It started out with a dorky laugh. It was the kind of nervous laughter that happens after you say something you’re not totally sure about. Our son started doing this laugh pretty consistently this past year, almost like a tic. It was kind of endearing; he would do it when he was really excited about something and couldn’t get the words out fast enough. It filled those quiet pauses in conversation that he hadn’t gotten comfortable with yet.
We never said anything about it, but it was seriously like Revenge of the Nerds had landed right into our 9-year-old’s body. He began buttoning his shirt all the way to the top and counting stuff became a…thing. I had sudden urges to go buy him a pocket protector and Star Wars figurines and sign him up for Space Camp.
I do worry sometimes — mostly about other people’s asshole kids trying to keep him from being the wonderful person he is, math aspirations and all.
So how can parents protect their nerdy kid, yet embrace the weirdness that makes them who they are? I have some ideas:
1. Talk a lot about failure and why we want them to fail.
Failing is not very comfortable for someone who has perfectionist tendencies (cough cough). So, as parents, we talk about and celebrate failure a lot with our kids, and how if you don’t fail, you probably didn’t put yourself out there enough.
2. Try to remember that they will be teenagers soon.
My kid, with his darn responsible decision-making skills, will most likely always be the designated driver and I probably won’t ever have to worry that he’s going to sneak out. But, really, who knows? Those hormones haven’t quite kicked in yet.
3. Help them if they want to be helped.
He recently, out of the blue, stated that he knew he was doing the weird laugh thing and wanted help with not doing it anymore. I said, “of course,” and then I cried into my pillow because I was sort of getting attached to it.
4. Wave your own freak flag.
If he’s ever feeling bad about something other kids have said to him, he can just look at his own loving and nerdy family and, well, at least realize where he came from. Nerdiness runs rampant through our genealogy and has generally accomplished great and nerdy things, thankyouverymuch.
5. Give them space (and encouragement) to bend the rules sometimes.
I never thought that I would have to encourage my child to bend the rules, but I do. I’m probably not going to tell you what rules we bend. You guys are very scary when it comes to rules.
6. Tell them that they worked hard, not that they are simply smart.
I think this goes a long way into them realizing that they are evolving creatures and will have to work hard for what they want in life, nerdy goals or not.
Our son is the first one to admit that he’s got a dorky side, and as his parents, we are the first to admit that having a nerdy kid is the coolest thing ever. I just want him to just be him, dorky laugh and all.