Up until a couple of months ago, Calder has had anxiety when greeting others. Not so much family and dear friends, but people like: neighbors, the crossing guard, the bus driver, some of the elementary teachers at school, so I guess "aquaintances". Here is what that might look like: we are walking along and someone who knows Calder will say "hey Calder", and they may come over to chat. He then mumbles something like "oh", or "oh no!", bows his head and often will drop to the floor and kind of ball up. If he is near a table, he may try to go under it or might curl up really close to the stroller wheels or a bench nearby. I usually take a moment to greet the person, or they may then turn their attention to Elodie in the stroller. As soon as they are gone, Calder will perk up and resume where he left off, seemingly alright. Sometimes he has been known to say aloud, "I don't like that man".
So I decided to print out greeting words from the internet. We taped them up on one of the walls in our dining area, and Calder likes to occasionally read off the words on the list. We've had this list up for a couple of weeks. It was two days ago that Calder felt ready to 'field test' his newfound vocabulary.
Before school the other day, he asked me if I could write his hello words on an index card so that he can take it to school with him, which I did. When we got to his classroom he found one of the rougher kids to practice on. He walked up to the kid who was taking off his winter coat at the cubbys. With index card in hand he says to the kid "Hey Dude". The kid looks at Calder like he was an alien. Probably because this new greeting is in such contrast to his usual inwardness. I doubt Calder has ever spoken to this kid before.
As a Mom, you want your kids to succeed. You teach them about how things work the best you can and you pray to God that when they decide to try or test something you've tought them, that it all works out the way you say it will... Well, when it's kids you're dealing with they are entirely unpredictable. The rough kid never said anything back to Calder and after giving Calder a strange look went about his own business. Calder looked at me perhaps thinking "is that how it was supposed to work?" So I said to him that sometimes kids are not ready to say hello (hoping Calder would relate to this). And that was that. Walking home I was a little bummed that after so long, Calder decided to try a greeting, prepared for it and was brave enough to initiate it and it kind of just flopped. Ouch.
When I picked him up from school that day, I saw he had his list again walking around the classroom. I was speaking with his teacher and off to the side I barely noticed a couple of kids chatting. All of a sudden Calder turnes to me and said "It worked!". Knowing that he had just tried another greeting word, and with proper reciprocation felt gratified and shouted to the world, "IT WORKED!". I felt so proud of him, and so happy, and so GRATEFUL the other kid replied to Calder!
To an outsider it may appear as if Calder wanted to avoid people, which can be a personality trait I suppose. But given the opportunity to learn what is expected in a certain (social) situation, he came out his shell. He is eager to know how we interact as people in this culture of ours. He soaked up the greeting word list like a sponge. Not knowing what to do, or not knowing what others expect from us can really wreck a nervous system, whether we are speaking about a 5 year old, or a spouse or a boss. Just give me the tools already, just decode the expectations for me and I'll show you what I am capable of.