I have a couple of questions I need help with. The quick background...my 5YO daughter is a very sensitive child (everything from touch,sight, smell, etc). We absolutely think she is wonderful and her personality is just one thing that makes her so perfect in our eyes. We appreciate all of the little things about her! But...we are quickly seeing how some friends and family see her personality as a "problem" or like something is wrong with her.
1) We are SO tired of people calling her shy to her face. And now that she is older she is starting to ask me what shy means. I don't want her to label herself like that. So, how can we handle others when they say something about her "being so shy"?
2) People are now comparing her to her 19mo sister, who is much more extroverted. They say things like, "oh your sister isn't shy like you" or "how did you get so shy and your sister isn't". I don't know how much of this she is picking up, but I don't want her to feel as though something is wrong with her. What can we say when people say these things?
3) Manners. When she is greeted by a familiar family member or friend, she has no "issues". But when a stranger or not-so-familiar person greets or talks to her, she usually looks away towards me or puts her head on me. She doesn't respond to their questions. I guess I'm wondering...where the difference between being shy and having poor manners is. Others who have sensitive children...do you force your child to say hello or answer questions, etc?
I'll start with #3. I'd just say something like, "She doesn't always warm up to people right away" and speak for her. I wouldn't force her to interact with anyone.
I agree about not labelling her. I don't think you can control what other people say, but I do think you can spin it in a way that makes her feel better. Like if someone compares her to her sister, you could reply about how they're each special in their own way, or how glad you are that you have two children who are so unique. So that's #2.
As for #1, again, I don't think you can regulate what words people use, but you can reply in a positive way to make it clear that you like her how she is. "I like how thoughful and introspective she is." Anything positive so they know you are happy and so she knows you're happy with how she is.
That's how I'd handle it anyway. Hopefully you'll get some more replies. My kids and I are all outgoing, so I haven't had to deal with this precisely, although I've dealt with other kinds of labelling.
My son is also shy, though he seems to be warming up a lot faster in recent months. I understand how frustrating it can be when people comment on how shy a child is. DH is introverted and no one ever says things like "Wow, you're a shy one" to him so I don't understand why it is necessary to make those types of comments to a child.
When people mention that my son is shy I usually respond with something along the lines of "he's a keen observer" and give him a pat/hug/kiss/smile to let him know how proud I am of who he is.
I used to worry that his shyness would be interpreted as bad manners, but it's really not the case. He has good manners with people he knows and trusts. He's very kind to his friends and respectful of adults. Sometimes he will ignore or turn away from people he doesn't know or trust. That's actually a good thing, in my opinion. I want him to trust his instincts and not talk to someone he isn't comfortable with. As he gets older I would like for him to always acknowledge questions without feeling like he has to engage in conversation, but I think that will come with time and maturity. Now if he wants to bury his face in my leg it's okay.
Our DD is also very sensitive to everything you described and has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). We don't use the term SPD around DD because we don't want her labeled either (I completely understand). DD has always been shy and when she was younger it was more difficult to deal with because we couldn't reason with her. DD isn't just shy, if someone persists on speaking with her she will get extremely angry. As she's gotten older, before we go into public we always rehearse our mantra, "it's okay to be shy but you may not be rude". In this instance we recognize her shyness but we don't label her as being shy, if that makes sense?
My 5yo son is the same way. When he doesn't know someone well he puts his head on me and looks at me if they talk to him. I do not really see an issue with it. Yeah, he is shy... That is just the way he is. I was the same way as a child. I didn't like to open up to people I didn't know.
I do not really see an issue with people calling her shy but comparing her to her sister in that kind of way seems wrong. I would respond with something assuring the person saying that that they are two different individuals, therefor, they will act differently :)
I *encourage* my son to speak to people sometimes but I do not force it. For example, if we are out to eat and he wants a refill of his drink I will tell him to ask the waitress when she comes back. He usually attempts it but then looks at me and smiles because it just makes him feel uncomfortable. Then I'll say "He is trying to ask for another drink" and he'll agree. I think it helps him when it feels like we are both asking together.
~*Have more than you show, speak less than you know*~
I was exactly like this as a child. I was incredibly shy and would hide behind my parents when spoken to by someone I was unfamiliar with. My 3rd grade teacher made me sit in the corner during class one day because she was sick of me not participating in class discussions. I started bawling about 5 minutes in the corner and she felt awful! But the fact is, you can't force a shy kid to talk, you can only create an environment that they will feel safe in.
Fast forward to today.We're dealing with my 9 year old DS anxiety issues. While researching this, I came across something called Selective Mutism. It was like reading about myself as a child! I'm only bringing this up because I feel like my shyness has really held me back from doing stuff in my life. When I was growing up, some people were just shy, there was no other explanation for it. I'm finding out now shyness is a sort of social anxiety. I WANTED to be able to say Hello to someone I was not so familiar with, I just COULDN'T. It just wouldn't come out. Shy people tend to be more self-critical, I remember even as a young child thinking to myself "why can't I even just answer their question?" and feeling really bad about myself.
I'm not saying this is your daughter, she's still pretty young but I just wanted to bring it to your attention so it's not just brushed off as "shyness". She may always be on the quiet side, but she may need to learn some tools to help her feel more comfortable in social settings.
