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To be quite worried about my daughter's extreme shyness?

(161 Posts)
21stCenturyDropout Tue 02-Jul-13 21:22:44

I am getting increasingly worried and frustrated about my 5 year old Dd. She is a lovely child, really creative and funny and doesn't stop chatting when she is around her close family.
However, she started school in September and has found it hard to be part of group activities or anything that involves speaking or being centre of attention. So far we have had to watch her struggle through school activities like the nativity play and sports day. She couldn't even look up during her nativity play. Every parents evening her teacher says she is doing fine. Not the most outgoing child, but quietly confident doing her own thing, which is encouraging. But she can't bring herself to speak to adults who try to engage with her, and takes a very long time to warm up in social situations. Her birthday party was really awful as she couldn't even bring herself to sit at the table with the other children. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed that my child is so lacking in confidence.
My husband and I were both shy as kids, and still find some social situations a strain. I understand that some people are introverts and that it can be a real strength in life to be more sensitive. But I am so worried for her future. I don't want her to go through life missing out and feeling socially crippled.
What can I do to help her? I am so desperate to help her through this.

CrapBag Tue 02-Jul-13 22:09:57

My DS can be a bit like this but not to the extreme you describe.

We signed him up to karate. Trying to give him some confidence as well as exercise and an enjoyable activity. He is still shy and can hide a bit with the instructors and he has been going for a year but I am sure I can see some difference in him.

With his peers he is quite cocky and very outgoing, but he wouldn't even ask my dad for a ride in his car the other day, I had to do it. I am hoping that in time it will pass, if not I'll have to accept it. I was a very shy child and still am to the point that people generally think I am serious and reserved. I'm not though.

exoticfruits Tue 02-Jul-13 22:26:22

If you and your DH were shy as DCs then it is quite likely that she will be too.
You can help by being outgoing yourself and chatting to everyone, invite people around for coffee etc. Don't draw attention to her shyness, don't force her to be outgoing and don't enable her shyness,
Show her how to do it in everyday life and she will copy as she gains confidence. It will take time. DCs do as you do and not as you say.
Lots of DCs are shy. At Christmas there will be lots of posters complaining that their DC didn't get a main part and yet the DC probably wanted a place on the back row of the chorus.
I was very shy as a child and nothing makes you less likely to change than people making an issue of it.

cocolepew United States Tue 02-Jul-13 22:29:26

Why would you be ashamed?

Embarrassed and ashamed? Yes you should be - of yourself.

Get a grip.

exotic is spot on. Stop banging on about it and stop making it an issue.

We are all different.

Please don't feel embarrassed and ashamed that she is so shy. You just need to give her the time to do things at her own pace, even if it does mean lots of teeny tiny baby steps.

If she finds group settings difficult then, for example, don't have a big birthday party for her, instead invite round just a few friends to celebrate. Try not to make her feel uncomfortable and to ensure that social engagements are enjoyable and not a trial for her.

Try and find a hobby that she can take up where she is not in a big group environment. Maybe playing an instrument? Being good at something is such a great boost to confidence.

I was very much like your daughter. Couldn't speak in certain circumstances and I had lots of rules and fears with regards to socialising in big groups. It did get better, but it took time.

hexagonal Tue 02-Jul-13 22:42:16

could she have selective mutism? it's an anxiety disorder and is especially horrible if your parents are ashamed of you for it.

celestialbows Tue 02-Jul-13 22:44:41

My dd is very similar even with certain people she's known all her life. I don't know the answers and she is only 3, but I try to treat everyday social situations as normal and prep her if we are going to do anything out of the ordinary. I try and talk through what's going to happen before anything I know she struggles with.
I have had huge issues with anxiety which I guess she has inherited. I do feel bad about it at times but there are occasions where she's hugely confident so I don't worry too much.
Nursery say she is one of the quieter ones and they like having quiet ones to balance out some of the , ahem, spirited ones.

exoticfruits Tue 02-Jul-13 22:45:37

I hated birthday parties as a child. Too many parents seem to want their child to be the centre of a social circle and you get all the angst when their child isn't invited to a party, probably the DC is like me and would have hated the party of someone who merely happened to be in the same class. Did you actually ask her who she wanted at her party? Maybe one child for tea would have been better,
I think that you are projecting your own feelings on to her. Just give her time to develop in her own way in situations that she feels comfortable in. The teacher was quite positive. Many small children are frightened of standing on a stage. Would have been comfortable if the Head had said 'and we now call upon 21stCenturyDropOut to give a vote of thanks to the DCs'? I could do that now but it took me over 20yrs to get to that stage.

