We are your people.
This is your place.
I spoke these words to a dancer the other night who skipped a class during our intensive because she had talked herself out of being good enough to go. I have noticed lately that I am having this conversation more often with kids and adults alike. Everywhere I look, people are convincing themselves they aren’t good enough- they can’t hang, they are undeserving, it just will never work out.
When did we find ourselves in such a confidence crisis?
Being a kid is harder these days. The tween and teenage years have the same problems they always did, but in our digital climate there is rarely an opportunity to unplug. There is an onslaught of information being thrown at our kids on a constant basis. They so are inundated with images of air-brushed famous people showing them how they should look, feel, think and act, that they’re losing their ability to do these things for themselves confidently and in their own way. They are always accessible to friends via texting and social media, so it’s harder than ever to silence the noise.
Our kids need a village. When we can tuck ourselves into a safe cocoon of a loving family, positive friendships AND a community outside of school and home that both challenges and accepts us- like a dance school- then we have better chances to emerge from adolescence transformed for the better.
If we are to resolve the confidence crisis, we’ve also got to teach our children to militantly monitor their thoughts and be courageous.
Let’s take the case of my dancer who was scared to go to class. She has studied ballet only, but in the intensive she is signed up to take a bunch of different genres of dance. The class she decided to skip was a hip hop format. She was right to expect that hip hop would be wildly different than ballet. But, what went on in her head when she decided she didn’t belong? I can only guess her monkey mind started shouting something like this:
Oh my goodness. Hip hop?! I’ve never even taken a hip hop class before. All of the other students will probably know so much more than me. I will look like I don’t know anything at all. They might even laugh at me. What if the teacher is mean? What if I don’t like hip hop? How will I ever survive this? What if I DON’T? That’s it. I’m not going. It’s not worth the risk.
If I could have turned her inner rant into a dialog, it would have gone more like this:
Oh my goodness. Hip hop?! I’ve never even taken a hip hop class before. Nope, you haven’t. Aren’t you excited to try something new? What if you like it?
All of the students will probably know so much more than me. Yep. That’s possible. So what?
I will look like I don’t know anything at all. Um, news flash- you don’t. You just said you’d never taken a hip hop class before. Also, do you know that for sure? Is that even true? Do you know each person on that roll sheet and exactly how much hip hop they’ve taken-if any? Besides, everyone in the hip hop class was once someone who had never taken a hip hop class before! So what? The beginning is an amazing place to be- you are a blank slate! You’re not a know-it-all, you’re going to be so coach-able and fresh, you don’t have any bad habits yet- this is awesome!
They might even laugh at me. Okay, Crazy Pants. Now you’re just getting worked up. Do you really believe that? Most of the kids in that room are already your friends from ballet class. Do you think they’d be mean to you on purpose? I sure don’t. And even if they did laugh at you- which they probably will not- so what? What is the worst thing that could happen? You won’t melt into a puddle and evaporate. It won’t kill you. Maybe you’d be embarrassed for a minute. Would that be the end of the world? Are you really going to skip class based on the idea that some pretty nice kids probably won’t laugh at you?!
What if the teacher is mean? Kiddo, give yourself a break. When was the last time you were in a dance class here where the teacher was mean to you? You’re talking yourself into a dark corner. Come into the light, and breathe. I have to ask you again- so what? She’s not going to throw you into a pit full of lions and snakes. What is the worst thing that could happen if the teacher is mean? Do you think you could survive that? I do.
What if I don’t like it? Ah, but what if you do? And even if you don’t, that’s still wonderful! You will have learned something new about yourself. Thomas Edison tried making the light bulb hundreds of times before he finally accomplished his task. Someone asked him- aren’t you upset that you’ve tried hundreds of times and failed? And he said, I haven’t failed at all! I’ve found hundreds of ways NOT to make a light bulb. I’m getting closer every time I learn.
Fine. I guess I’ll go. But if you’re wrong, I will be so mad at you. Noted. Good for you! Now get yourself in that room. It only takes 20 seconds of courage to walk in there. After that, the hardest part is over.
I did not get to have that conversation with my dancer. All I got the chance to remind her was: You belong. We are your people. This is your place. However, I’m thrilled to report she went to hip hop the following week. She stood on her head, she did a back spin and she smiled quite a bit. Who knows if she’ll ever sign up for hip hop class, but I will mark that in the win column any day.
The next time you catch your child paralyzed by fear, try taking them through this kind of a “so what” exercise. Teach them to monitor their thoughts. They don’t have to judge, but rather be curious about the thoughts they’re thinking and ask themselves more questions to challenge the unproductive thoughts and build courage. This gives them the power and freedom to change their thinking and make a different choice rather than be a victim. They can ask:
- So what?
- Do I know this for a fact?
- Is it true?
- Is it helpful?
- What is the absolute worst thing that could happen?
Teaching our kids to ask these questions not only helps in everyday situations of fear and self-sabotage, but it also might come in handy during those scary peer situations they will all be sure to face someday. Our teens will be offered all kinds of opportunities to think about and make big hairy choices- drinking and drugs, decisions about their bodies and sex, what to do about school, what to do about friends and parents, and more. It’s a jungle out there, and we’ve got to teach our kids not to let their monkey minds be king.
No, choosing whether or not to go to hip hop class is not a life-or-death decision. But, it is good practice for when we do make those critical decisions. We cannot put our children into a bubble where nothing ever happens to them or challenges them. But, we can arm them. We can teach them to ask critical questions that will challenge their monkey minds and calm their thoughts from running amok. We can give them opportunities to exercise 20 seconds of courage. And we can tether them to a loving community- like their dance school- by showing them: You belong. We are your people. This is your place.