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#1 of 16 Old 10-11-2008, 11:45 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Ds has always been nervous with new people, and when he was younger I was careful to protect his need to have space and be reserved with new people. I would answer for him when adults asked his name, etc.. I never asked him to hug or kiss pushy relatives. Always held him close when he felt shy, etc.

Now he is in third grade, and he is a big capable kid, but still refuses to talk to adults he doesn't know. At church when they "pass the peace," he does not stand up, crosses his arms, and refuses to acknowledge people who try to greet him. He literally glares at people who approach him. (We had to make a rule that his not allowed to hide under the pew, actually.) When Dh or I run into people we know in public places, and they ask him for his name, he stares at the ground and refuses to say anything.

I know that his behavior comes across as rude. I have asked him what he feels -- he insists that he is not scared, but that he just doesn't like to talk to grown-ups that he doesn't know. I asked what goes through his mind, and he says, "I don't know the person, so I won't talk to them. Its my rule."

I have observed that he is comfortable, confident and polite with adults he does know. And I have role played with him. He knows the mechanics of acceptable social behavior.

I don't know exactly how to handle this! I've always been pretty good about not allowing my feelings of embarrassment to dictate how I handle my kids. But the older he gets, the more I begin to think that this behavior is just not okay. Any suggestions???
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#2 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 02:03 PM
 
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Having been an extremely shy child myself, I think he might just need more time. 8 is still really young. I think around 11 or 12 is when I started feeling confident enough to talk to strangers.

As for rudeness, I find the way adults persist in trying to get a child engage in ways they wouldn't persist with an adult is pretty rude. I don't blame him for resorting to rudeness - maybe just giving off shy signals wasn't enough to get some adults to stop. I witnessed this firsthand yesterday at the circus - a clown persisted in engaging with a 9-year-old girl who kept her head down, kept shaking her head, even buried her head in her mother's shoulder, until finally the clown backed off when he saw she was crying. It brought back memories for me.

It might help to give him strong, effective words and behavior to let an adult know that its time to stop. For me, words were hard to say - it meant more engagement and engagement with this person was what I was trying to avoid. Just about anything truly effective is going to be perceived as rude, I think. What would have helped me the most is having my parent stay pretty close to me in strange situations and intervene on my behalf.

I did very well in a social skills group at elementary school, with a kind and sympathetic social worker running the class. He helped us learn how to deal with all sorts of difficult social situations, increasing our confidence, but also stepped in to intervene when a situation was harder than we could manage appropriately.
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#3 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 02:22 PM
 
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Would it help to think of him as a 'little 8yo" instead of a "big 8yo"? Being physically large does NOT mean he's mature or ready for more sophisticated interactions.

I think you need to continue standing up for him in public situations. Why are "people you know" asking him for his name? Don't they already know it? If they're just aquantances, I'd simply answer for him and steer the conversation away from him. I'm not familiar with your church's 'pass the peace' ritual, but how is it a problem if he sits nicely on the pew with his arms folded and his eyes downward? Obviously making small talk with lots of adults IS too hard or too intense for him right now, and I can't see what good would come from forcing him to interact like this before he's ready. By age 13 I'd expect him to interact in an adult manner (or give him the option of staying home)- but he's only 8. Go easy on him.

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#4 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 02:36 PM
 
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How about introducing the adults when they approach? If it's someone you don't know, say something like- I'm sorry, he won't speak to adults he hasn't met yet, could I introduce you please?



-Angela
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#5 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 02:42 PM
 
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Originally Posted by mamaduck View Post
(We had to make a rule that his not allowed to hide under the pew, actually.)
That sounds like something my 7.5 yo dd would try! We don't have a ritual like this in our service, but I am sure she would not participate if we did. It would just be too difficult for her at this age. It took her a year (a year!), in fact, to speak naturally with our family counselor. But, like your ds, she is confident, polite, and comfortable with people she knows well.

