We have reached a new season as a family and now find ourselves navigating the hallways and milestones of elementary school with our oldest child. As a kindergartner with no preschool experience except the little lessons we had at home, we have prepared for a lengthy adjustment period and were blessed with the opportunity to enroll her in a local Christian school which offered a part-day program. Our main concern was setting her up for success, not only in achievement, but most importantly, in learning how to find confidence in this highly social environment.
When we found out that a year of preschool was not going to be an option, one of our main concerns was all the new experiences and situations our sensitive girl would be thrown into. She is very much a thinker and a feeler and tends to get overwhelmed easily. But she is also joyfully enthusiastic about life and our prayer was that she would be able to carry that joy and enthusiasm with her into this new season of measured achievement and social discovery.
I never want her to feel “less than” because she processes the world differently. I never want her to view her unique blend of thoughtfulness and passion as a disability. And with her tendency toward anxiety, I want her to see those anxious moments as opportunities to be brave, not situations preventing her from experiencing life to the fullest.
One of the biggest challenges we were anticipating was how our little schoolgirl would handle bathroom breaks. Public restrooms have always been a source of anxiety for her, as they are for many sensitive children. The loud noises and harsh lighting can be sensory overload to an already nerve-racking experience. Add to that all the extra bodies crammed together talking and giggling and the very real fear of falling in the toilet, and bathroom breaks can become a battle zone for some children.
We were fully prepared for her to skip using the restroom at school all together and just hold it until she got home, and she did at first. But our little warrior surprised us. A couple of times, I was able to take her before she went to class. I walked her through the motions, but I could tell it was still a struggle for her. The toilets are higher and wider than ours at home and she does not like to feel unstable or off balance. We decided to let her take things at her own pace, and previous experience caused us to anticipate a long wait.
And this is where the strength of friendship brought our girl a big victory. After a couple of weeks, I was surprised when I picked her up to discover she was wearing a completely different outfit. Upon questioning her, I found out that she had actually attempted to use the restroom, but couldn’t quite figure out how to hold her dress up and stay balanced on the toilet. So she missed and got her clothes wet. I hugged her and told her I was very proud of her for trying.
Within a few days she proudly proclaimed that she had successfully used the restroom at school and we celebrated her achievement. It wasn’t until later that she told me one of her friends had gone into the restroom with her and showed her how to hold her dress up and stay balanced on the toilet. I laughed to myself and thought, “well, this brings a whole new meaning to the idea that girls go to the bathroom together!” The next day, she told me that a different friend went with her to the restroom and showed her that the toilets were not loud when flushed. This sweet girl actually flushed the toilet for her friend to help her work through some anxiety.
This went on for a couple more weeks until, now, our brave girl is confident enough to go by herself. We are so proud of her. I am proud that she was brave enough to try. I am proud that she was not afraid to be vulnerable with her friends. And I am so proud that she was able to recognize that God made friendship to help make us stronger. We are also proud of those girls who showed their own bravery through kindness. They didn’t make fun of their friend’s fears. They didn’t belittle her anxiety or use her struggle to elevate themselves. They showed her true, biblical friendship.
There are two lessons here: first, it takes both confidence and humility to admit you are struggling with something, but there is such strength in vulnerability. Some people might look at our little warrior and see a child who is resistant and nervous. They may see her anxiety as an obstacle to overcome. But, in moments like this, we see a young lady who is brave and passionate. She does things at her own pace, and it might not meet the expectations of some, but she consistently shows us how to find strength in our weaknesses. In this case, she has found strength in friendship and I cannot think of a more valuable lesson for her to learn this first year of school.
And that leads me to my second thought: no matter where you are in life, be a bathroom buddy! Be the kind of friend that doesn’t hesitate to walk into an already cramped restroom stall to help ease someone’s anxiety. Although, I will admit this probably looks a lot different the older you get! But the motivation remains the same. Don’t be afraid to join your friends in their struggles and vulnerabilities. Encourage them, especially if what they are struggling with comes easy for you. Use your experience to help them rather than hold it over them. Remember, there is strength in kindness.
School is so much more than learning how to read and calculate numbers. To be honest, I am more excited about the lessons our daughter is learning about friendship than I am regarding whether she will be reading by the end of the year. It is my prayer that the beauty and power of friendship will be something our little warrior will latch onto and carry with her throughout her entire education experience.