"It's too high!"
"Come on, Mark. Let's just do this," the physical education teacher at St. Peter's Prep encouraged. "You can do it, just believe in yourself."
"Believing in yourself is easy when you're standing on the ground," the third-grader thought to himself as he was inching upward on the wooden pole.
"How much further to go?" Mark called down to his teacher.
"You are about half up the pole; just keep going," the teacher replied.
"Come on slowpoke," one of the girls challenged. "Let's get going. I don't have all day."
Mark was a good student and, generally, a good athlete. But there was something about that wooden pole that made him think twice about his abilities.
"I'm not so sure I can make this," he called down.
"Come on Mark, just a little bit further so you can ring the bell at the top of the pole."
"He thinks that I am the little train that was having trouble getting up the hill," Mark thought to himself. "This is pretty hard."
"Mr. Brady," one of the other third-graders asked his teacher, "if Mark can't make it to the top, what's the big deal?"
The teacher quickly recollected some of the things that his physical education teacher had told him and his classmates years earlier - Never quit, it's do or die. When one man on the team fails, we all fail. No pain, no gain - move it.
Mr. Brady was just about to open his mouth and repeat one of the phrases he had heard years earlier, when he took another look at the boy on the pole.
Doing just the right thing as an adult means understanding that all children are different. Each has special talents, and each has certain shortcomings. Not every boy or girl can excel in math and not every child will be a football star.
As a parent or as a teacher, the emphasis needs to be on discovering the talent that each boy and girl brings into the classroom or the home and then doing everything possible to celebrate and support the ability. Some of these talents may be tremendous, while others might be more modest. And, as is the nature with most children, their interest in that skill may disappear after only a short period of time. How many parents have lamented that their daughter, who showed such brilliance in gymnastics, might wake up one morning and decide that it's time to try soccer, or that their son, who has shown such a flair for the piano, has taken up tennis instead?
Children will find their comfort levels in activities and pursue those that interest them the most. As difficult as it might be for adults, we need to trust their instincts.
Mr. Brady pulled his whistle up to his lips and made a look like he had just swallowed a lemon. The other third-graders moved a little closer to each other as they sensed that their teacher was about to say something hurtful to Mark, even though that was not his style.
"You know, Mark," he began, "When one man on the team..."
Suddenly, Mr. Brady remembered how he felt years earlier when his coach had said that to him. The children all held their breaths.
Mr. Brady continued. "When one man on the team needs help, we all support him. Come on down and we'll all help you work on those climbing muscles so next time you'll ring that old bell."
Douglas Parker, a veteran English teacher and author, is the director of development at Crosswinds Youth Services. He can be reached at DouglasParker@crosswindsyouthservices.org.