My parents have a painful vacation memory of fishing on a pier with my sister, then age 13. A friendly man approached her to discuss her fishing with her, and she stared straight forward with icy silence while he talked to her. She wouldn't even acknowledge that he was speaking to her! They were really embarassed, and even angry at her. But, that same girl now speaks confidently to groups, teaching as a graduate student and presenting at conferences. I'm not telling this story to convince anybody that this behavior is ok at 13--or even at 7 or 8, necessarily--but just to show that people do grow out of this kind of behavior over time and with experience.

One thing that my shy dd and my shy sister have in common is anxiety. We've done a lot in counseling to help dd deal with her anxiety, and that has helped with *all* areas of her life. It might help to explore social anxiety resources, and see if you can find some strategies, or just some reassurance, that will help you and your son deal with this issue.
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#6 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 04:00 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you for the kind, compassionate responses. It makes me feel better just to know there are people out there who can be compassionate and not judgemental about this behavior! I like the suggestion to out of my way to introduce him, so that he is not in the position of having to give his name. Thanks Angela -- that is something that would show good social grace on my part, I imagine. Of course then the question becomes, "How old are you? What grade are you in?" Etc... (Can you even imagine a stranger asking your age?!)

One thing that DH and I are not really clear on is whether or not his behavior actually is a result of intense shyness or not. It could be. There are times when it is obvious that he is afraid. I would never expect him to be able to purchase something on his own and interact with the cashier, for instance. But I could also imagine it being sheer grumpiness (DH calls it "pissyness.") Ds can be extrordinarily disagreeable when he perceives an obligation to act a certain way. He likes to make his own rules. I don't know if that should make any difference though, in the way that I respond!
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#7 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 05:23 PM
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The thing to rememeber about shyness is it's not just (or even primarily, often) about fear. It's about reserve. A shy person naturally wants to hold back more of him or herself, not out of rudeness or fear, but to maintain the same baseline comfort level anyone wants to maintain. So, just as kind of a silly example, a shy person might feel as uncomfortable being grilled about what she's doing in school right now, as a non-shy person might feel being grilled about what she does in the bathroom. It's not a fear feeling, like the questioner is out to get you, it's a feeling of being intruded upon and needing to protect your privacy.

I was a very shy child and as an adult I would say I am definitely still reserved. I have my friends and family and comfort levels and I don't like people trying to force me to be "more outgoing" because they misread my desire to keep to myself as being "aloof."

The other thing about introverts (which most shy people are) is that it really, truly, no joke wears us out physically and emotionally to have to have contact with other people beyond our comfort level. I have been known to come home from social events aching all over like I ran a race, with a need to drop into bed and sleep for 12 hours.

I know this mystifies a lot of other people, but I still really hate being bothered by strangers and acquaintances with certain types of "small talk." Like weather chat is fine with me, but I hate stuff that feels like grilling. How old is your baby? Does she sleep well? Is she eating a lot? Keeping you up all the time? How is your older one handling it? Jealous a lot? Does she love her? How are you handling it? ARRRGH! I barely know you, shut up!! As an adult I don't have to deal with this from virtual strangers nearly as often, but as a little kid it happened all the time, mom's work friends, dad's work friends, old ladies at church, old ladies at the grocery store, everyone always grilling me about how I was doing in school and what I wanted to be when I grew up! It was really taxing and infuriating to me, it felt like no one would just let me be.

I guess I just would try to look at it from the perspective of a shy person, because contrary to what some in this society will tell you, there's nothing inherently wrong with being reserved and shy!
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#8 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 06:10 PM
 
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As a reserved introvert myself, and the parent of one, I agree with whalemilk that it isn't always about fear/anxiety (though sometimes it is). Sometimes it is just reserve, that "slow to warm up," cautious, self-protective temperament. Sometimes being asked to do things like "pass the peace" when told to, rather than when choosing to of one's own free will when one is comfortable doing so, does feel like an intrusion and an imposition.

