Our second child recently made his First Communion. He had spent months preparing for this coming-of-age sacrament at our church and had gotten so nervous about doing it correctly that he cried during a practice. This is not uncommon for this little guy, who struggles with signs of anxiety. When this happened, like other, similar situations in his life, my husband and I helped him navigate by providing as much information and direction as possible. Still, as life will inevitably require, we make him practice being more forthcoming and self-advocating.
For example, despite his “shyness,” we’ve made him order for himself at a restaurant since the time he learned how to talk. While we’ve done that with all of our children, none have had to fight a social anxiety like he has. When people direct questions to him, we’ve required that he make eye contact and come up with an appropriate response (rather than looking at the ground and shrugging his shoulders, as he likely otherwise would). This is not to be cruel but instead to prepare him for inevitable, future social environments.
Over the course of this school year, we’ve had conversations about stress and confidence. We’ve discussed being self-aware, particularly focusing on how to recognize emotional triggers that may frustrate him and leave him in tears. One conversation was especially challenging for both of us. I introduced the idea that he doesn’t have to listen to every thought he has. That actually, some thoughts may be unhealthy. I braced myself for his confusion, but this seemed to make sense to him.
He fully understood that his thoughts may betray him and make him more anxious rather than more confident. He even offered some examples, so I followed his lead. We agreed that when those unhealthy thoughts pop up, as they do for everyone, he can just ignore them. Even better, he can respond to those thoughts with a counter-point.
He’s definitely been more attune to this concept, especially at school, where his teachers are preaching the same message. He echoes their pep talks at home over his homework, and I couldn’t be more grateful for their modeled confidence! He absolutely stopped me in my tracks when it came up again, exactly one week after his First Communion.
I happened to be scheduled to help work at church that Sunday. Knowing he may have some concerns and that I wouldn’t be there when he went up to communion now a second time, I walked him through the steps again just in case. I reminded him that if he needed to see someone do it or just follow a leader, he could let his older brother go ahead of him and just watch him. Then he knocked me off my feet with his response.
“What if I got this?”
I looked at him with astonishment and pride. I whispered, “Bruh, you definitely got this” and gave him a soft fist bump. Who was this kid?! This response was not only surprising; it was something of a punch in the gut.
It was a reminder that I need to speak confidence into him before new experiences rather than expecting him to struggle.
Sure, he may become frustrated and even cry if he is too intimidated or nervous. But that doesn’t have to be my default expectation or his. I can help him model affirmative thoughts by telling him on the front end that he’s “got this.” He may struggle. I want him to struggle. Struggle is where we grow and develop gumption and grit. But how can we expect to do that if we don’t first tell ourselves, as he did, when doubts arise,
“What if I got this?”