When Alex was a toddler he had no reason to think about other people’s opinions of him and what he liked or didn’t like. Then he went to preschool. Did you know that peer pressure starts in preschool? It does.
Until he went to preschool, he had no feelings or associations with colors. He simply colored with whatever color suited his fancy in that moment. At preschool he learned that pink and purple were for girls. No amount of reassuring him that colors are for everyone would convince him to use those colors for the next four years.
When he was in kindergarten, my husband and I grew out our hair to donate. Alex tried, but the other kids teased him for having girl hair. So he insisted that we take him to get it cut.
By first grade he was a basket case. He was so worried about what his classmates would have to say about his clothes, his hair, the way he played a game, anything really, that he cried when it was time to go to the bus. Somewhere along the line he had lost his sense of self, and with it, his self-worth.
By October 2014 I decided enough was enough. I convinced him to hang in there until Christmas. Then we began our homeschooling journey. He continued to worry. He was mean to a lot of kids for a while. He had a lot of healing to do.
In the homeschooling world people talk about “deschooling.” It’s the process of letting go of the public school mindset and model in order to make the education fit the child rather than making the child fit the education. For Alex, this went deeper than adjusting to a new curriculum and schedule. This process went to his very sense of self. Educationally speaking, the rule of thumb is for every year in public school, it takes a month to switch gears and adjust. For Alex, changing the education plan went reasonably well. But it took a year and a half to undo the psychological damage.
He first showed signs of his true self being rebuilt when he voluntarily started choosing to use pink and purple in his art projects. Then at the start of the summer he chose sparkly gold flip-flops to wear for the season. I warned him some people might have a problem with that. He didn’t care, “Because who doesn’t love gold sparkly shoes?” I held my breath. If anyone gave him a hard time, I didn’t hear about it and he loved those shoes.
A few weeks ago his Halloween costume arrived in the mail. I asked him to try it on. Not only did it fit, but he loved it so much that he wanted to wear it everywhere. It’s a bright yellow Pikachu body suit. There is no blending into the crowd when wearing it. He wore it to the playground. Some former classmates were there and started their teasing. I watched to see how it would play out.
Alex stood up for himself. He told them they were being bullies and that he didn’t like them. They left him alone, then soon left the area. He continued to wear the outfit after they left. No one would rain on his Pikachu parade. Most people love seeing him wear the outfit and smile and say so. If you see a kid wearing something outrageous, say something nice. It helps them more than you know.
Today we went to a homeschool program where he was acquainted with a few of the other kids, but most he hadn’t met before. (We were in Providence, about an hour away from home and away from our usual group.) He knows one of the kids well and they don’t get along at all. He wasn’t distressed about it. He didn’t try to prove himself worthy of her attention. He just went about the business of doing his project.
I used to scratch my head in wonder about why it was so important for him to impress people who really didn’t like him. It takes so much energy and is generally fruitless. To see him put his energy into enjoying himself was wondrous!
As a parent, I want my child to have confidence. I want him to do the things that make him happy without worrying about everyone else’s opinion. I’m happy to see him becoming himself.