Captain Brave. That's his new name. And my goodness you should see his smile when I call him that.
Today was a bit of a landmark day in our house. My superhero seven year old came up with the idea that he would like to ride the "Storm Coaster", Seaworld's highest and most thrilling ride.
Some of you are thinking...."no biggie"....but let me fill you in on my son. He's an overthinker. Like me. (Sorry about that my darling child.) Every risk, every possibility, every fault, every concern.....he knows it, he's thought it, he's worked it through. And subsequently, he's a pretty careful kid. He's the kid who as a toddler was huddling behind my leg when the other kids in the playground were only just being saved by their mums, in the nick of time, from plummeting off the slide to a near spinal injury, giggling all the way. Not my son. Made him nervous just watching.
He's also what a lot of people these days might try to label as anxious. Doesn't like public speaking. Gets a bit nervous in new situations and generally just doesn't sprint head on into the unknown.
But that's not what we wanted for our boy. We didn't want the secondary school student who went to school with a note from Mum about feeling too nervous to do his oral presentation and we didn't want a life of sitting on the sideline for him when he so badly wants to play.
He wasn't happy feeling worried all the time and there were situations that he so wanted to join in but just didn't feel....brave.
So we've been working with him on 'taking a deep breath and getting hard stuff done'. Us counsellors call it 'graded exposure' or 'exposure therapy', and it's a gentle process, at each individual's own pace, (with tonnes of encouragement and support) of looking the thing that's bothering you in the eye, and staring it down. Palms sweating, heart pounding, quick breathing....but holding your ground, when you could choose to run.
An oral presentation at school twelve months ago had a weeks worth of tears leading up to it, but through gentle yet firm guidance from some amazing teachers and my husband and I, he came home with this term's oral presentation saying that he was happy he could get it over with in the first week and then he could relax.
He's been putting himself out there socially and making some new friends, because he wants to to have fun more than feel nervous.
And, I'm not gonna lie.....when we were driving home from school yesterday, I nearly hit a pole when he told me he wanted to attempt the Storm Coaster today!
We told him that would be so great but if at any stage he decided against it, he could choose not to. Right up to the point when he was sitting in that seat, about to be strapped in, he could pull out if he felt like it.
After several minutes of going back and forth, and walking in and out of the que with Dad, (my husband is THE most patient man!) my boy was upset and wanted to not go through with it. My husband reassured him that this was fine. My gorgeous, contemplative seven year old expressed that he really really wanted to, he just felt scared.
So, my husband gave him a choice.
What's bigger? Your worry, or your wanting to get this done?
And the rest is history.
I'm thinking about writing a resilience program called "Get Hard Stuff Done". Because that's what I'm watching a seven year old learn how to do. He takes a deep breath and through his fear, his worry and his nervous feelings, he's choosing freedom over sitting on the sideline of life.
I think sometimes, I need to learn it as much as he does. Maybe more. And I know I'm not alone.
I see a lot of parents stop their kids do challenging tasks, due to their level of anxiety over the task or the outcome.
I'm not talking about stupid stuff. Don't let your children be foolish or silly or unsafe. But when it's a good thing to do, even if there's a level of apprehension involved, there's so much joy, in learning to get hard stuff done....
While I was waiting for that roller coaster to come out of the tunnel today, I was a wreck. I felt short of breath, my heart was racing and my mind was a hurricane of all the possible negative outcomes that could play out at any minute. But when the research, the statistics and past experience all tell you that this will all probably be ok. Sometimes, you have to take a deep breath and choose to 'get the hard stuff done'. Like watching the rollercoaster and knowing your son will be ok.
You know why? Because next time it won't feel as scary. And each time after that gets a little easier too. Then before you know it, those horrid, anxious uptight feelings don't press down on you as much as they used to.
Sometimes we all could take a lesson out of the book of my Captain Brave.