As a two-year old my daughter was outgoing, rambunctious, and didn’t know a stranger. I could leave her with anyone and she never seemed to mind. As a four-year old she is my most shy child. It takes her awhile to warm up to new situations, she struggles to spontaneously make new friends, and she whispers when adults talk to her if she answers at all. It is sometimes painful for me to watch her struggling in a play group, she wants so badly to play with another little girl there; but isn’t comfortable asking her to play. Many times she’ll stand on the outside of a group, but not really understanding how to insert herself into the group.
At preschool her teacher tells me she talks very quietly when she talks at all. She plays closely with another little girl in her class who is also shy. She tells me she has a best friend there and her friend is quiet also. I’m relieved she has found a little kindred spirit in her classroom.
One morning as we are getting ready for church I can see the anxiety in her eyes as she comes to me and asks if she can stay with me in the service instead of going to the children’s service. She says she doesn’t know any of the kids there and doesn’t have anyone to play with. I am so close to telling her yes, she can come with us. Then my husband reminds me if we let her come this time we will have to next time and so on. It is hard for me to force her into new situations where she doesn’t know anyone. But,I know I need to teach her how to cope because life is full of change and new adjustments.
Being shy is not necessarily negative. I don’t want her to be overly forceful or bossy. I like that she checks out a situation before just jumping right in. She seems to really think through what to say and how to participate, which is good. But, I don’t want her shyness to inhibit her from trying new things or making new friends. I don’t want it to be a crutch for her. I can’t let her label herself this way and then refuse to participate and try new things because of it.
Our family and close friends find it surprising that she is shy because she is so outgoing around them. She talks openly, is loud, and plays without inhibitions. I want this for her always. Sometimes she comes across as rude or snobbish around new people . I know how silly, sweet, witty, and creative my girl is; I just want others to see this side of her also. When she is struggling, I am too. I worry about her when I drop her off at school. I check on her while at church. It hurts me to see her sitting alone sometimes and I am delighted when I see her playing with the group. I know shyness at this age is common, but I am searching for ways to help her. I have found a few techniques that have helped us help her so far.
1. Talk through it. Before school begins in the Fall we talk through what to expect. We find out if she knows any of the kids from her class last year that are in her room this year. We meet the teacher. We talk about the schedule. I talk to her about how I was shy and scared too as a child on my first day of school. We even talk about how I was shy about going to a party recently where I only knew one person. I share with her how I was nervous, but I ended up meeting some really great people. She seemed surprised and relieved to know that as an adult I feel this way also sometimes.
2. Find that delicate balance between encouraging and pushing. I want to encourage her to try new things, but I don’t want to push her too much. Would I go up to a complete stranger at the park and start a conversation? Sometimes, but not always. So I can’t expect her to do that either. But, if she says she wants to play with another child then I can help her come up with some conversation starters.
3. Practice, practice, practice. Role play at home. Practice introducing herself, work on please and thank you, encourage her to talk directly to others and not to try to hide.
4. Expose her to new environments. As much as I’d like to keep her at home and keep her from feeling uncomfortable, it’s not reality. I don’t want her to feel afraid. The more she is exposed to new situations where she may not know anyone the more confidence she’ll have that she can do this.
5. Wait for her response. Too often I find myself answering for her. An adult will ask her name and she’ll stand there smiling and turn her head into my legs. Then I quickly answer for her and then explain that she is shy. Sometimes if I just wait a minute she’ll answer, it just takes a little extra time for her.
6. Practice a little tough love. This is hard for me, but I am getting better at it. Sometimes I just need to encourage her to try to and if she doesn’t then she faces the consequence. If she wants a lollipop at Trader Joe’s then she has to ask the cashier for one. If she refuses to ask herself then I won’t do it for her. If she wants to take her piggy bank money and buy some gum then she needs to hand the cashier the money and say thank you. It’s hard to stick to this, but the more she does it the more she feels comfortable doing it in the future.
7. Explain to the teacher/ librarian/ Sunday school leader/etc. ahead of time that she is shy. Give them some ideas of topics to engage her such as her love of horses, our trip to Disney last summer, or a cartoon she loves.
8. Modeling. I try to model being outgoing and friendly to those I encounter each day. I want her to see how to start a conversation, make small talk, and being polite to others.
Last month I signed her up for a ballet class. She asked many times if she could take ballet and said she would go. Of course on the first day she changed her mind and refused to go. I wanted to just let her stay home and forget the whole thing. I chose to talk her through how she committed to going, I already paid for it, and her teacher was expecting her. In short, I made her go. On the car ride there I shared what I remembered about ballet as a little girl. I told her I was shy then also, but sometimes we have to be brave and try new things even when it’s uncomfortable. As we arrived I carried her to the door of the classroom, told her I’d be outside waiting and gently prodded her into the room and backed out quickly. I watched through the little window in the door as she quietly whispered her name to the teacher and then slowly took her place at the ballet bar all the while with her thumb in her mouth looking only at the floor. I sat down to wait. Then half way through the class I peeked in and there was my beautiful girl twirling in her pink tutu, laughing, and spinning with the others. She still spoke quietly when the teacher spoke to her and stayed toward the back of the group, but she was participating and seemed to be having a lovely time. At the end of the class she came running to me saying “Mommy I did it! I was scared, but it wasn’t scary at all. I am so brave!”
Yes, my darling, you are.
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