Wednesday, June 13, 2012


In every setting - school, camp, playgroups, sports teams - there is at least one child whose name is known to all. The child's name is known because everyone responsible for him (or her, but usually him) is always calling his name. This child, let's call him Daniel, is never where he is supposed to be. He is never still. He can't keep his hands to himself or his mouth shut. Everyone knows him; nobody likes him. All the program leaders have been consulted. His parents get called on the second day of camp, for "advice" about how to engage him. Counselors try to get out of having him in their group. People gossip about him: "Did you hear the latest about Daniel?" Or about his parents: "I think they're divorced. Dad is out of the picture and Mom just can't handle him. Bless her heart."

Daniel doesn't get invited over for play dates very often. You have to watch him every minute. Sometimes he hits. He doesn't know how to share, can't play cooperative games, and leaves the yard without asking. Sometimes he takes things.  He's a bad influence. Your kid doesn't like him or is afraid of him.

Some parents have no struggle with this situation - they simply ban the "bad boy" from their child's life. Some parents have a huge struggle with the Daniels because they know, in their souls, that they are called to love their neighbor. And Daniel is their neighbor. They may wish he wasn't but he is, and so they wrestle with how to handle the situation. It's a faith issue. How do you balance this child's need for positive relationships and love with your own child's needs for good role models, well-behaved friends, and good influences?

Loving your neighbor sometimes means  that your child has to BE the role model and not just HAVE role models. It means that your kids might get a little less attention when Daniel is around. It's not all fun and games being a good neighbor. It's kind of like being a parent. Sometimes you have to do the right thing, even if it's painful.

Many years ago I had a Daniel across the street and three houses down. He was older than my children and a holy terror. He was trouble - banned from nearly every house on the street.The more places that banned him, the more time he spent at my house. One day I was planting a flat of petunias and Daniel wanted to help. Exasperated, but trying to do the right thing, I went to the garage and got him a trowel. As he planted, he seemed to settle into a peaceful place I had never seen him inhabit. So I praised his careful and gentle handling of my plants and taught him to water them. Every day that summer he came to stick his finger in the dirt, knock on the door and tell me if they needed watering or not. If they did, he watered them. If they didn't, he deadheaded them.

Daniel and I only shared one summer garden, he moved away just as it was time to plant the next year, but I learned the rewards of being a good neighbor from that relationship. What started out as a problem became a joy. Who's your Daniel?


Midlife Jobhunter said...
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Midlife Jobhunter said...

Tough question. I think my boys all had friends like that come through at sometime in their young lives - and they all seemed to hang at my house. I should have handed them a shovel.

Seriously, I think you found the key - giving a child such as Danial a place to land. A purpose. In the schools, there are often kids like Daniel. Sometimes just a few conversations asking how they are opens a door. They feel safe, at least until they mess up.