I was in eighth-grade and one of the first to arrive at the door of my next class. The hallway was dimly lit and quiet compared to the rest of the school. The linoleum checkered-floor shined from the previous night’s cleaning. A group of popular girls gathered next to me, one by one they joined the gaggle of giggling and whispering and formed a small circle of exclusion. I was an outsider. I did not belong.
I do not remember what the class was about, how long it lasted or if any of my friends were in the room with me. I remember waiting in line to exit the room and then stepping into the hallway. One of the popular girls was waiting right outside of the door, she stopped me and looked me straight in the face.
“You have a horrible laugh and smile. I do not like it,” she said with a mean smirk. Then she went bouncing away down the hallway to join her snickering friends.
Shocked, stunned, and confused, I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed the scene. I felt so alone. The hallway was a blur through my tears. I do not remember the details of the rest of the day but those words stuck with me for many years after.
Even twenty-something years later, I can still remember how those words felt as they passed through my ears and penetrated into my heart. The sting has long disappeared and been relieved by others’s kind words and actions. Years of growing in faith, wisdom, and self-confidence has made the comment irrelevant and a bit silly now. Just ONE mean girl’s opinion. But a wrinkle in my heart forever remains from the experience. And sadly, I am sure there have been many times I have put wrinkles in other people’s hearts by my unkind words and actions.
My girls are at an age when friendships are starting to get more complex. They are learning how to navigate the broad spectrum of personalities, feelings and emotions that comes with relationships. I have found myself thinking back to my school years and the opportunity I have to share some of my experiences and bring a little wisdom from a perspective gained over the years.
In teaching my children about friendships and the importance of kindness, I came across this wonderful idea. It is hands-on, engaging and helped to open a new dialogue with my children. It is a great visual for adults too.
For this activity, you will need is a piece of paper (any color or size will do) and a pair of scissors. Cut the paper into a heart.
Have your children feel their own heart and explain that everyone starts with a heart as nice and smooth as the paper one. Discuss how words and actions can make others feel good or hurt other’s hearts and feelings. I shared a few examples of times when words and actions have made me feel good or bad.
I asked my children to give me examples of UNKIND words and actions they may have heard or someone has said to them. With each example, I folded part of the heart until the heart was completely folded. Then, I asked my children to give me examples of KIND words and actions. With each example, I unfolded the heart until it lay flat and wrinkled. I asked them what they thought of the wrinkled heart. We discussed how important it is to think before we speak because apologies can help to make the hurt better but the hurt sometimes never disappears. It becomes a wrinkle in their heart.
We were just about to move on to another activity when my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, I think ___________’s heart is very hurt and wrinkled because she told me other kids don’t like her and say mean things to her. That makes me sad.” This led into a whole other discussion on how we can be good friends and come alongside each other. The activity was time worth spending. It got us all thinking and talking.
There are many great books written about feelings, emotions and the importance of being kind. Here are a few of my favorites that would go wonderfully with this heart activity. (They would make a great Christmas gifts too.)
My experience in junior high was not for nothing. Over the years, it has been a reminder to me of how powerful words can be and to think before you speak. So very often I need this reminder…..