Lessons learned from my son.
Updated: Sep 25, 2019
Watching your children overcome a challenge is heart-warming. Watching them battle through challenges is gut-wrenching. Realising they have to face such challenges is heart-breaking.
This weekend I watched my 14 year old son, Riley, compete in his first Karate competition. It was a day full of achievements and pride, but it was also a day full of struggle. In fact, it was the culmination of over two year’s worth of struggle for him.
Early last year, Riley finally admitted to us that he was being bullied. And that this had been happening for over a year. A year. Twelve long months. Of daily verbal attacks undermining and eroding his self-confidence and his self-worth. We were shocked! Why didn’t he tell us…or anyone? Why did he suffer in silence for so long? Why didn’t we see it? We felt like we’d failed him.
Upon reflection, there were signs that we’d missed. Some of them, at the time, we attributed to other things. Some of them we simply did not see.
* He developed stress-related alopecia – but we thought that was due to starting high school and NAPLAN that same year (nationwide standardised tests). He’d had it before in Grade 3, but that was also a NAPLAN year, and he had a fairly tough teacher that year too.
* He no longer wanted to play a sport he’d played since he was 5 years old – this is fairly common around his age, so we thought it was pretty normal.
* He would always wear a rashie when swimming, even when he was at home and it was only his family around him – teenage modesty?
* He became very reactive to his older brother, lashing out when Lucas teased him – usual teenage sibling conflict?
* He was emotional when he had difficulty with something, or when he thought he’d failed – teenage hormones? Also, he may not be the son who resembles me physically, but he resembles me in this way.
* He was spending more time at home in his room, and our previously popular, outgoing boy was no longer being invited / choosing to spend time with friends.
As I wrote that list, I had tears in my eyes and I’m guilt-ridden that we didn’t recognise what these behaviours were really indicating. As parents, how do you not realise your child is in pain? As an educator, how did I not see in my child what I notice in other people’s children? Unfortunately we, or maybe it's just me, can become so focused on caring for, nurturing and educating other people's children that we miss what is going on with our own. We get so busy with life, that we don't slow down enough to notice some pretty important signs. Thankfully, Riley finally admitted what he was going through and sought our help. We were able to start the process of supporting him to develop strategies and to begin to repair the damage done. Which was significant, especially to his self-esteem. This is where karate comes in.
After being reluctant to even consider karate as a sport, Riley now loves it. He is eager and enthusiastic, to the point of being ready for training about an hour before it starts. The mentoring, guidance and support he receives from his Sensei, and the other Dojo members, is outstanding. He has picked up the skills quite quickly and is performing well – so well that he was nominated to participate in a tournament, as a white belt, after only doing the sport for three months.
Needless to say, there were many moments of anxiety, and even some meltdowns, leading up to, and on the day of the tournament. Waiting for his first event, you could see his internal struggle written all over his face. The evidence of self-doubt was strong, but his will was stronger. He faced his fears head on, and he crushed it! For the first time in a long time, you could tell that he was proud of himself. He placed in all but one of his events, however the medals or the trophies that he brought home aren’t his greatest accomplishments – his greatest accomplishments are overcoming his insecurities and his triumph over adversity.
There-in lies a lesson for us all. We need to teach our children, and students, to be resilient and to pick themselves up after they fall; to be persistent when things are hard; to ask for help when they need it; to show kindness and compassion towards themselves when they ‘fail’; and most of all, to believe in themselves when they encounter challenging times. We also need to practice what we preach, and demonstrate and model these behaviours for others…and for ourselves.
Watching my child do all of these things was inspiring. And seeing a smile on his face is my ultimate joy.