"Oh, she is a touch me not plant. That's how she reacts whenever anyone tries talking to her. But not my younger daughter. She will talk to you for hours about anything. Sweetie, tell aunty what happened at your picnic yesterday" Sweetie started chirping about her picnic, while her elder sister retreated to a corner of the room, glancing at us from the corner of her eyes.
I was at an acquaintance's place for a social visit trying to engage their six year old daughter in a conversation when the above explanation was given. How I wish I could tell the mother what was aggravating the problem. But I had not gone there as a counsellor, so it is best not to give unsolicited advice.
Sweetie was so used to hogging the limelight that her elder sister hardly got an opportunity to talk. In addition, the elder sister seemed a ‘slow to warm up' child. Being labelled as a ‘touch me not' did nothing to increase her confidence, on the contrary she probably ended up feeling demoralized. What appeared as shyness could then be a lack of confidence, lesser opportunities to develop social skills or in worst cases, even an animosity towards her sister and others.
There is nothing wrong in being shy. It is an extremely common personality trait and not a fault or problem that needs correction. On the positive side, shy children could be very good listeners and thinkers. They could be comfortable with themselves. Shyness is a concern only when the child cannot express or assert himself out of some fear or anxiety in situations where he needs to.
Causes for shyness could be many. Some children are born shy, some learn to be shy by imitating others or through experiences that they gather.
A few guidelines for concerned parents:
Don't label or criticize
Parents need to understand that shyness is not all negative and some children are born shy. But we do not need to label the child as ‘shy', criticize the child for not being able to express himself or even be apologetic to others about their child's shy behaviour. My child is a quiet child' is a better way of describing your child.
Don't force the child to talk
The more we pressurize such children to express themselves, more the chances that they will withdraw into a shell. Giving the child time and space sooner or later yields positive results.
Are you talking too much or too little?
Some parents talk so much that they do not give their child a chance to talk, and then complain that the child doesn't talk. Some parents are so reticent and shy that they themselves are a role model for their children.
Create a comfortable environment
Creating a non-judgmental, loving and accepting environment where there is no fear of being ridiculed, laughed at or punished creates a sense of confidence in the child. Children reared in such an environment generally grow up to be well adjusted and confident.
Help your child make friends
Your child may find it difficult to make the first move. Try to find a play mate for your child with whom you think your child will be comfortable. Encourage play dates.
Don't catch the child unaware
Why don't you sing a song for aunty? Don't be scared, come on!' Nothing can be more threatening for a shy child if he has not been asked in advance. The child will not oblige and the parent ends up feeling embarrassed. It should rather be, ‘Aunty is coming to visit us and she would love to hear you sing. Would you sing a few lines? Think over it and let me know.' If not today, this will surely work tomorrow.
Start with small groups
"Look at your cousin Isha, such a bold girl! See how she danced at the party. Why can't you?" Your shy child cannot start dancing at the party. Whether it is dancing, reciting, drawing ask her to perform just for you, then probably for grandparents. Proceed gradually.
Be watchful of your reactions
Are your non-verbal cues communicating impatience, irritation, anger, resentment, mockery? Try to convert them into love, acceptance and patience and see the difference.
Encourage and reinforce positive behaviour
Encourage even the smallest baby steps that your child has taken towards expressing herself. Tell her how happy you are, reinforce such behaviour. This step could be as small as returning a neighbour's smile in the lift, rather than hiding behind mommy!
Assure the child that you are always around. Talk to the child about fears and anxieties. Try to logically dispel them without ridiculing her. Assure her that you are always there for her, no matter what.
And finally, accept the child for what she is. Do not ever compare her with anybody else. It is her ‘quietness' that probably makes her unique and special! After all, a ‘touch me not' always adds to the beauty of the garden.
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