Very soon after popping out a kid and the midwife calling out “It’s a boy!”, my ear became accustomed to hearing a certain testosterone-induced refrain. Because I already had a daughter who was three years older, friends loved saying, “Oh, a boy now. Get ready,” or “boys are very … different,” or even more specifically, “nail down whatever doesn’t move, because that male baby is about to eat it, break it, or kill it.”
But my son, now four, wasn’t really like that.
From the time he was a baby, my guy has needed a little extra TLC at bedtime — and by TLC I mean totally laborious coddling. When he was two, other toddlers freaked him out – if things got pushy, he looked at me like, “cheque, please.” If a kid took his toy, he’d shrug, like, “well, that was good while it lasted.” When we signed him up for skating at three, he clung to the instructor’s arm for survival, while our friend’s little boy repeatedly threw his snow-pant-clad behind at the ice. Danger is not my son’s middle name (he has two, and they’re John Alexander and nothing more).
And this was mostly all fine and good. This was just the way my guy was. I mean, was Obama a little agro-maniac when he was a toddler? I doubt it. My kid was just another Obama, I was sure. Calm in the face of adversity.
Except that he wasn’t always calm. Haircuts made him squeal with terror, loudly enough that I had to change salons. We signed him up for soccer and he refused to go near the field, even though he loved kicking the ball around the back yard. I remember many a dinner with friends where he would only sit on me, not playing with a single other kid – I got very proficient at eating without covering my human lap pylon with food.
The final straw that made me take action was when we visited a house full of my extroverted, affectionate cousins who he knew well, and he couldn’t handle their attention. He sat with me and shut down, not talking to anyone or eating for the whole four-hour visit. Being calm and quiet was one thing, but missing out because of fear or anxiety was another. I decided to do what parents do best – I decided to meddle.
I got advice from a child psychologist in my pediatrician’s office, and she gave me plenty of avenues to try. We began to approach novelty in small doses. My son was rewarded when he tried something new, or outside of his comfort zone. I tried to suggest alternative, optimistic thoughts that might replace some of his pessimistic or nervous ones. And we read books.
This book was great at helping us to identify and address those anxiety-ridden moments, all in a lighthearted way.
It raises challenges like this
And makes suggestions like this
This book encouraged my guy to know that he’s capable of more than he thinks he is.
Reading together is such a fun, loving way to share new ways of thinking with young kids. My son begs to hear these stories again and again, and when messages are supportive, fun, and meaningful, I’m more than willing to repeat them (I’m not opposed to a little Walter the Farting Dog or Bear in Underwear either, of course).
And as for Mr. Cautious? All of a sudden, it became easier to encourage him to try new activities. Now, he scores goals in soccer and begs to go and play. Now, he doesn’t want to come home for lunch with me because he’s too busy socializing at school. Now, I have no idea where he’s gotten to when we’re at my cousin’s house.
Maybe he just grew into his confidence. Maybe our kid library gave him that little boost in bravery at the right time. And of course, he still has his challenges. But no matter what it was that made him feel more able to be himself, I’m grateful it happened. And now, on to the next challenge. What do we think that might be? Girls? Ugh. Please tell me there’s time before I have to find books helping me through that phase of parenting.