When I was 8 years old, my family moved to the United States. I remember being nervous and excited about the change. I remember worrying about finding friends and being able to communicate with them. I remember going to school for the first time and having to take a test to see what grade I would be starting based on my English skills. And I remember failing this test. It was horrifying as I do not like to fail. It was embarrassing for the same reason and for the looks the teachers gave me (which may or may not have been my imagination making things worse). And it made me a little angry. I was angry at myself. You see, part of the test consisted of the teachers showing you pictures of things and you were then supposed to name the object in English. The problem was that I didn’t want to get it wrong so rather than say the word and take a chance; I took the less risky route and said nothing at all. You can see how that could be a problem, can’t you? The teachers assumed that my silence meant that I didn’t know the word, which is perfectly understandable. I mean they couldn’t see I was frozen in fear, right? I remember how upset I was at myself trying to get the words out but unable to open my mouth. Thinking of the word over and over, but saying nothing.
Being unable to speak up has been a problem for me ever since then. I am not the best at letting my feelings show or speaking up for myself. Anyone that knows me knows that I can’t stand public speaking. Anyone that went to school with me may remember that when it was presentation time, no matter what the subject was, I would freeze. My whole body would shake, I would turn bright red and I would speak as fast as humanly possible just to get to the end faster. Yet that always backfired on me. The fast talking would make the teachers stop me, ask me to slow down or start over (gasp), or have a lot of questions for me at the end. Oh the horror! You think I would have figured out that this only made my pain last so much longer, yet it happened every time. It was awful.
Not feeling comfortable speaking up or even just standing in front of people and talking about something, anything is something I battle with and hope so desperately that my boys don’t have to suffer through. I want them to feel comfortable speaking up. I want them to never be afraid of being wrong and even if they are, that’s ok. (You were wrong, now you know what the right answer is and you move on from there.) I want them to shout it out, sing it out, act it out, play it out or even dance it out if they choose and be able to do it in English and in Spanish. I don’t ever want them to wish they had said something but hadn’t or to think it’s too late to speak up after the fact. The good news is that as of right now, they are true performers and will sing you a song once they warm up to you. Hope they keep that enthusiasm.
What do you do to get your kids to engage in conversations and to feel great about voicing their own opinions? How do you get them to avoid the artic throat syndrome that freezes any comprehensible sounds in your mouth when nervous? I say comprehensible sounds because I think I can get quite a few painfully sounding noises out, but that’s pretty much it. Heck, how would you teach me how to do that? I still haven’t figured that one out myself. I’ll just sit in my room and write it out instead…