Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of former students. Sigh, It makes a teacher happy to see her kiddos grow up and do well. We were creating a sidewalk chalk mural of Welcome Back greetings at school and their siblings still attend B.E.S, so these young ladies came along to help. Once a Kindness Club member, always a Kindness Club member! As I was getting ready to finish up and head back home, I took the opportunity to check in on one of the girls.
“How are you feeling about going back in person?” I asked.
“I was okay, but I am started to get worried,” she replied. And then she launched into what sounded like a million concerns she had circling around her brain. Now this young lady has always struggled with anxiety. Her thought process can jump to a worse case scenario in t-minus ten seconds and despite being AWESOME, she believes every negative word her brain tells her. I spent the time we were together in a classroom building her confidence and her strategies to cope with her anxiety. Naturally, I jumped right into these old ways.
You’re stronger than you think.
You are an excellent mathematician.
I know your best friend is in the other class, but there isn’t any mingling anyway so you will make new relationships with the kiddos in your cohort.
Remember how worried you were about starting middle school? This isn’t any different. One day in and it will feel like business as usual.
And on and on. She listened, but I could tell from her body language and the look on her face, she wasn’t quite convinced. And in hindsight, I realized I didn’t blame her. I had said all the wrong things.
Now don’t get me wrong… what I said to her wasn’t horrible. I was trying to boost her up and remind her of all the things about her that are fantastic and able to help her in this situation. But that wasn’t what she needed from me in that moment. I was trying to cheerlead her and downplay her emotions. UGH!! Classic quickdraw response, but I know better.
What she needed from me in that moment was to let her speak her truth. She needed to get all those fears and worries out of her mind and off her chest without someone, me in this instance, trying to fix those emotions. It is incredibly difficult to bear witness to someone who is in pain, but just listening is such an important help to that individual. How many times have you heard me say it doesn’t matter whether a person’s perspective is your truth? It’s true to them and we have to honor that. When someone shares a vulnerable part of themselves all they want in return is for someone to say… I hear you.
The next thing she needed from me was to make her feel like she wasn’t alone in those feelings and concerns. I should have said, “You know, B, I think we are all a little afraid right now about going back to school…” and maybe talked about my own hesitancy. When we are in the height of anxiety we feel like everyone around us has their act together and that we are the only one freaking out and that is never the case. Raise your hand if your emotions are on high alert going into this school season? Yep, too many of us to count! I missed an opportunity to help her understand that just because she isn’t privy to reading the thoughts of her classmates, doesn’t mean they don’t share her same concerns.
Instead of trying to fix her thought process with my words, I wish I had asked her about other times she had felt this way and how she handled it. Young people need to recognize that life is full of challenges and as hard as it can feel, we have it in us to push through and get to the other side. Nothing teaches this like experience. Maybe it was a soccer game, or a dance recital, or those damn MCAS tests, that she remembers being afraid of, but doing it anyway, and living to tell the tale. This is another one of those reasons why, as parents, we shouldn’t be handling our kiddos challenges. They NEED them to build confidence in their ability to handle a tough situation.
And finally, I wish I had reminded her about the joy. When Life is handing you a shitstorm, so to speak, one of the best strategies you can adopt is to identify the activities that make your heart happy and spend time doing that. This young lady loves to read. And tap dance, lol. She used to tap her whole way down the hallway. I should have told her when she starts to hyperventilate thinking about lockers and math assignments, to give herself an hour of *her* time. Of joy time. When I can’t stop the tears or the terrors or the tenseness of my life… I throw my schedule to the wind and get outside. Walking in the woods, laying with my face to the sun.. or the stars… slows my breathing and lifts the weight off my chest.
So my beautiful girl…. I messed up. Even Mrs. Inwood says the wrong thing every once in a while. But I do know my last words to you were the most important and I hope you remember them and hold them close.
You’ve got this.
I believe in you.
I love you.
Words we should say to each other every day. Together we get through. Xxx