I am still, at an age I don't wish to reveal , learning to be more social in the socially acceptable way. I sometimes still resent needing to conform, being expected to be different from how I am. I cannot just be a social butterfly, and I do dislike things like passing the peace in church. Social things, even when enjoyable, are draining. I need time alone, or with just my family, to recharge.

My 9 year old (9 today!) is shy, and for her meeting and talking to new people is anxiety: they're new, which brings anxiety; she doesn't know what to say, which brings anxiety. She's also one who, when feeling uncomfortable about doing something, can seem just pissy instead of uncomfortable/scared/vulnerable. It's a self-defense thing. Still working on more socially acceptable ways of communicating her needs and feelings.

My little one, 4.5, is simply slow-to-warm-up and an introvert (in the sense that social contact can be draining, and in the sense that she needs to recharge, regularly, with alone time--or at least "no one but family" time). I do a lot of talking for her, with a smile and without pushing her. Her social skills are just fine with people she instantly clicks with, and once she's warmed up to those she doesn't instantly click with. She just really needs that time to warm up, and she really needs to feel a certain level of comfort with a person in order to talk to them.

That was totally not helpful in terms of advice. But I do like to help people understand those of us who are shy/anxious and/or reserved. We aren't snobby or intending to seem rude, really. We just need time, and we need to feel comfortable (and that's our thing, it's not personal).
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#9 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 06:12 PM
 
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One thing that DH and I are not really clear on is whether or not his behavior actually is a result of intense shyness or not. It could be. There are times when it is obvious that he is afraid. I would never expect him to be able to purchase something on his own and interact with the cashier, for instance. But I could also imagine it being sheer grumpiness (DH calls it "pissyness.") Ds can be extrordinarily disagreeable when he perceives an obligation to act a certain way. He likes to make his own rules. I don't know if that should make any difference though, in the way that I respond!
I think it doesn't really make any difference. Either he's doing it because he's scared ("shy") or he's doing it because it feels right, or he's doing it to be ornery... Seems like big-picture it doesn't really matter *why* He just needs some tools to ease into different social habits.

-Angela
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#10 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 08:08 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by whalemilk View Post
The thing to rememeber about shyness is it's not just (or even primarily, often) about fear. It's about reserve. A shy person naturally wants to hold back more of him or herself, not out of rudeness or fear, but to maintain the same baseline comfort level anyone wants to maintain. So, just as kind of a silly example, a shy person might feel as uncomfortable being grilled about what she's doing in school right now, as a non-shy person might feel being grilled about what she does in the bathroom. It's not a fear feeling, like the questioner is out to get you, it's a feeling of being intruded upon and needing to protect your privacy.
I think this is probably a very accurate conceptualization of what goes through his head. (Actually, I think my DH probably feels this way about a lot of interactions too, so he comes by it honestly.) I guess the problem I see is that his indignation over what he perceives as "intrusion" is misplaced, and his reactions have the potential to hurt people's feelings. When people speak to him, they are demonstrating an interest in him in an attempt to be kind. People are nice to him, and he reacts with indignation!

I guess I feel torn. A part of me wants to respect and protect his need to be left alone. Another part of me feels obliged to discourage overtly rude behavior!
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#11 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 09:37 PM
 
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I think this is probably a very accurate conceptualization of what goes through his head. (Actually, I think my DH probably feels this way about a lot of interactions too, so he comes by it honestly.) I guess the problem I see is that his indignation over what he perceives as "intrusion" is misplaced, and his reactions have the potential to hurt people's feelings. When people speak to him, they are demonstrating an interest in him in an attempt to be kind. People are nice to him, and he reacts with indignation!

I guess I feel torn. A part of me wants to respect and protect his need to be left alone. Another part of me feels obliged to discourage overtly rude behavior!
My DH, who has Asperger's, is very much this way. He perceives normal conversational interest as a violation. The solution for DH is scripts, scripts, and more scripts. Its been really hard to find a script which is polite, yet doesn't lead to continuing the conversation. Its hard to find a way to refuse an interaction gracefully. One thing that is sure to work is something like, "I'm sorry; I'm in prayer right now" then bow your head. Not rude but kind of tends to make the other person feel bad. DH also uses "Hi there! Got to run but its good to see you." That, unfortunately, requires movement.

