I am pretty sure since the day I found out I was pregnant with my first child 11 years ago I haven’t had a day yet that I haven’t been in complete awe or amazement over something my children do or say. This awe and amazement of course can go both ways because they do have those days where amazement is actually pure disbelief that they did or said that. Nonetheless, it’s amazement and I take it all as a gift. At any rate, it leads me to the more pressing point of how important it is to really TALK to your children. I don’t mean “how was your day?”, “what’s new?”, “how’s your friend?” or any of the other in passing jargon we spew to one another in the midst of homework, practices, and preparing for the following days events. We often assume that we’re getting the job done and somehow with all of the vocabulary they have picked up along the years they’re also fully aware of the meaning for all the words they’ve heard and are using.
This revelation could not have been more clear to me after a very deep and teary eyed conversation I had with my 8 year old daughter. She and I have recently been on a journey to conquer the big math monster, as I mentioned in a recent post Learning Curves: Shaping Mothers Into Experts, and all the technical stuff aside I realized my daughter has become her own bully. I attend her tutoring sessions so we can both learn the concepts and I can better guide her at home and I began counting the number of times she would start to write the correct answer, abruptly erase it and then stare at the paper as if she was paralyzed with fear. I truly believe she is. It was all I could do in our most recent session not to break out in tears as I watched her little mind battle the fear of being disappointed, and incorrect even one more time. Luckily the session was near it’s end but it ended with a silence that blared in my head like a loud speaker the rest of the night.
The following morning I woke up still plagued at what I can do to help her realize how amazing she truly is! As I was brushing her hair I asked her does she know how smart she is? She paused for a moment and replied “yes”. I then asked her if she knows what confidence is and she paused again and said “yes.” I kept brushing her hair, and asked her to tell me what confidence means to her. She paused again and replied “When you go on stage (she’s a dancer) you can’t be scared or mess up because people might laugh at you. Confidence is really scary.” I kept brushing her hair and reminded her of how often she’s been able to conquer some scary moments she’s already had in life and math was the same. I reminded her all of those times had one thing in common, she was confident and she believed she could do it. I outlined what it means to be confident, and admitted to her that confidence is something we have to work on as human beings because people around us are constantly trying to convince us we’re not as special as we think we are. All the while we’re having this conversation, the more I talked about believing in yourself the more the tears welled up in her eyes. I knew I’d found the root problem to the big math monster but the worst part was she knew it too. We both realized we would have to face the worst kind of bully around, yourself.
As I sent her off to school, I couldn’t help but sit in the parking lot for several minutes and ask God what have I done wrong? Why doesn’t my daughter believe in herself after all she has achieved to this point? What haven’t I given her or said to her that makes her beat herself up in the classroom? Or what have I said to her that brought her down? I don’t yet have the answers to these questions but what I realized in having this conversation with her is the notion that we can’t take the self-esteem of our children lightly. They smile, they laugh, and they play because that is what kids do but we have to be able to see past that into their deepest thoughts, steal their private moments and access where all the fears lie. They are much too young to navigate the complicated waters of managing yourself and all the emotions that come with this part of development. As parents we have to be the lifeboat that saves them over and over and over again until they can swim on their own.