Many people would consider my daughter to be shy. I simply consider her to be herself.
Yes, she tends to be rather quiet and reserved in a group setting or with new people. She will often speak quietly in an unfamiliar setting. She is not talkative with strangers. So I guess she qualifies as “shy”, yes?
According to the Miriam Webster dictionary, shy means:
1: easily frightened: timid
2: disposed to avoid a person or thing <publicity shy>
3: hesitant in committing oneself : circumspect
4: sensitively diffident or retiring : reserved; also : expressive of such a state or nature <a shy smile>
Basically, she is an introvert. And I’m cool with that.
Shyness is often a term often used by a parent to try to save face when a child isn’t confidently outgoing. But does the description serve them well, or perhaps, instead, lock them into an expectation or assumption that they will always be this way? And that it is less than desirable.
It took me awhile to work out that my daughter was an introvert, to be fully okay with that, and to learn to honour her need for down time after a large group gathering, or lots of people being around.
About six years ago we moved to a whole new city, leaving behind very dear friends. Every so often they would come to visit us, staying for about three days. By the third day, the meltdowns would start. I was surprised that it took me a few visits to realise that although she was absolutely loving having our friends visit, she was also overwhelmed by the intensity of it, and by having extra people constantly in her presence for that length of time. Once I realised what was happening, it was a simple matter to take practical steps to meet her need for little moments of solitude in the midst of all the fun. I learned to notice when she was beginning to feel overwhelmed, and to offer a moment for her to step aside from it all, thereby preventing the situation from deteriorating into big tears, which embarrassed her afterwards. Sometimes she would choose to simply rest on the lounge while the others were heading outside to play, or to have a little snuggle with me when the others were distracted. Sometimes all that was needed was a reassuring arm around her, or a hand on her shoulder, letting her know that I “saw her” and knew what was going on for her. A moment of connection and presence in the midst of a sea of happy faces. It was not a difficult thing to do, and she usually didn’t require hours and hours of alone time. It was just a case of noticing her needs and meeting them in one way or another.
I have never forced her to speak to strangers, or to anyone for that matter. It is important for her to know that she is absolutely wonderful just the way she is.
Others who are more vivacious in public or in new settings seem to naturally garner more attention from others. I think most people are uncomfortable with the more introverted, quieter personalities. Perhaps they interpret it as being unfriendly or disinterested, which isn’t true at all. Introverts are often the most attentive, people-loving souls you could ever meet. They usually just prefer them in small clusters and measured doses, rather than frequently and en masse.
Let’s face it, most of our society is aimed at extroverts! Sporting teams, churches, shopping centres, schools, they are all places where extroverts tend to feel more comfortable. People are often judged and responded to based on how friendly and outgoing they are and the more retiring, introverted types are often seen as unfriendly and less interesting. If only people could stop to listen, and wait for the gems that occasionally come from the mouth of one deemed shy.
Some people believe that refraining from sending your child to school will make shyness worse. I beg to differ! I have found that by allowing my daughter the freedom to be herself, and to interact with group activities and new situations when she is ready, with my support, she has thrived and flourished, in her own quiet way. I love that she is able to take life at her own pace and with the volume of people contact that suits her, rather than spending most of her energy trying to cope with constant large groups of children and lots of activity. I love that she is able to be true to herself, which is far more important than trying to act a certain way to please someone else.
Despite the belief of some people that keeping a child out of school will feed shyness and make them less capable socially, my introverted daughter has been taking me by surprise with her desire for more independence.
Let’s not box our kids in to being or acting a certain way.
Let’s allow them to truly be themselves, whether that means being the life of the party, or a beautiful “wall flower”.
Instead of feeling the need to explain or justify their “shyness”, let’s hold our heads high, delighting in who our children are, not who society thinks they should be.
And let’s grant our children the freedom to choose whether to participate or watch, to talk or listen, to reach out or draw within.