Don’t Call Her Shy

17 Comments 16 December 2011

I’m not a fan of people calling my daughter shy. 

Sure, she may show all the signs of being “shy,” hiding behind my legs when first meeting someone. Or meeting someone for the 10th time for that matter.

It takes her anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour to come around. To show you the real her. I take it as her adjustment period, and often catch her watching this new person out of the corner of her eye.

She asks me to protect her, to shield her from the unfamiliar, by wanting to be picked up. Firmly planting her cheek on my shoulder and throwing her arms around my neck in a tight embrace.

Upon seeing this behavior, you might think my daughter is shy.

But please don’t call her shy.

You see, I believe we become the way we are when frequently told that how we behave, (shy, angry, etc.) is who we are. If we agree to those statements as truth about ourselves, we become it. Saying it once doesn’t necessarily make it true, but saying it over and over again makes it easier for us to believe.

I don’t even say the word shy anymore. I’m not going to put her into that box. I won’t stamp her with that label.

My daughter likes to take her time, easing into situations that might first be just outside her comfort zone.

Allow me to provide you with a beautiful scenario that describes more fully just what I mean.

This week, I decided to take my children to the library for a family story time. We arrived right on time, but the room was already full of loud, rambunctious children and their mothers.

When I opened the half door and presented the room to Ella, asking her to go inside, she refused.

“Are you sure honey?” I asked her. “This is why we came to the library today – to go to circle time.”

“No.” She replied. “I don’t want to.”

She was certain. Not budging those little feet.

I could immediately tell this was not a defiant moment on her part. No, she was afraid to go into that room full of busy children. And when everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at her, wondering if she would come in so we could close the door safely behind, she felt intimidated.

I don’t blame her. If I were her, I’d have felt the same way.

So I said, “okay honey, we don’t have to.”

When I turned to close the door to the children’s room, the mothers seemed to gawk.

No, I’m not forcing my toddler into the room if she doesn’t want to. And no, I’m not going to get flustered or lose my cool over this. Not when I respect her thoughts and feelings.

I realized at this point, we need to arrive 10 minutes earlier than the class begins and be one of the first families in the room. Ella would feel much more comfortable with the other children entering “her” space, rather than the other way around.

We’ll try that next week and I’ll report back with the results.

My point with this post is to encourage you to look at your child’s behavior in depth as I did with Ella in this situation. What could be going on in their mind? Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if a room full of people stopped and looked at you as you entered a room? Would you feel a little nervous? I would.

Let’s not jump to labeling our children, especially when we all change and grow so frequently, learning from our daily experiences. One day Ella will have the courage to step into a crowded room, and I hope I’m there to see it, or hold her hand and walk in with her.

Your Comments

17 Comments so far

  1. Bec says:

    Such a great post! This describes my girl perfectly so can definitely relate! She is 3 & a half now and showing more confidence but still is often labeled shy.

  2. Joy says:

    I completely agree. Labeling can have a disastrous effect on children. You could call it a curse. When parents curse their children, it’s very, very hard to overcome or break that curse. I was labeled as being shy. And constantly compared with my younger sister who was “not shy.” I was told this over and over again. I became super introverted and it was very hard to make friends in school. I remember my father saying to me, “Well, your sister has a good personality.” It took a LOT of work to be free of this, and I would have become a different, freer, more outgoing person who made better decisions if my parents were as wise as you are in this. One of the things that helped me overcome the curse was a magnificent home birth. I am determined not to label my daughter. I also don’t force her into uncomfortable situations (like my parents did with me on occasion) but let her warm up to people and places at her own pace.

  3. Peggy says:

    Thank you, so sweet. My oldest son is exactly the same. Some may say ‘shy’ but I say smart and thoughtful. And, yes, I’d feel exactly the same way too. =)

  4. Mara says:

    My daughter is slow-to-warm. She does not take kindly to people grabbing her, or hugging her, even if it is people she “should” feel comfortable with (grandparents, etc). She is NOT shy… but, some might think so at first. She just has boundaries, which when respected, come down incredibly quickly. Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of people out there that don’t have time for that kind of thing- or have personal expectations that a toddler will react to them in the same way they react to a toddler, and it is sad. I have been, and will continue to be my daughter’s biggest champion in respecting how she feels, and honoring that.

  5. Amy says:

    This is exactly the sort of perspective I hope to achieve with my son (currently 10 months old). I do well when he is having a mostly good day, or when we are out of the house. But when he is having a “moody day” and is frequently upset, I get frustrated very easily with him and begin to focus on my own missed needs (food, drink, even bathroom). I am proud to say though, that I am constantly working on it, stopping myself in the middle of frustration, taking a breath, and beginning again from a kinder angle.

