Last year, my son went to kindergarten. This year, he is in first grade. And he just looks different. Sure he has grown taller and lost his first tooth…but that’s not it. It’s in his eyes.
His eyes have the crisp clarity of confidence.
Riding the bus and going to school is old hat for him now. He knows everyone else at school so there is no uncertainty there. But it’s more than that. It goes deeper than that.
In the last few months, I have seen his clouds of anxiety clear. I don’t attribute it to a single event or my parenting. It’s a combination that mostly boils down to these four things:
1. Feeling safe
His class this year is kind. They help each other and work together – not only in the classroom but also in the cafeteria and on the playground. His teacher is magical (my daughter calls her a “real life fairy” – high praise from a 4-year-old). So he knows every day that he is going into an environment that he is safe and supported.
At our house, we talk a lot about how to be a peer that creates that kind of space for others. We read books like All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold (run, don’t walk, to the library and check this one out!), The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, and We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio. These conversations are intentional and important.
2. Coping abilities
My son is an outgoing introvert. He makes friends easily and loves to laugh with others, but after a lot of “people time” he needs alone time. He’ll play LEGOs by himself for hours after school as he recharges. He escapes to his own world of engineering and imagination, but he can’t take a crate of LEGOS with him to school.
Over the summer he started finding a new escape, books. Novels. And a book can go anywhere. He tucks one in his backpack each day and after he finishes his work at school, he reads. He escapes the chaos of a “peopley” day for a few moments to recharge in the calm of his novel.
3. Focusing on growth
A lot of things come easily for my son but some things don’t. Sports are hard for him. But he is so excited to be on that soccer field this fall.
“Can’t you see how much faster I am this year than last year?” he exclaimed bounding back to the car after practice. “I scored one goal last season. I’m going to try for two this season!” he thoughtfully added over dinner.
He doesn’t care that he’s not the best on the team. He’s not focused on his shortfalls or how he compares to others. He is excited about improvement and just to participate.
4. Letting go
I’ve made it no secret that as a mom I struggle with the line between “too much” and “not enough.” We set high expectations in this house – for behavior, how to treat others, and work ethic. But sometimes, I need to let go.
Sometimes, I need to be the yes mom.
Sometimes I need to embrace the silliness of a first-grade boy. I need to appreciate the joy in the laughter about bodily functions. To run around in the backyard with him and play alien-astronaut tag.
When I let go, I see him let go.
He lets go of stress, disappointments, and expectations. And in that space, I see his deep-seated confidence in exactly who he is.