The other day Little H came home from school telling me a story about a child in one of her classes. It got me to thinking that I really wanted to write a blog about “shyness.” After all, it’s something I know a lot about having been a painfully shy child myself. So much is focused on the extrovert that we forget about the introverts who balance them. Not that all introverts are shy, nor are all shy people introverts. But I do think they go hand in hand more often than not. All of my kids are somewhat shy in different ways, but thankfully none as severely as I was.
So, the other day she was telling me about a game they were playing. A student had to go up to the board and then had to choose someone to go against. The point of the exercise was to work on vocabulary. One of her friends happened to be picked. Apparently her friend froze and turned bright red, so the teacher and then the class started chanting her name to…supposedly…give her encouragement. Can I just say that the last thing you should ever, ever do to a shy child is focus everyone’s attention on him/her?? Many shy children prefer to be “invisible” and find it humiliating to have any type of attention drawn to themselves.
Little H clinging to me
Little H continued by telling me that the teacher finally asked the class if anyone was willing to go in her place. Nobody raised their hand, so Little H’s hand shot up and she volunteered to go up. The concern and understanding for her friend superseded all of her inhibitions until she sat back down, where she said she proceeded to shake.
I’m sure it’s difficult for someone who is outgoing to understand what it feels like to be shy. Just like I’m still in awe of people who can get up in front of a group and speak without a problem, and I can’t relate to them. I remember when I was in school and there was a new teacher or substitute teacher, the kids in my classes would tell the teachers I didn’t talk. And when I did talk, everybody made such a huge deal about it that it was mortifying. It always made me shrink into myself even more. Really, I wanted to speak and be “normal,” but no matter what I told myself in my head, I couldn’t do it. A part of me would freeze, and I would be unable to get the words out. And I was terribly, terribly self-conscious. And this wasn’t only when I was really young. It followed me into high school.
My Family 1981 (6th grade)
I still remember a presentation I had to do in sixth grade. I made some type of poster I had to present. I can’t remember what it was exactly. But I stood up there, kept going over in my head what I wanted to say, and could never get the words out. The teacher took pity on me and gave me a “C.” My childhood was filled with humiliating moments like these… being bullied in preschool, having my hands smacked with a ruler in first grade for not reading out loud, PE and kids sticking their tongues out at me in high school. Despite that, I was mostly a happy child. I’m really glad I don’t have to go through 7th and 8th grade and high school again, but I survived intact. And I was a total chatterbox at home.
My advice about dealing with a shy child is to draw them out slowly. Let them have one on one interaction with peers because they tend to “disappear” in larger groups. Don’t berate them for being “rude,” or tell them that they should know better to act a certain way. Chances are they already know this. Let them practice in a situation where they are more comfortable. Ask them easy questions to help them relax. The less the center of attention they are the better. And I can tell you that NO amount of forced public speaking ever made me more comfortable…absolutely none. I have read how the junior cotillion can help shy people develop better social skills. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m not sure it would have helped me, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t help my kids (they probably wouldn’t get past the sulking part to give it a chance). It is a thought, though, if you feel thatyour child could benefit.
Despite my shyness, I managed to tutor kids in the National Honor Society and even went on a two week trip to Germany as a short term “exchange student” the summer after my junior year. College was the turning point for me. Nobody knew me, and I had to take care of myself. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I made some close friends and was able to break out of my shell.
Rothenburg, Germany 1987
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’m an extroverted person now. I like my alone time, I’m better off in smaller groups of people, and large parties make me uncomfortable. I’m really bad at small talk when I don’t know someone very well, and I still may come off as “rude” or disinterested at times. Writing blogs for the public is even a stretch for my comfort level. But I am far from the self-conscious, shy child I was. So, if you have a shy child don’t despair, there is hope, although you may never have a social butterfly. And just think how boring the world would be if we were all the same!