THE PROBLEM: I often think my youngest (8 yo) child seems overwhelmed living at our house. We’re a close family, but a loud one. My husband and I have seven kids, two dogs, and a guinea pig, and pandemonium reigns. We all love it, except for my little one. He’s always been quiet and shy, but it’s gotten to the point where he hardly talks at all. He’s got a really good friend that he spends a lot of time with, but I wish he were more comfortable at home.
MARY SAYS: Genetics are fascinating, aren’t they? An entire family can be cut from the same fun-loving cloth, then out pops a little one who bears more resemblance to a second cousin twice removed, the one who entered a monastery at age twenty-two.
Which means, of course, your son may be perfectly fine in his peaceful solitude.
But still, as you have expressed, you want to make sure he’s happy at home. And at such a young age, it’s important that your son feels confident enough to speak up when he has something to say. Everybody has something to say, even monks!
The fix might be easier than you think. At the age of eight, children are trying to figure out who they are, especially within the social structure of their ‘tribe.’ With a little help from you, your son can start practicing his speaking skills without even knowing he’s doing it.
What your son needs is an assignment. Sometimes shy people do better with an assigned role, which gives them the opportunity to lead rather than fade into the background. Here are a few suggestions for you to try:
- Plan a bingo night and let him be the caller.
- Coordinate a skit and give him a speaking part. Better yet, let him direct it!
- Have a structured conversation after dinner where everybody chooses topics from a jar. Go around the table and give everybody an opportunity to share.
- Put your son in charge of a family activity. Perhaps you’re going on vacation, and someone needs to take charge of making sure the luggage is at the front door on time, or maybe he could devise a schedule for washing dishes.
While drawing your son out is important, far more important is to recognize that this eight-year-old soft-spoken boy is a precious gift to your family. From him, your other children can learn the value of listening, observing, and not having to say everything that comes to mind.
ERIKA SAYS: I grew up in a large (loud!) family, and even though I was not a particularly quiet child, I was often overwhelmed by the crowd. It was hard to find my voice among so many kids and so many personalities. Sometimes, I hesitated to speak up if I had an opinion that differed from everybody else’s, because that meant I was different.
But if your son hasn’t mentioned feeling uncomfortable, then I wouldn’t attach myself to the notion that he is. I find people who are introverted enjoy being that way, and they frequently accumulate more wisdom by being so good at listening.
That said, there are some ways you can encourage your quiet son to chime in from time to time.
My parents made us all sit together at dinner in the evenings, no TV, no phones. Mealtime was set aside as an opportunity for my parents to catch up with us, but also for us kids to hang with each other. It never felt like we had to talk, but somehow, my parents ensured we all had a chance to share while everybody else listened.
We used to go around the table and share the “pit and peak” of our week. As we shared, everybody chimed in, and the conversation naturally flowed. Family suppers like this will give your little one the opportunity to talk about his wins and losses without feeling put on the spot.
A few times a month, we would have family game nights, which were always so much fun! Those of us who were old enough to play on their own would go solo, and the littles would get paired with an older sibling. I was 16 years older than my youngest sibling, so I didn’t have a lot in common with the younger ones. Activities like this gave us a chance to bond, and as the littler boys grew older, game nights gave them a sense of belonging and made interacting with us older siblings feel less intimidating.
Regardless of the age gaps in your family, initiating and encouraging family activities where everyone is required to participate eventually becomes a natural occurrence. For us, it actually got to the point that my parents didn’t have to orchestrate it—we just did it ourselves!
Having a quiet child isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As I mentioned before, introverted people often have an innate knack for accruing wisdom and knowledge. Your son may very well be happy and content with the role he plays in your family. Some people thrive in a one-on-one setting, while others prefer group settings, and that’s perfectly okay.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
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Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.