Friday, May 24, 2013

The Anti-Shyness Movement

Hudson has always been our shy boy.   I probably haven't helped the situation by "labeling" him shy, verbally telling people this is why he refused to talk to them and appeared rude.  I'm pretty sure I read in some parenting article somewhere that this was a no-no, but I have always felt that I needed to explain his deep resistance to talking to strangers.   I'm not sure if this helped or hurt him, but it is what it is.   Compared to his brother (and now his sister), he is the total opposite.  Porter was always willing to talk to anyone and everyone.  When he started Kindergarten pretty much everyone in his school knew him because he was so friendly and talked to every adult he met.   Amelia is following the chatterbox footsteps- she says HI to everyone in the store and keeps saying HI until they answer.  Hudson was NEVER this way.   Painfully shy, he was the child hiding behind me, glaring a anyone who dare spoke a word directed his way.

This year we've really been working on getting him out of his shell when it comes to strangers.  He's terribly shy when people who he is unfamiliar with talk to him, and while it was acceptable when he was a toddler to brush it off and apologize for his shyness, he's definitely at the age where he needs to learn to cope with his anxieties of talking to strangers.  Ignoring people or just staring at them when they ask him questions is now unacceptable and rude. He's done great with being pushed outside of his comfort zone, although it hasn't been without struggle.  

In the fall we were at a birthday party and he needed help with something.  I don't remember what it was- a drink refill, another slice of pizza... I don't remember.  Another parent (who I also don't know) helped him and he accepted her help without a word, and then went to run off and play without saying thank you.   I stopped him in his tracks and explained that he needed to tell her thank you for helping him, and it turned into a half hour battle of the wills. (If you know this child, you'll know he is ALWAYS a battle of the wills!) He literally would STARE at her and refused to tell her thank you. So, I made him sit down next to me while the other kids played, and explained to him that it is rude not to thank people for doing something nice for him, and that I'd walk over with him so he could tell her.  We had a couple false attempts, and each time went right back to sitting down until he was ready.  He finally got up the courage to tell her thank you.  HURRAH!  

This spring, Porter's baseball coach bought the team pizza.  Hudson wanted pizza.   But, he wanted ME to go over and ask for him.  Nope, not gonna fly.  I told him he was almost 5 years old and if he wanted pizza he needed to go ask for a piece himself, otherwise he could wait to eat dinner when we got home.  He bravely allowed me to walk over with him for support, and with a little coaxing, he went up to the coach and asked nicely for some pizza.   He didn't want to, but he did it!  Baby steps.  Baby steps.

He still doesn't like to answer people at stores when they comment on things, or ask him questions.  Slowly but surely he's getting better.   He no longer hides his face or glares, it is usually just a stare at them (in which I feel like strangers are surely thinking my child is deaf or doesn't understand english!).  There are still times we have to remind him to thank people, or answer people (and sometimes it goes as far as us insisting that he do it, though he wants to refuse).   I have no idea if this is the right thing to do, or if I'm further scarring my child by forcing him to face his anxieties, but my gut feeling tells me that he's going to need these people skills as an adult- hell, as a child in school- and any amount of pushing will only pay off in the future.

Have any of my readers dealt with a shy child?  What did you do to help them overcome their fears/anxieties?  I'm curious to know if there are any other methods/things I could be doing to help him along.  I know once he starts kindergarten next year he'll blossom little by little, though I know deep down he'll always be that shy child with strangers.   I just want him to be able to push that shyness aside and be able to acknowledge others in a polite way.  I know he'll likely never be the child that just strikes up a conversation with a stranger (Ahem... Porter...) but I want him to be able to be confident enough to answer people who strike up conversations with him without being rude.


