Vive la Différence: Raising Children with Different Temperaments.
I have always known that each child is a unique individual. I looked at my two who are as different as night and day. Then I consider my siblings and we are a texbook example of different temperaments.
Now that I have three grandchildren, all the same age the differences from their births has been striking. Just before they were born I was thinking about the two recent movies about Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and this also caused me to think about the differences of people who live together.
The result is the e-parenting mini guide, Vive la Différence: Raising Children with Different Temperaments. One of the chapters is about your shy child. So read on and if you are interested simply go to my website and order the complete book.
The Last Thing Shy Kids Need is Over-Protection
You’re at a cocktail party. Mary is sitting alone in the corner, holding her drink and looking down at the floor.
Graham is talking quietly to two other folks. It’s a low-key conversation and clearly of interest to all of them. They are engaged.
Both Mary and Graham are shy. They are self-conscious and nervous in groups and given a choice would never attend this event. But how is it that they are each responding so differently?
It’s all about how they were parented. Mary’s parents spent her childhood protecting her. They made sure teachers made accommodations for her shyness. They spoke for her and they permitted her to avoid most social contact. Graham’s parents respected his shyness and understood it was part of his particular temperament. But, at the same time, they taught him the basic social skills he would need despite his self-consciousness.
Shyness is not something that children need to get rid of. But they need to develop the skills required to interact at work and in social situations.
Shy children are timid and self-conscious. They do not rush out to greet new experiences with glee and excitement. They are the kids who peer out from behind their parents’ legs, who cling to their folks or just stand in the corner watching the activity. At recess they go out to the schoolyard and immediately get in line, ready to return to the safety of the classroom.
The trick is to respect your child’s temperament while at the same time helping him learn basic social skills. All kids need to learn these skills, but with your shy child it will take longer and require patience. This is particularly true if you are an outgoing, extroverted person.
The first thing all children need to learn is how to simply say hello. You can start with people he already knows. If he finds it very difficult, hold his hand while he speaks and ask only that when the family friend says “Hi, Riley,” he replies with a simple hello. When he does this, don’t make a big deal out of it. It is something that is expected and that’s that.
The next steps are learning how to answer simple questions such as “What is your favourite toy?” or “How do you like your preschool teacher?”
It’s very easy to want to protect a shy child, but it’s not doing him any favours. If we make a point of asking his childcare providers or teachers to protect him from needing to interact, we are hampering his development. On the other hand, expecting him to just jump in and play with the group is unrealistic. So ask the teacher to orchestrate some less overwhelming situations where he can be successful and enjoy himself. While the extroverted, outgoing child needs to learn to sometimes rein in his energy and activity level, the shy child needs to learn how to move forward, even when it’s hard.
Shy children also need to learn how to behave in group activities. Again, it’s a slower process than his more confident peer. Avoid big, noisy birthday parties but have him attend smaller events. His birthday parties can be small with a few close friends and may be shorter than is typical.
It’s important to coach our kids. Talk to your child about what to expect at school, at extracurricular activities or social events. Role-play with him so that he can practice some of the things he will need to say or do. When he has a meltdown, be supportive and sympathetic but then help him to learn from the situation so he can try again.
Once he has the basic social skills, he can make choices about his behavior. He doesn’t ever have to be the life of the party. He will not need to be raucous nor does he have to talk to everyone in the room. But he does need to engage in some basic socializing.
Once he learns that he has control over his social behavior he will be well on the way to becoming a shy and successful young adult and you will have done your job.
Bringing Parenting Today to your event.
Parenting Today is keen to speak as part of your professional development event, parenting workshop or workplace wellness support program. I offer keynotes and workshops, have written books and have ongoing newspaper columns, books, blogs and newsletters. And, no matter what the actual topic, they all share a basic value that I cal
P — is a parenting plan
U — is unconditional love
R — is respect for your child as he is right now
E — is encouragement
These make up the framework of any resources that will come from Parenting Today. These four pillars are the essential ingredients for raising healthy children who will develop into capable young men and women.