exoticfruits Tue 02-Jul-13 22:47:51

It isn't selective mutism- the teacher gave a positive report. As a shy child I can tell you there is nothing worse than being given a label.

binger Tue 02-Jul-13 22:59:50

You could have been describing my dd aged 5. She is 10 now and although still quieter than most of her peers she is a fairly confident girl now. The thing that surprises me most is when I see her with her friends, she is a different child than she was 5 years ago. She loves performing now (at her dance shows and class assemblies). She's still quiet in class participation settings but is a hard worker and gets on we'll with everyone.

I spent so much time worrying about her but she really has grown in confidence. I don't think she'll ever be one to want to be centre of attention but she's popular and compassionate which are great attributes.

Try not to worry, they grow so much at school and she'll find her way.

IdreamofFairies Tue 02-Jul-13 23:09:24

my dd is very quiet she has days when she wont speak to her teacher at all, all day not saying a word, thankfully these are getting less now.

she wont go to any ones to play but is happy to have someone here.

i never force her to do anything just let her do things at her own pace as already said everyone is different.

take things slow, make sure she is going to enjoy anything you organise and that she receives plenty of positive attention this will increase her confidence and hopefully reduce any anxiety she has.

HoppinMad Tue 02-Jul-13 23:10:08

Not much advice to offer but I can empathise OP. I have an extremely shy 3 year old, I know he is still small but tbh I cannot see him becoming confident any time soon. He has made friends at nursery but still refuses to engage with the staff and is almost mute in their company. Its difficult because like you, DH and I were also shy as kids and I always hated being so shy and remember hiding away when we had visitors over, never willing to put my hand up to answer a question in class despite knowing the answer, etc. So seeing him like this makes me feel very frustrated, not at him but at myself and the whole situation as I really feel guilty in a way. That he is the way he is because of us, because of OUR shyness and I dont want this holding him back in life the way it did me. Could that possibly be why you feel frustrated? Its stupid feeling guilty really as its something that cannot be helped, its part of who we are and my lovely df is in his 60s but a shy person still but I dont blame him for my shyness!

Back to my point though, it can be a little saddening when week in, week out as a parent you take dc to play groups almost religiously, becoming familiar with the other kids and see them interact and play so well but your own dc hardly utters a word and wont leave your side. It can be a little embarrassing too when other parents/staff make comments by pointing this out sad. I have been through it with ds and his anxiety when he would see the playroom full of people. I stopped for a while but with hardly any other social interactions at the time decided to continue.
Now, I try not to pressure him to talk at nursery if he chooses not to, as his keyworker and I have realised it makes him more reluctant to speak and interact so have left him to it and he seems happier tbh. I encourage him a lot to talk to certain friends and family though I admit that can be a little frustrating as he is also quiet with his gps who we see regularly, and will only nod or shake his head most days. Its hard.

crumblepie Tue 02-Jul-13 23:13:28

my dd was so shy when small , at toddler group would never interact with anyone so i stopped going, at preschool she spoke to one teaching assistant only in a whisper, in infants she stopped talking for a whole year outside the house and in school , got offered counselling but i didnt want her labelled ,all i did was never ever make a big deal of her shyness , just spoke normally if she didnt answer i never pushed it just got on with what i was doing, she just started talking again one day outside and it snow balled from there , she is now a 14yr old gobby mare and has a really nice group of friends , im sure your dd will get her confidence in time .

Burmillababe Tue 02-Jul-13 23:21:59

I was like that as a child - I was an only child and very self sufficient emotionally - I didnt particularly like being around others - and the more I was pushed, the more I hated it. I still spend a lot of time alone by choice - it is certainly not a negative thing as i love my own company! Fortunately my parents were not embarrassed or ashamed though.

Goldmandra Tue 02-Jul-13 23:23:59

My DD1 was like this but even more extreme as a child. Birthday parties were always a trial and the photos of her own birthday teas with two or three friends are all of her turned away from the cake burying her face in me. We aren't allowed to sing Happy Birthday to her ever.

