Belief is key to social advancement
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This year, my boy became a first-year upper elementary student. That is roughly the equivalent of fourth grade. The upper el students spend most of their time in a room that is only about 10 steps away from the lower el rooms but it is a major step in terms of the work level and responsibility.
Before school started, he was nervous because he didn't know what to expect. Once school began, he became anxious about the new challenge level he was facing. It was a big change. It is a lot of responsibility. As strong as he tried to be, he felt the pressure.
His father and I discussed strategy and time management plans. It helped, but didn't get to the base of his fears. He didn't lack a plan. He didn't lack an understanding of what to do. I don't think he even lacked confidence in himself. I think what he truly lacked was a belief that he belongs in upper el.
One day, I saw him visibly upset. Normally I stay out of his way at school, but I couldn't not ask him what was wrong. The jist of it was he was feeling overwhelmed. I reminded him to breathe - that's his father's advice. Then I looked him in his eye and told him he deserved to be in upper el.
It took a few repetitions for him to actually hear me. He asked, 'what if the work is too hard?' I reminded him that he wasn't at school to know; he was at school to learn. I told him keep it simple: breathe, ask questions and always give his best effort. Then I looked him in the eye again and told him he earned his spot and deserved it but he had to believe it. It took a moment, but I saw the look in his eyes change.
His father has had similar conversations with him since school started. The more we talked about him just believing in his right to be there and in the results he can expect from just focusing on giving his best effort, the more at ease he has become.
He still has his moments of doubt or confusion, but he's eight. He's not supposed to have the self-assurance of a grown man. Hopefully, we are also teaching him that it is in the moments of doubt and confusion that he will find the strength and resolve that will eventually make him a self-assured man. It takes going through these rites of passage that we face in life for us to develop into adulthood. It is how we learn what we are capable of and if we can push ourselves past what we think is our limit.
We don't always recognize these moments for the opportunities they are. We are more apt to get frustrated or discouraged. Perhaps we make rash, emotional decisions or give up one moment too soon. We forget we move with the power of a mighty past.
We use the language we use with our son for that reason. We want him to understand that like his ancestors, he deserves the rewards of his hard work. We want him to believe that despite the opinion of others and no matter how hard things may seem at the time, he can accomplish his goals if he puts forth his best effort every time.
We show him examples in our lives but we also teach him examples from the lives of great people, who having come from humble beginnings, accomplished great things and sometimes changed the world. We want him to know the struggle his ancestors and living relatives have overcome so that he can understand that the same strength lies within him.
This Monday, we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. In his legendary speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that one of the reasons for the gathering was because a century after being emancipated black folks were still "languishing in the corners of American society" and in "exile" in their own country. He said those present came "to dramatize an appalling condition." Fifty years ago, we were fighting just to be seen and heard as human beings with rights that deserve equal consideration.
Today, we do not have the problem of being unseen and unheard. We still fight the image of playing the victim and feeling entitled. Thanks to those who stood in the heat that historic August day, my generation had opportunities our parents never thought would come to pass. Our job is to see that the next generation believes they deserve the fruits of their labor and that giving their best efforts will bring the results that they seek.
Taking a great leap forward in your development doesn't come easy. There will be sharp growing pains and moments of fear of failure. There will be failure. In the end, only one thing is true. You can if you think you can.
- Mariel Blake writes a weekly column for The Daily News.