"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
October 15, 2012
Shiny-Penny Friends
by Melissa Howell

“Mom, my new friend at school told me I’m the best kid in the universe,” my kindergartener proclaimed to me after school recently. I smiled, and asked him what he thought of that.

“It was nice of him,” he replied.

That very day, my fourth-grader shared with me after school that some boys had called him a loser because he couldn’t win any tetherball matches. I asked him what he thought of that.

“It made me mad,” he said.

And thus we are reminded of the range of influence friends can have.

This building of friendships and developing of social skills is a lifelong skill set, and it is so very crucial to teach children to find quality friends who will lift them up and make them happy, not drag them down and drain them of joy. For some, the lesson is not so easily learned.

My husband and I talked with our fourth-grader, Connor, and instructed him to tell the other tetherball players that just because he wasn’t winning any games didn’t make him a loser. The next day, he did just that.

“Well,” we asked him that evening. “How did that go?”

“They said, ‘Yeah, you are still a loser!’” he replied angrily.

This is when the mama bear residing within me wants to hunt down those boys and give them a good piece of my mind, for calling my son a loser. How dare they!

Of course, this really accomplishes nothing. We can’t control the actions of others.

But what we can control is how we react to the actions of others.

Of course, in ongoing and potentially dangerous bullying situations there needs to be action. But from this name-calling situation, we decided there are two lessons we could focus on to try and help our son.

The next morning, my husband read an article in the September 2012 issue of the Friend magazine titled “A Shiny-Penny Friend.” In it, the author shares the story of a boy, Daniel, and an incident with another boy at recess who called Daniel a mean name.

This already sounded crafted specifically for Connor.

When Daniel told his mom about the incident at recess, she led him to a jar of pennies on the shelf and asked him to pick a penny, which he could then keep.

He chose a very shiny penny.

“‘Why did you pick that penny?’ Mom asked.

‘I like that it is shiny,’ Daniel said.

‘Friends are like pennies,’ Mom said. ‘We should choose friends who make us feel good.’”

To teach the first lesson, before school the next morning my husband shared this story with the children. He then offered a handful of pennies, and the children each chose the shiniest penny he or she could find. My husband asked the children to each put their shiny new penny in their backpacks, to help them remember to choose good friends who make them feel good. And we reiterated the importance of always being kind to others, no matter how they treat us.

Perhaps we would all like to believe that helping our children choose good friends is as simple as placing a shiny penny into their sweet possessions. It no doubt is an ongoing lesson for now and in the coming years, as well as many offered prayers.

In the second part of our ongoing lesson about choosing good friends, we have had to address the topic of confidence and coping strategies. Much as I’d sometimes like to put my children in a bubble so that nothing would ever hurt them, physically or emotionally, I know this is not feasible — or healthy, for that matter.

Such things as confidence and coping skills are not easily obtained. I believe these are measures with which we are all born, and some have a more abundant dose than others.

For some children, being called a loser or other derogatory term might be less damaging than for others. Regardless, though, to some extent it just plain hurts.

Can we teach our children to walk the line between being kind to others and standing up for oneself? In Connor’s case, should I encourage him to stop playing tetherball, a game he has come to really love? Or should I encourage him to stand up for himself and let the unkind words roll off his back?

Ultimately, we asked him what he wants — and what he wants is to play tetherball. His efforts to stand up for himself and refute the name-calling have worked, to some extent. The name calling hasn’t totally stopped, but I am incredibly proud of my son for standing up for himself and not walking away from a game he has grown to love. Although, if he had chosen to walk away, that would have been fine too — as long as it was what he wanted.

What I really wanted was for him to understand that he can’t control the actions of others, but he can control his own. Perhaps he is one step closer to understanding this principle, something that many of us adults are still working to master.

I know I am.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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