DH is unable to view their interest in him as a compliment. He simply feels offended and violated. No amount of explaining seems to help. "But I would NEVER ask them such a question!" is his frequent response. And its true, he wouldn't - he is very sensitive to not violating another's privacy, even when they'd like for him to ask such questions, he doesn't, or can't.

DH also has trouble responding to affectionate or playful teasing. Does your son have any trouble in this area? DH doesn't quite get it unless its very obvious - tending to see it as an attack or some kind of bizarre non sequitur.
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#12 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 09:48 PM
 
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Try googling "selective mutism" a failure to speak, generally because of anxiety.

My niece has it; I suspect my younger dd does as well.
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#13 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 10:25 PM
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Personally as far as coping I would balance two things: teaching the kid some generic but friendly responses to annoying chitchat (my mom taught me this and it was very helpful--she also taught me how to indicate that I'm not interested in pursuing a conversation without just walking away or not responding.) And on the other hand, gently helping nosy, chatty adults move the heck on and not bug him so much. Because honestly, as another poster said, adults will so often push kids much harder than they would another adult who they didn't know very well. Like right now, strange adults are constantly getting in my 2 yo's face and saying "do you LOVE your sister??" And getting offended when she turns her head to hide instead of answering! Can you IMAGINE getting asked that by the checkout lady as an adult?? LMAO!
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#14 of 16 Old 10-12-2008, 10:45 PM
 
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He sounds exactly like one woman I know. For that reason I would strongly stress, do not push! Her parents did and it made things worse. She ended being exceedingly shy (and for the most part friendless because of it) until she was 19 years old. She still has trouble with people older then her that she doesn't know.

Understand that when he's in a situation with a strange adult, it's stressfull enough as it is. When he picks up on your unhappiness that he didn't respond the way you think he should, it makes it that much harder. Not only is there the shyness, there is also the expectation that he knows he can't fullfil. It sets him up for failure.

Everyone has different levels of comfort and you can't force someone to be comfortable in a situation their aren't comfortable it.

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#15 of 16 Old 10-13-2008, 05:37 PM
 
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I think this is probably a very accurate conceptualization of what goes through his head. (Actually, I think my DH probably feels this way about a lot of interactions too, so he comes by it honestly.) I guess the problem I see is that his indignation over what he perceives as "intrusion" is misplaced, and his reactions have the potential to hurt people's feelings. When people speak to him, they are demonstrating an interest in him in an attempt to be kind. People are nice to him, and he reacts with indignation!

I guess I feel torn. A part of me wants to respect and protect his need to be left alone. Another part of me feels obliged to discourage overtly rude behavior!
While this is true, and obvious to us adults, I think this may in fact be difficult for an 8 year old to understand (or at least for an 8 year old who has difficulty with social situations to understand). I wonder if, in addition to helping him develop some responses that are more socially acceptable, it might help to work with him directly on learning/understanding that his perceptions differ from the perceptions of others. This might be one piece of it for him. I find that it always helps to understand where another person is coming from-that alone can do a lot to ease my own discomfort about any number of difficult situations in life.

Or, perhaps he knows this but still has trouble coping.

I like whalemilk's suggestions. Maybe memorizing a response, or engaging in some role-playing would help. Maybe making a plan about specific situations would help (for example, in church could you sit in a location where there are fewer people to pass the peace with? And agree on a polite response he can extend to a certain number of people?).
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#16 of 16 Old 10-13-2008, 06:14 PM - Thread Starter
 
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DH also has trouble responding to affectionate or playful teasing. Does your son have any trouble in this area? DH doesn't quite get it unless its very obvious - tending to see it as an attack or some kind of bizarre non sequitur.
Nah -- he is the master of playful teasing and very affectionate with those people in his designated "safe circle." He surprises us with his quick wit. He is a little better at dishing it out than taking it (but I think that is normal for a child!)
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