  1. this is going to be LONG. i was a shy kid, especially around that age, and i remember being terrified when my parents would try to force me to talk to someone, and feeling humiliated when they would (in front of me) say i was shy. i felt shame about it and it didn't do wonders for my self-esteem. i used to feel anxious when i was out in public with them, worried that i would be forced to speak to someone. i'm not saying this to make you feel bad AT ALL, and maybe hudson doesn't feel this way AT ALL. however, in my case, i don't think it helped me. i know it's hard to understand for other people, especially if you are naturally more outgoing, because it's like, what's the big deal? just say hi! but being pushed to be more outgoing is so so scary. i think if anything, the pushing would have made me avoid even being in those situations in the first place (i.e., i would tend to choose staying home over going to the party).
    however, now that i am a parent with a shy kid of my own, i totally understand where you are coming from. max is similar - if i walk him into school, about ten different kids/teachers will say hi and he basically ignores them. i HATE that. i think that's hard because you feel like it reflects badly as you on a parent, and it's hard not to worry about people judging you. like you said, you think strangers must think your child is rude, etc.
    so i've had to ask myself, what is more important? that the cashier at target knows my child is polite, or that my child is comfortable/feels safe when we're out in public? i think that if we're walking into school and ten kids are saying hi to max, then despite the fact that he is shy, he must have made an impression on them as someone they like/want to say hi to. and i think that is really what is important to me. i think what i really fear isn't that he's shy, it's that his shyness will leave him left out, or unliked, or without friends. and yet that has never happened. in fact his teacher tells me he is someone the other kids look to as a leader (a QUIET leader - by example :).
    but there are things we do not negotiate on - one is saying thank you. we have worked on this A LOT, and he is getting better. also saying hello - we tell him that he at least needs to say 'hi' back - and that is ALL we expect. nothing more. in both of these situations, we do not drag out the issue, especially in front of the person that he is shy around. so if he doesn't say thank you, i won't sit there and let it become a battle of wills (i just generally say it for him and move on). but it is definitely addressed privately afterward. we go out to eat a lot, and this is a great place to practice - we try to get him to order by himself, to say thank you when his drink/food is brought to the table, etc. because a waiter isn't usually going to stick around long to wait for him to speak up, i feel like it's a little less pressure for him, but also, it gives us a chance to prepare him when it's just us (okay, the waitress is coming soon, you are going to ask for a hamburger, please be polite) and also a chance to talk to him after she leaves (max, remember that when you get your water, you need to say thank you, let's try again when she comes back). the same thing could be said of buying something at a store - the person you are speaking to is a stranger, but you sort of know what to expect as far as what will happen, so you can prepare. also, we give him chances like you gave hudson - when there is something that he really wants where he'd have to step out of his comfort zone a bit, like the asking for pizza thing. i will totally do the same thing - tell him that if he wants some, he needs to go ask himself (and i make sure i say it gently and i will go along or support him). i feel like it's his choice then. i'm not getting worked up over it or forcing him to do anything. it's his decision and will depend on how much he really wants it. i do think those things help.

    1. Oh awesome thoughts, Kim! I totally get the shy thing as (surprisingly) I was super super shy in school. A lot of it I think was from insecurity, though, and I don't ever remember being shy towards people other than in the school setting.

      I totally agree that it is partially on me as far as feeling like his behavior reflects on me as a parent. That is definitely true. I don't apologize for him anymore, but I do ask that he at least acknowledge people when they talk to him. I don't think that he feels anxiety to the point of wanting to avoid public places (because he loves going in public, and never ever seems to exhibit anxiety about going places where there are other people) and I guess if that were the case I probably wouldn't be as hard on him. I guess I look at it from the point of if another adult asked me a question and I totally ignored them, that's rude. I don't really worry about him feeling left out, unliked etc etc.... because I know he has friends, and once he is comfortable with people he's friendly and silly- but more or less I kind of feel like I need to be showing Hudson polite ways to respond to people, even though it might make him feel a little uncomfortable at the time. Do you know what I mean?

