I can still feel those jittery impulses prickling into my skin, my jumpy heart, my half smile and my down casted head when the first day of school rolled around. I went to an affluent french school and was the k-mart girl in a sea of lacoste and tretorn wearing kids. I would beg the bus driver to drop me off last so my friends who lived in big houses with indoor pools (and cleaning ladies) wouldn’t see my humble home, where the grass didn’t grow on the front lawn (probably wasn’t a top priority for my parents) and ‘stuff’ lying all around. I was embarrassed about who I was and where I came from and tried really hard to ‘fit in’. For me the feeling of ‘not belonging’ became my closest friend.
This week my son started grade three. We switched him from french into english because we discovered he has some learning disabilities that were likely making learning a second language more difficult and stressful for him. He was happy with the decision.
Walking to school my husband and I encouraged him to look for kids that were sitting by themselves or seemed lonely since he too was nervous and starting a year not knowing anyone in his new class. Our son is still figuring out how to make friends, negotiate conflicts and control some of his impulses when he gets excited or feels hurt (aren’t we all?). Big feelings in small bodies are sometimes explosive. So we try and model or role play certain situations to help him find other ways of communicating that don’t further ostracize him from his peers. (not always easy)
I don’t want him to try to ‘fit in‘ to make others like him (like i tried to do for much of my life), I want him to feel like he really belongs. Belonging is such a basic human need that for me, it was easy to get lost and sacrifice part of who I was in order to fit in. I never knew the difference then. I just wanted people to like me…no matter what, and that came at such a big cost. Like all parents I don’t want him to make the same mistakes. The real foundation starts at home (Brene Brown has a great ‘wholehearted parenting manifesto‘) but I wanted my son to notice that he isn’t alone in his feelings and that if he looked around the school yard he might notice there are other kids standing alone that might want someone to talk to.
That very day he saw a boy sitting by himself looking as he described ‘really sad’. He walked over and asked him if he was okay. The boy didn’t say anything so he asked again ‘Are you okay‘?. The boy looked up at him and said ‘get lost!’.
Ouch….I wasn’t expecting that.
Well ‘A’ for effort. We praised his empathy and courage. Noone said this was easy.