My son used to be painfully shy. Too shy to greet, too shy to ask to use the bathroom. He would watch other kids having fun but would be too shy to go and join them. He didn’t like going to birthday parties especially because 9 out of 10 times he would be picked for some fun activity that he would be too shy to participate in. I always got irritable and yelled at him. One time, I made him stand on stage with his peers at a party. While they were dancing and jumping around excitedly, he just looked so miserable standing there and hoping the floor would open up and swallow him.
I was so worried. Then I talked to a few people. Counsellors, doctors and read a couple of articles and I realized I had been too hard on him. He is brilliant and comes top in his class. When he is at home and around familiar people he talks nonstop, so why was I so bothered? I just needed him to open up a little, not be too forward and lousy like other kids but to at least be able to say “good morning ma/sir” in a bold and confident voice.
I understand now that while he is sensitive and socially conscious, shy is not the word. Mothers most especially, myself inclusive, want our kids to be the perfect all rounder but the truth is, the sooner we accept our little chimps for their own quirks and uniqueness, the better it would be for everyone. Some kids are naturally cautious and prefer to observe than jump in head first. Trying to pull them out of their shell will only push them in further.
DON’T SHAME THEM
The worse thing to say to a shy child is “Don’t be shy”; it makes them withdraw. Don’t put them on the spot like I did my son at that birthday party. Stop making them feel like there’s something wrong with them because they aren’t playful or forward like the next kid. I have come to appreciate my intense 7 year old with his 27 year old mentality. I admire his ability to step away from the crowd and do what he wants to do, It shows me that he would not be easily swayed by peer pressure and I praise him for it.
SHOW AND TELL
Children learn from what they see us do. I allow my son see me greet people respectfully and initiate conversation. These days, when we walk into a gathering, he greets first, albeit still a little quietly but it is progress and I always HI-5 him for it as encouragement.
GIVE SPACE TO GROW
When my son was asked a question he would take his time to answer. Even stuff as straightforward as his name was difficult to pry out of him. You would hear me say things like “Answer now, what’s wrong with you? Sorry he’s just shy.” I was always there to answer for him. I stopped doing that because I found that when he was asked a question, he would turn to me to help him respond. When I started acting like I wasn’t there, he started replying himself after a few short seconds. As time progresses, the few seconds’ silence reduces.
ASK FOR HELP
My son as part of my training exercise joined the Boys Brigade and they went to camp for 3 days last week. He had never been anywhere without family before so it was a big deal. It was an opportunity to interact and make friends and I couldn’t let it pass. I also needed him to learn how to express needs without me chipping in to help so if he needs to drink water, use the bathroom or any other thing; he would have to ask himself. He came back home with a star for best behaved camper and 2 new friends.
MAKE ONE GOOD FRIEND
The truth is, while I want my children to make friends and all that good stuff, I would rather they have one good friend. I don’t enforce making friends; I let my son know its okay to have just one. Being too forward and having 20 friends doesn’t make you cooler than those with few. The plan is to be closer to family than outsiders.
LEAVE THEM BE
With shy kids, knowing their parents or guardians are always around to save the day only makes them comfortable keeping to themselves. Teaching independence is not through enforcing it. I don’t stay for birthday parties’ anymore. I drop my son off and it’s sayonara till the party ends. When there was no more me to sit with as an option, he started mingling and interacting with other people and most especially, he started having fun.
Kids are all different, don’t use the next mans child to rate yours. As long as their grades are good and their manners impeccable, your shy child may just be very focused on other things beyond his age. Hug your little ones and let them know you love them just as they are.
Ms Ssygala, is the mother of two rambunctious kids and blogging is her last line to sanity
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