I plopped myself down on my bed, my husband sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the room. Tears filled my eyes and I began to express concern and worry for my son. This particular day had been a difficult one. He had trouble getting along with a friend, and it didn't end well. Threats from both sides and then his friend telling an exaggerated version of a story which lacked his involvement in the conflict.
My son felt misunderstood and not heard. He felt betrayed by his friend. I know those feelings well. I felt the pit growing in my stomach.
I have had to learn over the years to manage those emotions to the best of my ability.
But he is a child, still developing and learning the social and emotional complexities of being a part of society. It isn't enough for me to say, “You just shouldn't care what people think.” It's not so black and white for him. I had to practice to embrace that ideology.
The truth is, my 7-year-old often comes home from school worried, anxious, and upset. Kids were picking on other kids at school, worried he was going to get in trouble for hanging out with the troublemakers, and sad because he feels like he doesn't have friends at school.
I never try to pretend these anxieties and uncertainties in life don't exist. I never try to smooth over the reality that life is often a struggle. I try to help him manage the stress and find a purpose which makes the effort worthwhile.
He makes friends quite easily and is “social” as the definition goes…
so·cial / adjective
- needing companionship and therefore best suited to living in communities. / “We are social beings as well as individuals.”
- relating to or designed for activities in which people meet each other for pleasure. / “Guy led a full social life”
…but he has a hard time relating to kids his age. He doesn't feel a connection with them in a more profound sense. He feels misunderstood most days, yet carries on with the show at school, especially.
The Affirmation Approach
My approach has been to get on one knee, hold his arm, look him in the eyes, and let him know how good he is at making friends and at being a leader. In other words, I “fill him up” with loads of genuine affirmations and it works, to some extent.
On an individual, superficial level, my affirmation approach helped him, but I didn't get to the core of his anxiety.
That is where my husband stepped in.
I have written about my husband on a few occasions. He has this incredible knack for coming up with these phrases to which my boys relate and respond.
The “Like Who You Are” Approach
We're trying to teach our kids that whining and telling on one another is not acceptable. They have the communication skills to work through the conflict and can do so directly. They don't need an adult to solve their problems.
We're also trying to teach our kids to own the problem. If you don't own the problem, there will never be a solution. Even if you genuinely believe you're not at fault, own it. Be a leader.
These are harsh lessons to teach and to live by as a child and as an adult.
On this particular day, I felt defeated and deflated by parenting three boys in a fast-paced, often cruel world. My son wandered into my bedroom noticing I had laid on the bed. He saw his dad, too, and hopped on the bed with me. He held my hand. I rubbed his back with my other hand.
Then my husband says, “You know, there are always going to be people in your life that don't make you feel good about yourself. The secret is to find people in your life who make you feel good about who you are and who bring out the best qualities in you. Think of the people in your life who when you're around them you love what they bring out in you.”
I saw my son's eyes studying my husband, his brain churning with the idea my husband had just laid out to him.
“You know why I fell in love with daddy and knew I wanted him to be my husband?” I chimed.
My son looked at me and shook his head.
“Because whenever I was around Daddy, I felt like I could do anything. I could be myself and not pretend to be anyone else. He brought out the parts that make me great.”
“So, think about what you love about yourself and then think about when those parts of you come out. Look around, and that is with whom you need to surround yourself. Does that make sense?” My husband asked.
My son nodded and smiled.
He got it.
Surround yourself with people that make you feel good about who you are and be the best possible version of yourself you can be.