Your Children are shy. Where did it come from?

The Mama Coach believes that children are unique and that within the same family there may be children who will exhibit very different behaviours from each other, or their parents. For those who have adopted or have had an egg/sperm donor you may not be caught off guard by this.  Parents may feel clueless at different times on how to manage personalities different from them.

I have two children, a girl and a boy. They’re similar in some ways, and can be very different in others. For example, my girl was a shy baby/toddler and if you managed to make her smile, you achieved something special! As one of my friends exclaimed excitedly, “I’m one of her PEEPS!”, after getting my daughter to smile enthusiastically!

My boy smiled so frequently that if they had a stock value, his oversupply would have single-handedly brought on another recession. I quite literally had other Grandmas coming up to me saying, “keep an eye on that one, he’d let anyone snatch him up.” He, of the 4 grandkids on my husband’s side of the family, was the only one who preferred to be in the arms of his Papa to his Nana. The other 3 barely wanted anything to do with their Papa until they were 18 months. My daughter would cry if Papa joined her and Nana for lunch in the house when she’d be out there visiting (without me or her dad), and eventually my father-in-law would just take his lunch to his garage! She eventually came around, and now tells us we’re lying when we tell her that story.

As my girl grows I see more and more of me in her.  When she was a young toddler, and to some extent still is, I noticed she was similar to how I remember my older sister had been. My older sister was the “shy” one in my family, while my brother and I were far more outgoing, easily played with new kids or adults, and would unabashedly talk at length with almost anyone.  My sister, as a toddler, was more reserved and earned the nickname “Queen Victoria” due to her quiet and serious looking demeanor. Now that she’s an adult people are surprised to hear of her shy-tendencies she had as a child. She has, on several occasions, shared with me her thoughts and feelings that she remembers from her early childhood in certain situations.  I have been able to better understand and empathize with my daughter’s shyness because of this. On occasion my husband would say “she’s being stubborn or rude, and you’re allowing it.” And perhaps on some occasions she might have been and I was. Extremely introverted children may get labeled rude or unfriendly due to their natural mannerisms. The question arises, how best can a parent deal with this? I believe the following can be helpful:

Allow them to observe and not BE observed.

Don’t force attention on to them.

I have a dear friend who’s son as a baby, and a toddler, was very shy and clingy to his parents during get togethers. I consistently could get a smile from him and even get him to interact with me. He had a great smile and laugh, which made the wait worth it!

HOW?! another friend asked me, who just wanted to be his buddy. I told her, “I ignore him at first”.

What?! This goes against many of our instincts, especially those of us who are more extroverted when trying to engage with someone. With kids, we may assume they will respond to us if we’re silly, smiling, friendly, etc. This can be true but gauge your audience and surroundings.

Why?, I remember my sister talking about how a shy person likes to observe people and environment.  Once she felt she wouldn’t be the center of attention she was more willing to interact. She was known to push my brother into the center of the adults, he was more than happy to be a diversion.   She even made him call to order Pizza when she was babysitting, he got hung up on often as he was 9 years old!  Remember though, not every child has that sibling to push out in front.

Utilizing this in the Healthcare setting

When I’m working as a RN on the ward I often “ignore” the child while interacting with the parent(s) and gathering information.  This allows the child to see the attention is not directly on them and can put them at ease. The healthcare setting is scary and overwhelming to most, imagine a child who prefers not to be center of attention having this constant flow of people to interact with. The child, when being “ignored” will often start to insert themselves into the conversation or answering the questions, often through the parent! You can start engaging he/she with a friendly smile, a goofy face, simple hand wave, saying his/her name, asking about his/her stuffie, and then redirecting your attention back to the parent, or even a sibling (who is outgoing!).  As an RN part of my assessment is done visually, and I don’t need to enter the child’s space, or personal bubble, immediately.

I have told many Nursing Students, you’re not going to ignore the child the WHOLE TIME, only initially if you are greeted by a head-duck, a buried face into a leg, armpit, or neck. Patience, and you will be rewarded.  Many individuals, especially introverts, need to feel in control when going into a situation and not be picked up and placed in it!

Despite your relationship with the individual your child may not have a relationship established…. yet.

Don’t force a shy child to greet someone unfamiliar.

Start with the child being present, eye contact, next a little hand wave or head nod that acknowledges the adult.  Working up to a Hi, or Hello, to build up to a proper greeting. Your end goal and expected behaviour from your child is greeting adults, or a peer, with respect.

My daughter, a toddler at the time, did end up in a time out (about 45 minutes, maybe longer).  This was due to her not greeting her “Uncle” Jeremy, my husband’s best friend who had been in her life since day one.  I felt bad, he felt awful he was getting her into “trouble”.  She needed to learn that eventually her shyness may be viewed as rude towards a friend/family. There was an expectation of her greeting guests that were frequent in our home. The next time he came over she greeted him with a big wave and a hello directed at him. To be clear my husband and I do not put our daughter in a time out with other visitors. We respect her shy tendencies and give her time to adjust new people in her life. Since Jeremy is a friend, who we see as family, we were taking advantage of a safe learning opportunity.

Acknowledge their good behaviour privately or quietly.

“Thank you…, you may go play” or a simple high five right then and there. Children need their good behaviour acknowledged, and praising manners is important. Focus on the good stuff, as we often react to the negative and sometimes forget to react to positives.  In our house a reward jar is implemented when we recognize a lack of good behaviour and manners.  Positive behaviours are rewarded.  When the jar is full my daughter gets a new toy or activity previously agreed upon.  Afterwards we noticed a positive change and confidence developing; the jar is presently not being utilized and put away for another time.

A parent who is an extrovert this can be challenging.  Allow your child to have alone time and teach he/she to advocate for it.  Are you an introvert with an outgoing extrovert child….


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