did my best to make sure they were having fun and listening to the lessons presented. When they would leave I would say, “See you next time,” and give the biggest smile I could present.

When I’d see them on the campgrounds outside of the children’s services and activities, I was always sure to smile and say hello. My plan worked, and after a few children’s services they started looking for me when they arrived. They were still a challenge, but they were starting to listen a little more.

Later that week, another adult worker called me to the side. She asked if I knew them, and I stated I had not met them before this week. She shared that she had just carried on a conversation with them when the topic of memories came into the discussion. She said they shared their clearest memory in life was the day their mom got hurt, their dad was taken away by the police, and there was blood everywhere.

My heart broke, because no children should have this as their clearest memory. I was also happy that I had listened to the inner voice inside me that told me they needed love and acceptance.

I share this story because people so often quickly call kids who don’t listen “brats” or yell at them before even giving them a chance. Children with rough backgrounds need direction and discipline like the rest, but we are often too quick to label them.

I urge you to hold off on placing labels on children who create problems. You don’t know if their mother was taken away by an ambulance as their father was hauled away by the police. Rather, welcome them, love them and accept them. It might be just what they need.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at