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Clean Slates and Fresh Starts
by Patricia Gatto
12/28/04
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Hope, excitement and anxiety all wrapped up in fresh haircuts and new clothes. Pens, pencils and notebooks, the smell of a new box of crayons and a brand new book; it all speaks of such promise.

It's the first week of school and everyone starts with an "A". Children are on their best behavior as they cautiously gauge their new surrounding. But once those first days fade and familiarity takes shape, the playing ground is no longer even. A pecking order becomes evident as cliques form and personalities emerge. And it is this pecking order that can make children unintentionally cruel to each other.

If I could bottle up a time, it would be the first week of school. Every child, for at least those first few days, has a new beginning, a fresh start and is on his or her best behavior. If I could capture the essence that lingers in the air and label it "open when necessary," it would be an invaluable gift.

It is easy to overlook the suffering of others, especially when maturity and compassion have not yet developed. But as an adult, if you knew your child was taunting and teasing another classmate, would you ignore the situation and chalk it up to "kids will be kids," or take the time to correct the situation?

Maybe the little girl in the front row can't concentrate on her schoolwork because her parents are fighting. And the boy in the corner is withdrawn and tired because he spends his nights taking care of an alcoholic parent. Or maybe the overweight girl they laugh at is using food to bury her secrets and sorrows.

Although the harsh realities of social injustice are too heavy for a young child to comprehend, it is never too early to encourage empathy and compassion. If your child is quick to tease or judge, remind him that making fun of others is never cool. Ask him to put himself in the other child's shoes and just try to imagine how it would feel if someone made fun of him.

Remind your child about the first day of school when the slate was clean and everyone started with an "A". And encourage him to reach out and give his classmate another chance as if he held a magical bottle marked "open when necessary" filled with fresh starts and good behavior.

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Patricia Gatto and John De Angelis are the authors of MILTON'S DILEMMA, the tale of a lonely boy's magical journey to friendship and self-acceptance. As advocates for literacy and children's rights, the authors speak at schools and community events to foster awareness and provide children with a safe and healthy learning environment. For more information, please visit Joyful Productions at http://www.joyfulproductions.com



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