Thursday, September 11, 2014

Character type.

Now that Finn is in playschool, Liam and I have two days each week to really focus on homeschooling. Most of what he does at home (math, spelling, typing, coding via Minecraft, etc) is self-directed so I don't have to help him. But, as I discovered yesterday, being with him while he works definitely has its advantages.

We were sitting at the kitchen table when he realized he couldn't finish his typing lesson until he passed a 60 second timed test. For how freaked out he was, you would have thought the test required him to let Finn clip his fingernails.

The kid was trippin.

"Just try it, bud," I said. "You'll probably do fine. Sixty seconds is a lot longer than it sounds. Trust me. I've played Candy Crush."

So he tried. Sort of. He got about four words in and then started to hyperventilate and cry, "I can't do it! I can't do it!" while skulking down in his chair and staring, terrified, at the little digital clock on his screen.

I was shocked.

It's one thing to get performance anxiety (that level in Candy Crush is hard) but it's quite another to give away your power out of fear. I stared at him, mouth hanging open, mind racing, as he let a stupid machine torture him for a full sixty seconds.

When it finally ended and he stopped looking like a beaten puppy all I could think to say was, "What was that?! Liam! What the heck just happened?"

"I can't do it!" he cried. "I can't do it with the clock!"

He was so distraught, I could hardly believe it. I mean, really. I had no idea what to say. So I sent him out to the trampoline to bounce it out of his system. Then I googled some stuff, took a few deep breaths and walked out to join him, reminding myself, "Don't be a jerk. Don't be a jerk. Don't be a jerk..."

When I got out there I threw all the armchair psychology I could at him, hoping something would stick. I told him he'd never be able to do anything he didn't believe he could do. I encouraged him to get out of his own way. I begged him not to give away his power away so easily. I told him that things can only bother you if you let them and that most things that happen "to us" have nothing to do with us at all. (I used the "mommy wars" and my refusal to participate as an example - I swear he thought I was making the whole thing up!) I told him it didn't matter AT ALL if he never learned to type but he could not go through life sabotaging himself like this.

"You have to change your story," I said, bouncing up and down. "You've told yourself you can't perform under pressure and now here you are finding another way to prove you're right. Change the story! Tell yourself a new truth! Prove to yourself you can do this!"

He was skeptical but we were getting sweaty so we came back in the house and he tried the test again. And again. And again. He was less hysterical but still too scared to actually focus.


"Liam, I really don't understand what you're afraid of," I said as kindly as I could. "It's just a dumb computer. That timer can't hurt you if you don't let it. Shoot, it can't even hurt you if you DO! I mean, really - what's the worst that can happen?"

"I don't pass the test?" he said, skeptically.

"Okaaaay," I said, nodding. "Then what?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what's the worst thing that can happen if you don't pass the test?"

"Um...I have to take it again?"

"Yeah. You have to take it again. And what happens if you pass?"

"Um...I guess I move on to the next lesson?"

"Yeah. Which is what? More typing?"

"Yeah."

"So, does it really matter if you pass or not? I mean, either way you're typing letters."

"That's true."

"Just think of this as practice. One minute of practice..."

He tried a few more times but was not making much progress. We decided it was best to take a break for lunch and after trying my hardest not to beat the dead horse, I brought the conversation back around to the test.

"I actually can't believe how scared you are of the clock," I said. "I've seen you go up against things that are way more powerful than a free online typing test and you were never this scared."

"Like what?"

"I mean, the ocean for one. It's actually WAY more powerful than you are. Like, worst case scenario? I don't even want to think about what would happen. But you're super brave at the ocean."

"Yeah," he said, taking a bite. Then he got really excited. "Mama, imagine if this computer had legs and tried to do what I do at Kole Kole beach. It would be like bzfftz pzssfff... and totally crash!"


"Oh yeah," I said, happy to hear things turning around. "You are WAY more powerful than this computer."

"Totally," he said smiling. "There's no way this thing could do what I do."

"So why would you give it your power just because someone programmed it to have a timer?"

He got quiet and then said very seriously, "I have absolutely no idea."

And just like that I could see the rewrite beginning to happen.

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