At five years old, the future NFL linebacker Ryan Shazier started losing his hair. It turned out to be a rare autoimmune disease called Alopecia and, as you can imagine, not exactly an easy thing for a kid to go through. He was teased. He was looked at strangely. He felt different.
But one day, as he explained on the Daily Stoic podcast, his parents helped him to understand. Everyone is going through something, they said, the only difference is that what you’re going through is visible. Other kids had learning disabilities, or were going to bed hungry at night, or had parents who were getting divorced. All that struggle was hidden—perhaps intentionally so, out of shame and fear—but that didn’t mean it wasn’t real. It didn’t mean that anyone had it better or worse than Ryan. In fact, it meant they were actually all in the same boat.
Did having that knowledge mean Ryan suddenly stopped getting teased? Or that when he was teased it didn’t hurt? No, but it did help. It gave him perspective and patience and hope.
This is something we have to teach our kids. Life isn’t easy. No one is dealt a perfect hand. Some of our troubles are visible. Some of them will never be known. But we’re all struggling with something. We’re all flawed, and still we’re all doing our best. When our kids understand this, they’ll feel better about those difficult moments, sure, but more importantly, it will arm them with the empathy they need to be kinder and more understanding of other kids too.
And best of all, they’ll carry this empathy with them for the rest of their lives.