This morning, before dropping Sienna and her best friend off for their first day of Broadway/Disney singing camp, we headed to the park by our house to bring Teo to his first day of P.E. in the Park. The P.E. teacher at school is our neighbor and he’s been running this activity a few days a week throughout the summer.
When we arrived, about ten kids were already out on the field, kicking a soccer ball or tossing a football around. I had to hurry to pay the Coach and get back in the car to get the girls to camp on time. Teo slowly climbed out of the car with his water bottle.
“Lovie, I’m going to go. Have fun!” I said.
“Okay…. but, wait Mom,” came his tentative reply.
I gave Teo a hug and kiss and encouraged him, “Go on out to the field with the kids.”
He slowly made his way toward the field. As Sienna and I got in the car, I watched Teo from the rearview mirror. Oh, my heart. It was tough to see him surveying the field and trying to find an opening to join the group of kids already engaged in games together. I knew the Coach would soon get them organized into a group game. Also, it’s good for him to face these moments. I was so proud of him bravely joining the group and could totally relate to that feeling of being on the outside looking for a way to join the fun.
This moment reminded me of something I’ve been learning this summer. As parents, our job isn’t to protect and shield our children from the troubles, disappointments, and challenges of life. Rather, we are here to guide and equip them to face their fears and struggles so they can learn and grow.
During the kids’ summer program at school, they went on a field trip to the movie theater each Monday. At this particular theater, Teo recalled that the advertisement for concessions involves a roller coaster ride and the popcorn “pops” really loud and startles him. He was pretty concerned about going on the fieldtrip the first week and begged me to keep him home. At first, I actually said, “Seriously, Teo – you’re scared of the popcorn?!” But, then I realized that I needed to work with him through this fear. (I think the real emotion came from last year when he accidentally misplaced his fieldtrip t-shirt at the pool and was embarrassed by the way they tried to decipher whose shirt it was.)
When we got to school that morning, I asked him “What would make you less scared of the popcorn?” He suggested that he could sit with one of the teachers. So, after signing them in, Miss Rose was nearby and I encouraged Teo to tell her about his concerns. He did and she said she’d try to sit with him.
Turns out, they were able to leave the theater for the thirty seconds or so that the startling popcorn was on the screen. The following week, he asked Miss Rose to sit with him again. She replied, “Yes, Mateo. Just be sure to find me when we’re at the theater.”
On the third consecutive week, Miss Rose was on the phone as I dropped the kids off. Teo wanted me to stay so he could ask her to sit with him again. I told him, “I have to get to work, Lovie. You can ask her, I have faith in you.” He nodded confidentially and I left. Walking to the car, I felt such peace. He had a fear that was bothering him a lot. But, rather than saving him from the source of his anxiety by keeping him home or telling the teacher what he needed, I’d encouraged him to express his feelings and ask for the help he needed. He’d learned to face his fears and do it anyway, a lesson that I’d recently been learning too! Teo’s confidence to handle the situation grew each week, even if his fear of popcorn hadn’t receded.