Parenting a ‘shy’ child

We had a very magical day yesterday (on The Polar Express). I’ve never (ever) seen my daughter so excited; I literally thought she might burst as we waited on the platform in our pyjamas and dressing gowns.

(Before I go on, this is a really long post, but I feel it’s really important and something I’ve wanted to highlight for a long time, so please bear with me! I wrote this post two years but wanted to share on my blog)

As the train pulled up into the station she became a little bit more reserved. New people (who were dancing, singing and loud), new surroundings and a sudden realisation that she didn’t really know what to expect. We’d already talked about what would happen but she just needed a few moments; some space to take it all in. I knew that.

But, to everyone else she was immediately labelled shy. “Oh are you shy”, “Is she shy?”, “Don’t be shy, you’ll be fine” etc.

Now, there is nothing actually wrong with being a ‘shy’ child and this has even taken me a long time to get my head around.

I’ve even apologised on behalf of my daughters shyness in the past, “oh, she’s a bit shy”. With the help of others I realised I was doing this, and that I was turning her shyness into a negative (when it’s really something quite beautiful).

My daughter (a ‘shy’ child) has a really solid and positive self-concept, she speaks really positively about herself. She’s a deep thinker, sensitive and cares so much for others. She has an inner peace that just shines and I think her shyness is a way of protecting that. She is cautious when she approaches new situations and needs time to warm up to new people (or someone she hasn’t seen for a long time) before she lets them in.

I must admit, I have been frustrated with this in the past. I’m such an outgoing, confident person, I’ve found it hard that she’s so different to me.

But, it’s not about me, it’s about her.

I saw this frustration on the faces of the people around us yesterday; apologetically asking “aww, is she shy?” and pushing and pushing her to speak, to engage, to answer, to do something. A friendly eagerness to help I think (well, why wasn’t she enjoying it straight away when their children were?). But, the more they did this the worse she got, the more withdrawn she became.

I explained that all she needed was a few minutes and she’d find her safe place. I knew she’d breathe and she’d reaffirm her confidence and sense of calm by using her affirmations, but, with an eagerness to errm, I don’t know, ‘help’ or ‘fix'(?) the situation they just continued. And I do get they were just trying to help. 

(I was screaming inside JUST LEAVE HER ALONE)

She just needed some time and space to take it all in. She needed her feelings of uncertainty validating; that it was ok to be a bit wary, a bit worried. 

She needed THEM to get it. 

I told her that if she wanted to close her eyes it was ok. I told her I understood that she was a bit unsure, but that she was safe, I was here. I told her that she had lots of courage inside of her and it was there when she was ready.

She put her head down under the table in the end and had a few moments to her self. I watched her breathe and I watched her whisper. She came up happy and excited, strong and confident. She talked to Santa (from a distance, but she talked to him), she laughed, she smiled and we had a great time.

I know every child is different and that children respond to different things (there may have been some children who needed the encouragement and the pushing that these people gave my daughter). It’s hard to know what someone else’s child needs.

I think it’s important we take the lead from the child. Notice what’s happening for them and please don’t negatively label them as shy in front of them.

I think until it’s pointed out, people generally think being shy is a problem, I did (and yes, I know it can be a problem for some; if there are self-esteem issues too, or if a child is that shy they are withdrawing completely, then they might need some help. But, most of the time our ‘shy kids’ get an unfortunate label that’s deemed negative). 

The problem isn’t the shyness, it’s how we view it that is.

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  1. Beautifully said!
    I wholeheartedly agree. Being a Mum of two highly sensitive boys, I faced very similar issues in their younger years.

    When they were at school, I can distinctly remember the joy I felt when they reached Middle School – when finally they would be “allowed” to go the library at recess and lunchtime.
    Oh the bliss of a quiet[er] space after the chaos of co-operative and interactive work in the classroom. The classroom of today is so different to the structured, ordered and quiet workspace it was in my day – where, let’s be honest, everyone faced the front and not each other!!

    One thing that always frustrated me was the emphasis on social play in the pre-school years.
    The question that educators ibtebd to be asking themselves as they observe children is:
    “Is this child demonstrating social play of a level that is appropriate to their age-group?”

    Invariably if the answer is “no”, it is assumed that the child IS NOT CAPABLE of such play.
    Which is very different to:
    The child has made a choice to not engage in social play, but is capable of doing so.

    And *the latter*?
    …was both of my children!

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