How do you tactfully set limits on behalf of a bashful babe? We just got home from a week's travel for Thanksgiving, lots of crowds, lots of strangers, lots of people wanting to see, touch, hold, and play with my shy 10-month-old. The worst was at breakfast at a diner, the waitress just wouldn't leave her alone - stroking her hair, her cheeks, talking to her every time she walked by. The waitress kept saying, "Awww, looky there, she loves that so much she's about to fall asleep!" Truth was, the child was literally trying to climb under the table.
She was trapped in a high chair, I was trapped in a booth, it just was really ticking me off. I don't hide her from social situations, I believe we conquer our fears by facing them. I stretched her boundaries often on this trip, and for the most part she warmed up and was just so charming - I'm so proud of her. However, I do believe that my job as a parent is to help this sweet, bashful little soul feel SAFE, and that includes protecting her from people who ignore her cues when she's clearly had enough.
Those of you with reserved little ones, how do you deal with pushy waitresses, obnoxious aunts, meddling strangers, and loudmouths?
I have an extremely introverted and bashful little girl. She's also an absolute doll and winds up getting tons of attention while we're out and about. (We call her "the Mayor".)
Firstly, don't be ashamed of politely making your child's needs known. I know I've stepped on some toes by telling people that no, they may not hold Little Miss right now because she is becoming terrified and unhappy about being passed around. But those toes were over the line for insisting, so too bad if they got stepped on. I've had people tell me that I must pass my child around. Kiss my ass, get your own baby. This is usually friends and family though, and not strangers.
Secondly, your demeanor means a lot. I've come to realize that I am very friendly, very gregarious, usually smiling and outgoing and happy to engage, so while Little Miss is not any of those things, the people who approach her out in public don't feel rejected completely because I engage and explain that she's just not very outgoing. My welcoming nature softens the blow of her glare. If someone scares her (and it happens often), I am a person that can say "Oh no! You scared her!" while maintaining the friendliness and happy mood. I make a lot of friends this way, they come to meet her and instead they meet me! So don't forget that these lookey-loos all have good intentions and maybe just haven't met a bashful baby before. I think you'll feel more comfortable if you're not just turning people away with hurt feelings, and I think the way to avoid that is by being welcoming enough for both of you.
I try to avoid using words like "shy" or even "bashful" when describing her to her adoring public because some folks just feel obliged to try to pull her out of her shell. I tend to tell people that she is very serious, and if they're charmed by that, I move on to my jokes about a comfortable retirement for me when she makes those millions in high-stakes poker with that world-class straight face. Big hit there.
Sometimes, if I'm getting a lot of pressure from someone for her to smile or coo or whatever, for example in your waitress situation, I would insert my hand into the mix of hands touching her and, because she doesn't mind being tickled (she looks for it when we're alone), I'll tickle her and then she'll either smile or she won't. If she smiles I can announce that she's smiled, game over! and everyone can go away happy, or if she doesn't I'll very dramatically say that look, she doesn't even smile for her mother, and then just keep my hand on her. I've yet to fail to have someone get this hint.
Here's another thought: I have been coaching my darling to interact with people. There is nothing wrong with being introverted. There is nothing wrong with preferring not to talk to people. But I don't want her to be afraid to engage with people throughout the course of her day. So when she was very young and she would just scream in fear the minute she was being touched by a stranger. But humans are social, and I can't be all of her social interaction forever. So at about 6 months or so I started taking her to a baby group. In the beginning she wouldn't leave my lap, and just clung to me watching from a distance. Now she is 14 months old and she still needs the first 1/2 of class to warm up and get into it, but eventually she usually slides off my lap and wanders into the group to participate.
So when your sweetness is ready, consider coaching her on being social. I never pushed, if Little Miss cried I stopped whatever was happening instantly, but I always offered and encouraged, and she's made big strides, and frankly, she seems happy when she plucks up the nerve to interact and gets a smile from someone. She gets that "proud of myself" look on her face when she toddles up to the library teacher and gets a pat on her head. Makes my heart burst.
And on 09/23/2011, we were three; husband, daughter, and me!
Thank you! Those are really helpful tips. You're right - we are way overdue for a baby group! And I'm not always on my game with a quick response or joke to diffuse the situation (and set limits at the same time.)
Sometimes you've just got to be "big" - I can remember one grocery trip where I leaned down over a cooler to look at bacon and came back up to find some well-meaning nana literally inches from my son's face. He looked terrified. A nice big loud EXCUSE ME about scared the Depends off of her. The waitress in your situation would have gotten the same treatment - it's one thing for a stranger to perhaps pat a hand or wiggle a toe after first talking to me about it, but no stranger is going to be that close to my son without first asking me for permission. My child is not there to entertain or be manhandled. Overfamiliarity is just off-putting.
I guess, long story short, if it's not social behavior I would allow someone to "do" to me, then I don't allow it to be done to my child. I wouldn't allow a waitress to ruffle my hair (or since it's more age appropriate, say, squeeze/shake my shoulder), so why should I allow a waitress to ruffle my son's hair? Ew. Personal space and boundaries, people!
Setting limits wasn't as difficult for me as I expected it would be (I thought it would be impossible for me!), but I think that's mainly because my limits are much different than I thought they would be. Once when I was wearing her, a man reached out and touched us both. Husband was there, and my whole attention was drawn to preventing the husband from reaching out and "touching" the man in return, I didn't have time to be squicked. This is one of maybe 3 encounters that set my hairs up. Overall, I am pretty relaxed about people touching her, and most people don't actually touch her. Most people just wave and pull silly faces at her.
