My third-grader, Ella, started her first choir audition by singing very softly. From the piano bench, Mrs. Schmidt, the music teacher, leaned in to hear her. As my 4-year-old, Sophie, and I watched, Mrs. Schmidt led Ella through a series of exercises: repeating a simple melody picked out on the piano keys, watching herself in a mirror as she made different mouth shapes to change her voice's tone.
But it was the last bit of the audition that impressed me the most. "Now, Ella, I know that singing for someone you don't know can be challenging," said Mrs. Schmidt, "but you did very well." She began drawing bricks at the bottom of the audition assessment sheet. "This is your confidence wall," she said. "And you just took a very important step in building it. So the next time you're scared about having to do something, I want you to think about this wall." She pointed to a brick and wrote "choir audition" in it. "This brick will be part of your confidence wall."
When Mrs. Schmidt introduced Ella to the idea of the confidence wall, she was also introducing it to me and my partner, Josh. It proved useful a few months later, when Ella had difficulties with a new friend. As Ella unpacked her lunch, the friend would make a face and say things like, "That's disgusting. I can't believe anyone would eat that." Ella tried acting as if it didn't bother her, with comebacks such as, "Well, I guess you're missing out." After a couple of weeks, though, as the nasty remarks kept coming, Ella struggled to shrug them off.
After some discussion, we encouraged Ella to tell her friend that her behavior was not okay. Not an easy task, but Ella went ahead and talked to her friend the next day. After school, Josh asked her how it went. "It was kinda hard," Ella said. "She just looked away. I had to ask, 'Did you hear me?' She said 'Yeah, I heard you.' "
After she told me the story that evening, I said, "See? You just added another brick in your confidence wall." Her eyes lit up. The lunch comments haven't been an issue since.
Ella is a fourth-grader now, and we still talk about the confidence wall when she's a bit apprehensive before a test, a play, or a choir performance. This year, when Ella ran for secretary of the student council, she had to give a speech in front of several hundred students. She was nervous, but I reminded her, "You've been in front of people before. You're standing on your confidence wall." She smiled, recalling her talk with Mrs. Schmidt.
When Ella and other candidates practiced their campaign speeches in front of a small audience, she didn't have much energy. Afterward, we discussed the other speeches and why some of them stood out. She mustered her confidence, and on election day, her teachers reported, she was strong and enthusiastic, opening with a rousing "I want to be YOUR secretary!"
At 9, Ella is nearing middle school, often a challenging passage, but I'm not worried. She has more self-confidence than I ever had at her age. As a kid, I avoided eye contact; Ella has a direct gaze. While I might have hummed to myself, she exuberantly sings Katy Perry's "Roar." It all started that day she laid the first brick in a wall that seems sure to reach great heights.
Tamiko, Sophie, Ella, and Josh of Tacoma, Washington
Originally published in the April 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.