She has always hated being the centre of attention and would do anything to avoid being talked to by a teacher or unfamiliar adult. School was quite an ordeal, as were Brownies, dance classes, swimming lessons, etc. I wish these days that we hadn't tried so hard to keep her in those groups.

This behaviour all made more sense when we found out that she has Asperger's Syndrome (not suggest that your DD has).

We always tried to accept her shyness and made a point of not pushing her because I remember what that felt like as a shy child. After the diagnosis we backed off even more and found ways to make it possible for her to remain in control of her own interactions. That seems to have been the right thing to do.

She's now 16 and her confidence has recently increased. She has found friends who accept her for what she is and she is comfortable in her own niche. She socialises in small groups and has a date for her prom later this week. She'll never be the life and soul of the party but she has found a way to fit in socially which suits her.

Today she went to our local town with four friends, had some lunch, bought a couple of things for her prom and hung around just enjoying each other's company for a while. If you'd told me three years ago that she would be doing that I probably would have decked you for taking the p* out of her. I truly never thought I'd see it happen.

Give your DD time and support. Don't push her to do things which don't feel comfortable and help her to see that she doesn't have to be the centre of attention to make a positive contribution. If she wants to sit and watch the others play at birthday parties let her do just that. Hopefully, one day, you'll watch her blossom into a beautiful 16 year old who's looking forward to her prom too .

FreyaSnow Tue 02-Jul-13 23:36:01

Being shy is not the same thing as being an introvert. I am an introvert but not shy. I don't find it at all difficult to talk to new people or groups; I just find it tiring after a while to be around other people constantly talking and like to have time on my own to get my energy back. I have a friend who is an extrovert (he gets his energy from being around others) but is very shy. We just accept that he can talk one to one but will be quiet when we're out in a large group, but he definitely is still enjoying being there.

Both my children are shy, which I didn't really know how to deal with as I'm not. They have been fine. They are not amazingly overwhelmingly popular, but it means they have both formed very close friendships with groups of other quiet children. DD has had the same best friend for ten years and DS has had the same group of close friends throughout the whole of secondary school.

I would say not to worry about it. It seems to me that shy people have an advantage in that they form very good, close and long lasting relationships which from what I see on MN, is a good thing as the lack of such friendships can lead to loneliness in more popular people.

ilikemysleep Tue 02-Jul-13 23:41:43

exotic fruit my son has selective mutism and it wasn't diagnosed until he was 11 because from reception to year 4 he spoke just enough that it was never raised as a serious concern, because he could and can answer if he is directly asked a work related question. Teachers giving a positive report doesn't mean that there isn't a real issue, where selective mutism is not completely pervasive it is often misunderstood. OP, don't discount selective mutism as your DD gets older. What can be passed off in a 5 year old as 'very shy' can become a serious issue in a 10 year old. My son was labelled anyway as he got older. he was labelled rude, because he couldn't look adults in the eye and answer them (he has no problems speaking to children, though all SM children differ). He was labelled defiant, because he 'wouldn't' (actually 'couldn't') provide a description to a dinner lady of an incident he had witnessed. I now have an 11 year old who is unable to order food in a cafe, unable to speak on a phone, unable to go into a shop and buy sweets, because I was made to feel like I was being silly when I raised concerns over my son's communication skills and told he was 'just shy'.

I cannot tell you whether your DD is or is not selectively mute, but the info I found really helpful from the SMIRA website was this page

www.smira.org.uk/faq/15-selective-mutism/36-am-i-wrong-about-my-daughter-could-she-just-be-very-shy

Going back to exotic fruit's post, I would like to say that if you did feel your DD might be selectively mute, and this was confirmed by a SALT, then there are helpful resources out there. My son has found his diagnosis very helpful. He now knows why he finds communicating so difficult and he is working with support on a programme to develop his confidence. Just yesterday he went in to a cafe and asked the woman behind the counter for a can of coke. He would NEVER have done that even a month ago.