Anyhow, I do find setting limits with people I know the most difficult. I think, I hope you'll find that once you start to let people know what you're comfortable with, it gets easier, maybe not because they listen, but because you've gotten used to saying it.
Practice at home! No, really, if you're nervous to say something, practice at home. I'll repeat things I don't want to say but have to over and over in the shower. It truly helps.
That baby group - I'm such a social person, the group was as much for me. But even if you don't need lots of chat every day, I think you'll enjoy a group. Most libraries offer a free one. I know our local library has just been wonderful, and the teacher takes the time to get to know each baby a little bit. Our teacher is aware of Little Miss' personality enough that she is very gentle and quieter with Little Miss, and Little Miss has stayed behind in the littles group longer, to give her time to keep warming up before we pitch her in with babies twice her size and much more outgoing. The group can really help you start to see your sweetness in some new ways, too. From group, I've learned that Little Miss usually needs a teeny tiny *push* for most things. She didn't crawl until just after her friends did, she didn't walk until just after her friends did... she's my little peer pressure-ee. She's going to let another little baby go first and see how it goes for them. So at home I don't get so stressed about having her "do" anything, I just show her things repeatedly, and am assured that several weeks from the demonstration she'll pull that trick out of her hat. Of course, the added bonus, she has come "out of her shell" immensely. Which means she regards people with a cool gaze while holding my hand, instead of while clinging to my neck.
(Gosh, so much to say, sorry to be so wordy! Love my little shy girl.)
And on 09/23/2011, we were three; husband, daughter, and me!
Wow - you guys are both so right! We are definitely waaay overdue for a baby group. Baby needs the social time, and so do I. Part of this is sheer unfamiliarity with noise and activity - our home is very quiet and peaceful. Until I get her in more social groups, I really can't say exactly how shy she is. She may surprise me and become the ringleader.
However, I find it annoying how some outgoing people make it their mission to pull quiet people out of their shell, often by force and with much noise. I won't let my daughter withdraw from life, but I WILL let her get familiar with new situations from the safety of my lap. And once I see the "Help!" face, I won't leave her stranded, no matter how much you love her and want to play with her. Anybody who suggests otherwise, so far, has been completely ignored. As a confirmed high introvert, I've grown quite good at tuning out blather. :) But sometimes ignoring isn't enough, and I've got to be willing to set the limits.
It's just so hard to navigate this aspect of parenting - it's so personal. Both I and my husband were shy, introverted kids (not all introverts are shy, but we were). I believe I was allowed to withdraw too much (because MY parents are shy), and I missed out on a lot of opportunities and grew up very low on courage and confidence. So, I wish I had been pushed just a little bit more. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in an extroverted family and was constantly thrust into the spotlight and repeatedly mortified. And he grew up very low on courage and confidence. (sigh).
I just desperately want my daughter to grow up free of social fears! And I just adore her sweet little way of participating. She'll watch, say, a rambunctious baby yelling and beating toys together, and a few minutes later she'll very lightly tap two toys together, very softly, with a little smile. It just absolutely breaks my heart - so cute, and so achingly eager, it almost makes me cry. She deserves to grow up feeling like the world is her oyster, and I'm a little overwhelmed with the responsibility of that.
Thanks for all your advice and support!
How do you deal with pushy waitresses, obnoxious aunts, meddling strangers, and loudmouths?
I'm an introvert, my spouse is an introvert, so no surprise, DS happens to be an introvert too. And at age 8 months-14 months, he especially did not like unwanted attention from strangers (now, for the most part, he does, just in small doses and on his terms). Unfortunately, he's a rather attractive smiley sort of kid, and large for his age, so people come up to him all the time, get in his face, and bombard him with questions, and assume he's older and more mature than he really is. Also, he's speech delayed, so other than his body language, he doesn't have a lot of tools to defend himself from unwanted situations. It sucks.
I've noticed with friends/family members who have little girls, it can be even worse because girls (in this culture) are expected to be more outgoing, social, cute, and "perform for adults on demand" in ways that boys aren't necessarily expected to.
Frankly, I tend to be pretty blunt when I notice my son is not comfortable with a given situation. I know I have the kind of kid who prefers to stay close to mama and watch from the sidelines before jumping into a new situation. And I don't mind telling other people to shove off, especially strangers, if they're making him uncomfortable.
I remember feeling shy as a kid and preferring to be left alone unless I was in the "mood" for social situations, so I don't force my child to interact with people he's clearly uncomfortable with. Most of my family has similar temperaments (or enough experience with kids) to know when to back off, so the problem is usually with strangers.
People would go on and on about how cute he was. "Thank you, I think he is too."
People used to come up to him and bombard him with questions. I'd say, "He doesn't talk yet."
People would want to touch him. "He doesn't like being touched by people he doesn't know well."
People (mainly family members) would want to hold him or pick him up. "He prefers to sit here with me awhile until he feels comfortable with the situation." or "He'll probably come over to you when he's gotten used to you."
People would bring their dogs over near him at the park (because they mistakenly believe he would want to pet their dogs). "He doesn't really like having dogs up in his face, they scare him."
And my personal favorites, "I don't think he's enjoying that." and "You're making him uncomfortable."