Parental Navel Gazing

How Not to Deal with a Shy Kid


As I worked on a blog post for my actual real full-time job, I overheard a co-worker bring her child in for a visit to ye olde workplace.

Cue all the henning and clucking from the co-workers. That’s a lot for a little person to process, especially all the high-pitched excitement. From the sound of it, the poor little person got a bit overwhelmed and didn’t feel like talking.

That launched a chorus of “What are you being so shy? Ohhhhh, she’s being shy! So shy! You’re being a little shy this morning!”

Hey, put yourself in the little person’s position: You go someplace, and then a pack of much-larger people surround you and start talking really loud and demanding your attention.

How much fun does that sound?

And worse yet, everyone is calling attention to the fact that you’re not comfortable.

Can I buy a little empathy? Look, I’m no expert. I only have one 10-month-old daughter – and she’s a pretty assertive person so far. Still, I can see her getting overwhelmed by a crush of adults clamoring for cuteness. If I run into this situation, the last thing I’m going to do is ask her why she’s being “shy.” I’m going to let her get comfortable and try my best to slow down the well-intended rush to be affectionate.

I get that so much of the way people interact with kids is to rush forward with a sackful of good intentions. Try this instead: Treat them like cats. Let them approach you at their comfort level. Don’t be excessively noisy. Act normal.

And quit treating shyness like a disease, and make some effort to understand the cause.

Sarah and I have a quiet household. We don’t have a blaring TV in every room. We read more than we watch. The biggest source of noise is when I practice the guitar (Anneka will chase me into my practice room if she gets the chance). So I could see how bringing her into certain situations could overwhelm her. I will be her buffer, and I’m certainly not going to make her feel bad for being shy.

When I walk into a room of strangers, I’m usually one of the largest people in sight. But even I can and do clam up a bit when bum-rushed by overly cheerful, demonstrative, eager people. My group of friends is very good with Anneka – but when I run into a situation where I sense her getting overwhelmed, I’ll have her back. And I won’t blame her for being “shy.”


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