NatashaGurdin Wed 03-Jul-13 00:26:12

I must admit I haven't read the entire thread (will do so as soon as I can as am interested from a personal point of view) but please investigate further if you think your child has Selective (not Elective which implies some sort of choice on the part of the subject) Mutism. I had this as a child (am now 46) and wish I and my parents and teachers had had the insight that modern studies have had into this anxiety disorder because its fallout affects how I live my live now and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

exoticfruits Wed 03-Jul-13 07:27:27

I think that you are projecting your own situation ilikemysleep, and although I wouldn't rule it out as a possibility I can see nothing in the OP to suggest it.
Both parents were shy as children (maybe they are still shy now, it hasn't been said) and yet OP is ashamed to have one and wants her to be everything she was not.
I was merely a shy child, nothing more. I never shut up at home, I chatted away to those I knew - adults and children- I found it difficult to speak to strange adults, I hated being the centre of attention and I would never take part in class discussions etc unless directly asked a question. Lots of children are like it. My neighbours DS wouldn't even be in the back line of the chorus - he helped with the lights.
There is nothing worse than people drawing attention to it, trying to force it, treating it as a disability, or being embarrassed about it. Just treat them normally and gradually you gain confidence. I can go into a roomful of people I don't know now and chat and I can stand on a stage and talk to a hall full of people- it took years to get there.
I wonder if OP could take to the stage in amateur dramatics now and yet she is ashamed and embarrassed that her very young DD can't cope with a nativity play. My DS sat on Granny's knee in the audience, dressed as a shepherd for his first nativity play. By 11yrs he had lines to say and did it. He was never going to be a lead character. hmm

exoticfruits Wed 03-Jul-13 07:30:40

You have to be careful,Natasha wishes her parents had investigated - if my parents had investigated it would have had a detrimental effect on me by making out I had a disability when I didn't.

exoticfruits Wed 03-Jul-13 07:33:04

I think that OP needs to ask herself 'would she go on a stage now with confidence?' If so 'at what age she became comfortable with it' and in that case 'why does she expect her DD to do it at 5yrs?'

I recommend reading 'quiet - the power of introverts in a world that won't stop talking' - this might help you appreciate your dds character and ways to cope.

canweseethebunnies Wed 03-Jul-13 07:46:13

ilikemysleep I suffered from selective mutism as a child and went undiagnosed. I didn't even know it was an actual disorder until I saw a programme about it in adulthood. I was just labelled as rude and defiant. I was actually deeply ashamed about it, but there was nothing I could do about it. A thoroughly unpleasant experience that would definitely have been helped by a diagnosis and someone explaining to me that I was not a total freak! Thanks for the link. I will have a good read, as I still don't know that much about it and have had no support around it at all.

Sorry to hijack!

ilikemysleep Wed 03-Jul-13 07:53:57

exotic fruits of course I am projecting my own situation, exactly the same way that you are! Did you read my link? If you are unable to initiate or ask for help or contribute to class discussions then you have a communication problem that is affecting you. If that is compounded by the teacher thinking you are rude or offensive or controlling or choosingto whom you speak and when, then that will be to your detriment.

Because you are glad no-one intervened and you still made progress doesn't mean that the OP's child doesn't need any intervention. My son and Natasha both have / had different experiences. The OP can consider the possibility that may not have occurred to her previously that her daughter may have selective mutism and act accordingly. Your stance of cutting it straight off as 'it's not SM' in your earlier response and saying there's nothing worse than calling attention to a communication problem or saying children have a disability when they don't in this later one seems to me to potentially put the OP in a difficult position if she thinks that she does need to investigate further. If the OP were to decide to have further investigations, a speech therapist or psychologist would advise as to whether the child is just shy or selectively mute after appropriate assessments, she wouldn't get the label willy nilly. The problem is that most people (including lots of teachers and even some psychs and SALTs) think that a child has to not speak at all in school ever to anyone to 'count' as being selectively mute, and that is not the case. So a teacher is unlikely to raise this.

In terms of no evidence for SM, the OP says she 'can't bring herself to speak to adults who try to engage with her'. She 'couldn't look up in her school play' (saying lines in a school play is a LOW communication load and likely to be on the easier end of communication for an SM child. The language is given and the situation entirely predictable. OP's DD managed to say the lines but couldn't look up. In less predictable situtaions she apparently cannot speak at all). Yet she 'chats away at home'. What would you consider to be markers for SM if failure to speak in certain situations isn't it? My son was 'just very shy' at age 5, people forgave him. By the time he got to be 9 and still couldn't speak when an adult spoke to him, it was 'rude' or 'defiant'. Kids get labelled by adults. Lets make sure that the labels are the right ones! BTW my DS doesn't think his SM makes him 'disabled'. He just knows why its been hard for him up to now and he is now getting support to overcome it. And the adults in his life no longer think of him as rude.

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