  6. Alisha says:

    Beautifully written, and a great reminder to me. I don’t want to label my children either. And I definitely don’t want to push them into something that they feel uncomfortable with just because I want them to do what others may be involved with doing. Thanks!

  7. Jasmine says:

    I love, love, love this post. My son gets labeled frequently for something he isn’t (high maintenance, rambunctious, bad or difficult) and he just isn’t those things. He’s a normal little one year old. This post hit home for me and it was so well written. Thank you for sharing this! I know many mothers in the same boat who I’m sure will also appreciate this post.

  8. Pam says:

    I myself was very shy as a child and although I don’t remember my family calling me shy or having people label me that way I do remember how aweful it felt to be shy. I also remember my taking me places and allowing me to leave because I felt uncomfortable, or letting me quit gymnastics, soccer, baseball and any other sport I started, and I never outgrew it on my own no matter how much my mom coddled me, and the older I got the harder it was. So when my first born daughter came along and started showing signs of having the same shy personality instead of accepting that was who she was going to be I accepted it was my job to help her feel confidant from an early age. I did it gently but I never let her run away from an overwhelming situation, I taught her to work through it and that it would be ok. When she started dance class at almost 3 she didn’t want to leave my side, so I bribed her with one quarter that she could spend at the candy store after being big and brave. That same year she danced in front of 300 people on stage and 6 years later she’s still dancing and loving every minute of it. She plays soccer, swims, wrestles, is always mentioned as a role model at school and a leader. I 100% believe that if I hadn’t have put her in activities and forced her to follow through and finish that she wouldnt be my confidant little girl who will not only participate in a conversation with someone she has never met before, but she will actually start the conversation.

  9. Claire says:

    Beautiful! :) I completely agree. I work in retail and I various displays of parenting all the time and it always makes me think how it’s effecting the children.
    So few people seem to see their kids as people and with their own feelings.
    Kids feelings seem to be brushed away as something that doesn’t count because they are small little kids.
    Heck, a disgustingly large amount of parents wont even respect their kids enough to take them to the bathroom when the kid asks. Instead they tell them to be quiet and wait.
    I love that you make these posts/blogs that make people THINK about this kind of thing! I hope that if I choose to have kids, I’m able to use so many of the ideas you have shared!

  10. Patti McNulty says:

    Wonderful post Kaitlin, my wise-beyond-her-years beauty.

  11. Katie Mulder says:

    AH! I just love this.. every bit! The last time we got together I was describing the morning to Nate that night…Including Lucan and Ella Rose. And I never once used the word shy.. because I didn’t really feel that from her. I said something like “She was different than Ruby today, she was careful and watched the whole world around her..” She stayed by your side, and when you spoke to her she looked right at you. It was so great to watch an almost 3 year old be this way. I told the hubs I really loved her “more careful” personality and the way she observed everything like someone well beyond her years might do.

    I could not agree more.. loved ones have started labeling Ruby from the minute she arrived. Everything from “spunky, sassy, princess, etc…” And I have the same problem with a person hearing that over and over again.. Don’t define her, thank you very much! People always give me a look like I am being over protective or silly.. but I do it for her.

  12. Kimberly Scholten says:

    Nice post and I totally agree.

  13. Sara says:

    This is a very interesting post and while I agree with most of it, I think Pam made some excellent points as well. Sometimes being a parent is helping our children overcome their fears, but I think that can be done very gently with time and patience. I don’t like it when parents force their kids to do something that they clearly have no interest in.

    At the same time, I don’t want my children to miss out on opportunities just because they are scared; so I ultimately think it takes a balance and lots of discernment. It takes a mother recognizing what her child needs and respectfully responding. Great post! It was very thought provoking.

  14. Phil says:

    Talk about Newspeak and being overly politicaly correct.

    Your daughter is shy. Face it.

    You can write a whole blog post to try to define what she is, but english language already has a word for it. It’s called shy.

    “My boy is not a ‘little monster’, he just likes to run around endlessly, breaking things, yelling and throwing tantrums without the slightest regard for order and authority, but he’s not a ‘little monster’. Don’t label him that, he’s energetic”.


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  16. Nicole says:

    I agree.

    But, you may have made some assumptions about those gawking mothers. Maybe they thought, “I hope that lady closes the door so my rowdy kid doesn’t sprint off into the library!” Or “I like her boots”.

    • bringbirthhome says:

      You’re right Nicole. I wasn’t trying to guess what they were thinking, only that they were looking (and sort of gawking). It made me feel slightly self-conscious. I don’t always like when people watch me, but ‘eh, it happens sometimes, especially in moments like those. They probably didn’t have time to think about my boots just then. But I wasn’t trying to say they were thinking negatively of our scene. Thanks for your comment!

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