Parenting

How 'Ted Lasso' Helped Me Uplift A Bunch of Second-Graders

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A few weeks ago, a seven-year-old sank down in defeat onto a patch of grass outside of the classroom I work in. They had been pulled aside by their teacher for getting so angry at recess that they threw their sweatshirt, nearly missing the other student they were arguing with. I’ve seen this kid get ruffled up before — they struggle daily with emotional outbursts that often disrupt our class. As I knelt down in front of them, I asked them why they felt so upset.

“I’m a horrible person, and no one likes me,” they blurted out.

Of course, these words completely stopped me in my tracks. How could a second grader with so much life left to live already decide that they totally suck at living it?

I knew that all the best pep talks in the world might not cheer up this discouraged child. But that wouldn’t stop me from trying.

“Kid, I beg to differ. You are amazing,” I enthusiastically said back.

I could tell by the look on their face that this child certainly didn’t expect me to pay them a compliment at that moment. But I’m also not the kind of educational assistant most kids would expect. Because I’m an educator who regularly likes to channel my inner Ted Lasso and go all cock-eyed optimism on downtrodden seven-year-olds.

“You are so thoughtful in class, making sure to place everyone’s name back on the board after they go to the bathroom,” I explained with purposeful sincerity. “You’re always on the lookout for who needs help with their work. The truth is, you’re a great kid who happens to be having a tough time right now. And that’s okay — we all have tough times. We just want to make sure that your tough times don’t hurt someone or hurt you. So let’s stay out here for a minute and walk back to class together.”

And that’s exactly what we did.

Despite only knowing this student for about a month, I’ve managed to get a good sense of how they feel about themself. In fact, I’ve noticed that they are not the only kid who is flat-out refusing to give themself the love they so deserve. I’ve had some honest heart-to-hearts with about a dozen students so far this year, and morale is heartbreakingly low at the moment for the children who haven’t immediately clicked with the social and academic aspects of school.

All I keep thinking as I sit down with these young people is — what would Ted Lasso, aka soccer’s new living GIF, say if he could magically appear to help me out?

“I believe in hope. I believe in BELIEVE,” he’d whisper loudly into my ear with his thick Southern accent lingering in the air.

“For me, success is not about the wins and losses,” he’d tenderly muse to me. “It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.”

Or how about this? “I sure do love a locker room. It smells like potential.” Hot damn, that’s a good one, Ted.

If you haven’t already gotten hooked on Apple TV+’s Emmy Award-winning comedy series which debuted its second season in July, here’s your biggest reason to start. I have quite literally stolen all of Ted Lasso’s best moves to help me educate and assist a classroom full of second graders this year. I never expected to find boatloads of inspiration from a show about a soccer coach who knows diddly-squat about soccer, but Jason Sudeikis’s title character is killing it at the kindness game. And his sweet-as-apple-pie coaching technique is exactly what the world needs right about now.

But on this particular day with this particularly bummed out kid staring back at me, I also found myself especially grateful for the current Ted Lasso plot-line that creators revealed in the show’s second season — which is seeing the main character of a wildly popular television show as a trauma survivor experiencing the same physical symptoms that accompany my Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

If I could have spoken directly to Ted this week, I would have thanked him with happy tears in my eyes. Because much like him, my body shakes uncontrollably in moments of stress too.

So what does a child-friendly pep talk have to do with seeing an eternally optimistic fictional soccer coach struggle with non-medical, trauma-based seizures?

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It has reminded me of what we all need to be thinking and saying to our children and to ourselves on repeat these days:

It is okay not to be okay right now.

The truth is, our country’s collective mental health has been put through the wringer this past year-and-a-half, and that undoubtedly includes our nation’s kids. Between COVID and the necessary emergency precautions of remote learning, mask mandates, and forced social distancing, they haven’t had a fighting chance to really connect with their peers until now. The mental strain alone of navigating this chaotic chapter of life has left a lot of them as burnt out as many of us adults are.

The last thing these kids — or any of us — need right now is proof, real or imagined, that they don’t belong. What they do need is an infinite supply of unconditional love when they understandably feel lost, mess up, or act out. They need to be reminded that it is so okay not to be okay at the moment, and that we will all carry on together with the hope and Ted Lasso-inspired conviction that we can.

So these days, I’m making it my daily mission to embody Coach Lasso’s glass-half-full philosophies to my core as I guide and support the kids I work with. To the students who need a nudge of validation during the day, I give them miles of it. I initiate ridiculous-looking happy dances whenever possible. I pass out elbow bumps and air high fives every chance I can get. I make it a point to remember as many names as I can, even if I don’t work in someone’s classroom. I crack dad-jokes when levity is needed, deliver epic “It’s okay to make mistakes! I literally just made like three mistakes, and I’m a grown-up!” pep talks anytime a child is feeling down, and I dole out heaping spoonfuls of praise and comfort like it’s my job.

Because now more than ever before, it is.

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