Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Benefits of "Shy"

As usual, while at the store the other day, Alice made a "friend" - well, tried.  The little girl was a couple of years younger than Alice and very shy.  So, when Alice said, "hello, I'm Alice" and the little girl's response was to squish between her mom's legs and stare, Alice said, "Oh, she must be feeling shy"  The little girl's mom immediately started to apologize about her daughter's shyness and sort of make excuses for her little girl.  Alice said, "That's okay.  There is nothing wrong with shy moments."    I nodded in agreement.  Judging from the look on her face, the mom was a little shocked by this response.  While the little girl smiled at Alice, I smiled at the mom while she continued to defend herself from an attack that had never come.  She talked about all the things she had tried to force her little girl to be more outgoing, she talked about how she had the same problem with the older brother, she talked about how she was worried about the day when she would have to drop her daughter off at school with a teacher she didn't know and all the while I'm saying, "It is okay she shouldn't HAVE to talk to strangers if she isn't comfortable with it - Alice understands that too".  We finally were able to smile and wave at the little girl and her mom moved on and we went about our shopping again.    

I'm sure the mom thought I couldn't possibly understand about shy because my daughter is far from it - I mean really, when they teach kids opposites in preschool and they hold up a picture of Alice, that is when the kids would say, "the opposite is shy".  There is probably some truth to the idea that I don't understand the problems associated with shy.  Frankly, I am appalled at the number of articles from experts that speak about shyness as if it is a disability.  Some even seem to say that shyness and social anxiety disorder are one in the same.

Truly, it is DIFFERENT from social anxiety disorder, it is just about being an introvert (here is a link for resources about SAD).  An introvert might be some one who functions just fine out in the world, but has no need to go to parties, go bar hopping or go to events filled to the brim with people.  Introverts recharge their batteries with things like home-making, book-reading and the other more quiet types of activities.  One article I read actually suggested that shy kids shouldn't be allowed to do these things.  What if it was you and having some quiet calm time to yourself is your stress relief valve and mom said you couldn't have it?  Now, I don't suggest that kids should ever be allowed to only do one thing all the time, I merely suggest that healthy kids are kids that know who they are, what their needs are and how to adjust to accomodate their weaknesses.  For my daughter, (who is extremely outgoing) she gets some "forced" down time when I insist upon quiet time, but she is also given lots of time for social activity because it is what she thrives on and she needs it. 

While I don't associate myself as being shy, I do consider myself as an introvert.  Parties don't make me feel anxious and I enjoy them, but they certainly don't charge me up the way they do my husband and daughter.  They wear me out and I need down time to recover from them (and NO it isn't to recover from the hangover because I don't usually have one).  For me, meeting new people isn't scary, but if I'm doing a lot of it all at once, it is exhausting.  About 50% of adults identify themselves as having been shy children and 25% identify themselves as introverts.  If half of us were that way at any point and ALL of us have "shy moments" there is nothing abnormal or disabling about it.  Especially with kids under the age of five, it is EXPECTED developmentally for them to go through stages where they are nervous about getting too far from mom, meeting new people and exploring new social situations.  Even Alice had shy moments while very young.  Most people (even extroverts) get a little nervous before performing.  In fact, a lot of directors and coaches will start to worry a little if you lose those nerves because you are then very likely to get overly confident and botch a part.

I will admit that just as there are downfalls to being out-going (sometimes it can be pretty tough to get Alice to reign it in a little and OH the DRAMA!), there are also downfalls to being shy.  However, shy has its advantages too and part of loving a child is knowing, accepting and honoring who they are rather than pushing and forcing them to be something else.  So, lets talk about some of the strengths that are a part of being shy:

Shy kids may not be as apt at performance (although even Tom Hanks is identified as shy as are many other celebrities).  They may not have huge groups of friends (and the net-working that it leads to later in life).  They might not be great at making speeches and other things more gregarious people are great at (but then again, maybe they will be).  "Shy" kids are also probably NOT good at pulling a con, they are less likely to get into "stranger danger" and they tend to be a lot more observant than their non-shy counterparts.  A lot can be learned just from watching others.  Often, the best friends to have when you are really struggling with something are the "shy" quiet ones because they know how to listen to more than just the words (it is all the observing they've done).  They also tend to be very loyal because they truly invest in the friendships they do develop.  Shy people generally are not pushy people - making them a lot more pleasant to be around in that regard anyway.  Shy kids often still develop friendships too.  They might have fewer friends, but those friendships will probably be deeper and more meaningful than most of the friendships in the huge network of friends the outgoing might obtain.  For example, Alice probably has 50 people she would refer to as friends, but there really are only three or four kids she ever talks about  (her close friends).

Seven Strengths Shy People Have
30 Famous Introverts
Not All Successful CEO's are Extroverts

There is a lot out there for the shy to explore too - they'll just be exploring it a little differently than Alice would.  There is a need at some point for kids to overcome their shyness just enough to find friends, partners and work, but it isn't the "OMG my kid's shy whatever will I do - he'll never have any meaningful relationships or even work" emergency some parents seem to think it is.  Besides, even the most gregarious child will have shy moments here and there AND they all go through stages where they just want mom for a few months.  It really isn't worth the worry, or the defense, or the excuses.  In fact, I wish I could go back and reassure that mom at the grocery store (and a few others I've met over the years) that if I was to judge them harshly for their mothering skills because they happen to have a child that was BORN shy, the problem is not with them, it is with me. 
Five Great Careers for Shy People: Yahoo
A few more Careers from E.How

Helping your school-aged-child overcome shyness enough to develop a few close friendships and the social skills that are necessary to operate in the world is really a matter of first accepting your child for who they are (Social Anxiety Disorder, however, IS different and more support for that will be needed).  When your child knows you are a support to them, they will start from a place of confidence in their support network.  

If you are looking for a few tips about helping a school-aged child feel more comfortable during their school day or make a few friends at those clubs you'd like to find for him or her, here is a short article with one pretty effective idea.  Make a game out of it and even role play with your child as though you are the perspective friend (in addition to, or instead of using the mirror).  Be a little silly and make it fun.
I would also like to suggest this article as a good one for the "do's and don'ts of parenting your shy child" type of resource.  It seems fairly balanced in helping parents figure out ways to encourage and help their children interact without pushing too hard.  It stresses the importance of speaking about shyness as a feeling (the way Alice did with the little girl at the store) rather than as "who they are" AND how to honor who your kid is while still helping him gain the skills she needs to interact with the world.

I also suggest making sure he or she participates in a few extracurriculars that are in THE CHILD's interest area and comfort zone.  Does your child like crafts?  Find a craft club or a 4-H project that will fill the bill.  Chess? Find a chess club.  Tennis? Find some friends to go play with (and a great coach).  Reading?  How about a book club that meets once/month.  He or she might take longer to warm up but it will happen - your child is just more cautious - again, not necessarily a bad thing.  Don't expect your child to have oodles and oodles of friends - honestly, how many of your old schoolmates are you still in touch with (Excluding Facebook)!?  If your child seems fairly fulfilled with the relationships he or she has, let it be - it certainly doesn't make sense to insist your 3 or 4 year old "politely" speak to perfect strangers at the grocery store.  The point is, not every person needs hundreds of friends to be fulfilled and it really shouldn't be a contest anyway.  Here is a link to find out if your kid is an introvert (Some kids that love different types of performance might still be introverts).

Be proud of your shy child!  Scream it from the rooftops, "My kid is an INTROVEEEERRRRRTT! and I LOVE Her!"

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