I am having these same issues with my 4.5yo dd. Her preschool teacher informed me that she had "selective mutism" b/c she wouldn't answer their questions some days. I went to a childhood therapist, just me, not my DD. They say she's introverted, which isn't a huge surprise b/c I am and my DH is too. This isn't a character flaw, it's actually that her brain processes things differently than an extrovert. She has a rich and beautiful inner life that not everyone is privy to see, and she is careful and cautious about who she lets in, as she should be. However, I am taking steps to help her socially, because even though she's not comfortable in big groups, when she starts school, I'd like her to be able to speak up in class. The therapist gave me 15 social skills for us to work on one by one. The first is eye contact, which she will do regularly. The second is greeting adults and friends, which we are working on now. I am using a sticker chart, and whenever she greets anyone she gets a sticker. This works for her b/c she loves stickers. We role played a bit with her toys, having them greet eachother to practice. I explained what a greeting was and why we do them. She is doing better with it, but we need to keep practicing! It's important to set them up to succeed, putting them in situations you know they are comfortable in at first and making it seem easy. This stuff doesn't come naturally to everyone, and it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you if you have to practice it! Introverts have many strengths, focus, listening skills, emotional intelligence, empathy. They are beautiful beings!
Yoga loving bohemian vegan artist mom of one girl- 10-08, married to my best friend, who is also an artist.
There's lots of good advice here already. My situation is very similar to yours, Mommydesi. My DD1 just turned 5 and we've spent a lot of time reframing comments about shyness, helping her learn to play with people, working on social skills, etc... My DD2 is just 14 months but she is a social butterfly and very charming. We've begun to hear a lot of comparison that is not always so flattering to DD1.
A few things I do:
-frequently point out that EVERYONE feels shy sometimes. I set it up as an emotion and not a label. I point out that sometimes I feel very shy and other times I'm fine. We comment on what we observe about others as well.
-talk about how DD2 is very friendly but that she is also kind of frightening to watch since she doesn't think before she acts. So the good thing for her is that she likes running up and playing with new kids but the bad thing is she also likes to run into a new situation and sometimes she gets hurt because it wasn't completely safe. (I know this is normal toddler behavior by most books but it is NOT what I experienced with DD1. And, DD1 sometimes gets nervous seeing it). So, we point out the downside of extroversion in an abstract way that allows DD1 to see that both introverts and extrovert personalities have pluses and minuses.
-when people compliment DD2s friendliness at the expense of DD1s reserved nature, I assertively point out (while smiling) that "we're all very lucky to have lots of different types of people in our family and in the world" and if they really hurt DD1's feelings I'd likely point out that I think it is far more reasonable and polite to not walk right up to someone and insult them (but I suppose I only added that part once).
Through lots of playdates and working with her preschool teachers, DD1 is also doing fine now with peers and is ok with greeting strangers. She's developed a "fake smile" and everything. But, as soon as she's done being polite to the busybodies we make fun of them together ;)
I don't have children, but I can offer my point of view. I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder when I was 22. When I was young I was shy, and I absolutely could not stand when people would say it to my face. They would act as if I wasn't even there and I did not like it. It made me want to interact with people even less. And now as a 26 year old adult, I STILL cannot stand it. Since I've been to therapy for it I'm not AS bothered by it, but it still gets to me. I would just make sure that your daughter doesn't hear those things right in front of her. For me at least, it made me even more withdrawn because saying "wow you're really quiet!" or something like that didn't make me want to change and talk more, it just made me want to do the opposite.
I was also a sensitive child, introverted, shy, however you want to label me. I didnt appreciate the labels, i just felt misunderstood because of them. I am simply a very sensitive person, always have and always will be, and this means that i dont just jump into social situations, if my surroundings are too overwhelming i will probably leave or be really uncomfortable and i cant tolerate rude, obnoxious behavior of any type. Many people would probably see me as a difficult person but i simply am sensitive and i dont see anything wrong with that. If i need to i can deal with people and get done what i need to do but i prefer gentle surroundings that are easy on the senses and company that is caring, loving and down-to-earth. This is not a bad way to be, but often misunderstood by the general public and seen as an issue because i cant, nor do i want to be, desensitized. I like having my eyes wide open and my feet on the ground--without that i would be a shell of a person at this point.
When it comes to your daughter, she will probably experience people's judgements and misunderstanding for much of her life. Help her feel like its okay to be who she is; she doesnt need to change to suit what people believe is appropriate and "right". If she doesnt want to talk she doesnt have to, just help her feel comfortable with who she is with so that if she wants to be open she can. If she still has a hard time, divert the attention of the questioner away from your daughter. When people comment about her shyness you could say something like "give her time to warm up" or "she's fine the way she is" (this one is good if you feel like tossing their judgment back at them). Simply standing up for her and helping her feel like she's okay will go a long way for her health and well-being.
If you havent read about the concept of "Highly Sensitive Children" then please do:
It sounds like your daughter could very well fit the description. When i first read about this, i saw myself in it very strongly. It will help you understand how to best support her and help her feel cherished.
The richness of life cannot be sold nor bought. --me
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