“If I Run, Will I Go To Heaven?”: Self-Reg And The Terry Fox Run

“If I Run, Will I Go To Heaven?”: Self-Reg And The Terry Fox Run

This is my 19th year of teaching. I’ve taught at 8 schools in our Board, and worked with hundreds of students. But sometimes, no matter what previous experiences you may have had, a child’s comment stops you. It makes you think differently. This is one of those times.

Yesterday, our school had its annual Terry Fox Run. The kindergartners participated with other children in the school. Leading up to the day, a few teachers told me about a child that struggled with the run last year. He was incredibly distraught and very reluctant to participate. He almost didn’t. Nobody knew why, but they prepared me for a possible struggle.

The morning started off fine, and as usual, we were about to transition from our outdoor classroom space to the big field, as we do each day. The only difference was that today, we would be doing The Terry Fox Run instead of a more open-ended exploration outside. Both the kids and the parents knew this though, and many were talking excitedly about the run … and the possibility of seeing friends and siblings in other grades. It was time to line-up and get started.

This is when the struggle began. This little boy wanted to bring other materials to the field. He didn’t want to run. At first, he was very insistent that he was “not going to run.” As I bent down to take his hand, so that we could maybe walk together out there and figure out the problem, he looked at me and said, “If I run, will I go to heaven?” What?! I was not expecting this question, and at first, I didn’t know how to reply. That’s when I asked, “Is this why you don’t want to run?” He quietly whispered, “Yes.” Oh my! I then said to him, “The run is just in memory of Terry Fox. It’s to raise money. But running today will not make you go to heaven.”

He nodded, but then started to ask more questions.

  • “Why did he go to heaven?”
  • “How did he catch cancer?”
  • “Will I catch cancer?”
  • “Why did he die?”

Big questions. Hard questions. Sad questions … and many of which are ones I couldn’t answer. That was okay for him though. He just wanted to talk. He needed to inquire. And I quickly came to realize how much stress was felt by this one young child. No wonder The Terry Fox Run was such a challenging task last year. Imagine feeling as if participating would lead to your demise. 

This experience from yesterday makes me think about the Pro-Social Domain and how empathizing with a child often means seeing the world through his/her eyes. In the past, I would have been quick to dismiss this child’s fears. I might have thought that he had “nothing to worry about” or was “being ridiculous.” But his fear was real, and it made a 20 minute run into an onerous task. I’m just grateful that this child stopped and said something. That he shared his fears. But how many kids might not have, and would a lack of sharing have caused me to respond differently? This Terry Fox experience has me wondering how we can ensure that we hear more children’s stories, for often their actions don’t happen by accident. What is their “why?”

Aviva Dunsiger has been the Portal Plus Moderator for over a year now and completed the Foundations 1 Certification Program. She has taught everything from Kindergarten to Grade 6 and enjoys blogging about her teaching and learning experiences. She blogs professionally on her blog, Living Avivaloca. Aviva is excited to contribute a monthly post on The MEHRIT Centre Blog.

By | 2019-10-01T08:09:42+00:00 October 1st, 2019|


  1. Marilyn Barros October 2, 2019 at 7:19 am - Reply

    Such a wonderful reflection Aviva, this invites a need to pause and dig deeper. You gave him your gifts of time, understanding and respect all of which create a trusting and safe relationship. It was very helpful of the other staff to let you know there were concerns from last year’s run, providing a ‘heads up’ you may need to do some further detective work this time. His alarm may have been kindled from last year’s experience which you must have soothed by getting down to his level and listened to him with all your senses, allowing him to feel safe enough to share more of his very real concerns. Thank you for lifting the weight of the world off this little one’s shoulders( the pro-social stressors)
    Have a wonderful day!

    • Aviva Dunsiger October 2, 2019 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Marilyn! I love how you dug deeper into this for me. Yes, the reminder was very helpful, and did give me the heads up needed to find out more. I’m so glad that he opened up to me, and we could work through this difficult experience together.


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