      I think our biggest thing with Hudson isn't so much changing him- turning him into an extrovert etc... I don't think that can be done and I wouldn't want to. But, like you said, there are times that a response is considered polite and I kind of feel like it is necessary that he knows he needs to at least say hi to people if they say hi, or say thank you to people if they do something nice for him. Kind of that it is a common courtesy in public. I do try to get him to answer people when they ask him questions, although I let him settle for one word responses (yes, no) because I know it is easier for him. I know he's never going to be the kid that speaks up freely, or seeks out strangers to talk to, and that's totally fine- that's what makes him Hudson :)

    2. yeah, it sounds like we feel pretty much the exact same. :) i also don't want to change how max is - but i want him to learn to talk to people as a common courtesy as well. i guess my point was, i was sort of pushed as a kid and i don't think it helped me personally. so the way i tend to go about it now with max is that i try not to push him to do it because i know that can be scary, and i try not to punish him for it by saying something like 'you can't go play until you say thank you' or whatever. i'm sure that sometimes i do push him a bit more than is necessary because i worry about how he's perceived... it's so hard not to! so far it seems like he is learning how to interact better - he likes to be involved, just has to go at his own pace until he is comfortable. and like you said, showing him polite ways to respond to people as much as you can - i also like to think i am VERY polite myself, and i hope that he will keep seeing that and learn how to treat people by watching how i do it. in general though i think that is just my parenting "style" with a lot of things - i don't battle with my kids over food either, for example... i just keep giving lots of chances and reminders and know that eventually they will open their minds to trying new stuff, you know? everyone has a different way of doing it and i think it all comes down to whatever works for you. max has come a long way, especially being in kindergarten - i bet hudson will next year, too. nice talking w/you about it, i'm glad to hear someone else the same worries/frustrations i do. :)

  2. also, for what it's worth... i really think that i just grew out of my shyness on my own. partly as a result of seeing the benefits of doing so when i became older. i made friends that were outgoing, my high school boyfriend was super outgoing, etc... and i began to feel less shy myself. i was a cheerleader. i was up for homecoming queen (not saying either of those are things to aspire to, just that i don't normally think of those as being "typical" things a painfully shy person would end up doing). i'm still an introvert, though. even a couple weeks ago i was in a situation where there were a lot of people in a group, i knew i had to go over and join the group, and i definitely felt a tiny bit anxious about doing so (and these are people i'm friends with). i have to remind myself to speak up in meetings at work, because naturally i just tend to listen and internalize thoughts when i'm in a group instead of saying whatever comes to mind. i'm still never the first person to start small talk with a stranger. being an introvert is different than being shy, though. it's just that i don't mind silences, and i don't enjoy being forced into what feels like "performing" in a large group situation. as i've gotten older, i've realized that sometimes i just have to pretend to be more outgoing than i really am in order to be socially graceful, and for the most part i've learned how to do so. i think most people are probably the same, so i wouldn't worry too much about helping him along.

    sorry for the huge novel. ;)

    p.s. i saw this on pinterest awhile back.

    and this is another good pin that compares shy/introvert qualities.

    1. HAHA I love the pinterest comparison. I have a Shy and an Obnoxious. HAHAHAH! Ok, maybe Porter isn't completely obnoxious but.....

  3. I agree that it sounds like you may have an introvert on your hands, which is different than a "shy kid." I have been introverted my whole life. Growing up, I hated being in crowds, and really disliked activities that involved a lot of people. Never was on a sports team, etc. I did much better in smaller group settings (Girl Scouts, small dance classes). Though I am much more comfortable with things now, I do still prefer to be a part of a small group as opposed to a large one, and I am not one to strike up a conversation just because. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been accused of being snobby, stuck-up, or rude. If I'm not talking to you, it doesn't mean I don't like you. It doesn't mean I think I'm cooler than you. It just means I have nothing to say. That's it. :)

    Hudson may be experiencing some of the same things. He will probably "grow out of" some of it, but it will likely remain his personality. As an introvert myself, I would say that it's important to expose him to things that may help him step out of his comfort zone a little bit once in awhile, but not to force the issue too much. Like you said, you don't need to "fix" him and make him outgoing. It is important, though, to help him understand the importance of being friendly, and speaking when being spoken to. If he doesn't always feel like talking, a nice smile can go a long way.