The other day, a friend told me that it only took two days of walking her son into kindergarten before she was dropping him off at the curb and watching him bolt for the playground.
In contrast, my husband and I spent our son’s entire year of kindergarten walking him to the door. I’d take him early some days, and he would watch the joyful chaos of the playground with a stoic face.
The only thing that gave away how he felt was a little tugging motion he’d sometimes do with his fingers.
His younger brother and even his baby sister would run laps around the playground with other kids. But Trenton, our oldest, stayed by my side.
On the drive down to the school each morning, I’d say in my mind, Please let him run one lap today.
As a parent, this was my first taste of the hard things my kids will experience. As Elizabeth Stone said, having a child is the choice to let your heart go walking around outside of your body.
Every rejection, every embarrassment, every failure weighs almost as heavily on us as they do our children.
It’s for this reason that I’m passionate about building a home that is a safe place to fall—for all of us.
5 Ways to Make Home a Safe Place to Fall
1. Let them feel.
I know how easy it is to brush a child’s feelings aside. Sometimes, when a storm of emotion hits at the most inopportune time, we’d do anything to wish it away. (#amiright?) But they need the space to experience their feelings, just as we need the space to experience ours. For inspiration, read this: “You never let me cry.”
2. Tell them about times you’ve fallen.
Nothing eliminates self-doubt like knowing you’re not alone. Sharing your stories is a way of showing empathy and building trust with your child. More on the huge power of your stories here.
3. Help them foster a sense of pride in who they are as members of your family.
Developing a personal identity is a lifelong process—one that requires blood, sweat and tears, especially during the formative years of childhood and adolescence. A family identity, though? Somehow that can be easier for young kids to identify and subscribe to. If you want your children to feel like they belong and to believe in who they are, I can’t say enough about creating a family purpose statement.
4. Believe in the power of play—and not just for them, but for you too.
Play researcher Stuart Brown calls it the feeling of being “outside of time.” By embracing play and a zest for life at home, you’ll help your kids release the stress of their days and teach them a skill they can draw on for life.
5. Use the words “no matter what.”
It’s simple: I love you no matter what. No matter how many words you miss on your spelling test, no matter how many friends you lose when you choose not to drink, no matter how often you ignore my pleas to (for the love!) put your dirty clothes in the hamper. I love you no matter what.
Midyear, a little girl gave our son his first friendship bracelet (rainbow loom, of course), and we felt like the world had just come into color.
By the end of the year, he started showing signs of belonging. Instead of telling me that he “played on the monkey bars” (alone) again that day during recess, he’d tell me with a spark in his eye about the “poisonous” berries he and the other boys gathered.
After school, instead of waiting quietly by the teacher’s side (because she was the only one he wanted to tell his stories to), he’d hand me his backpack and say, “Can I play with Sosefina?” and then run off.
I can’t in any way take ownership for the strides he made during that year of kindergarten. They were all his own. Confidence gained day by day through nothing but practice and grit.
But I do take comfort knowing that even if some of his recesses were stressful or discouraging, he always had us to lean on as soon as he was home.
Feel free to pop over to check out my new ebook!