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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.

dotnet Wed 03-Jul-13 07:59:05

I can't offer any practical suggestions really, but I'm sorry you feel upset and it's understandable. It's very unlikely though that your dd won't move on gradually and - eventually - even be able to manage a 'stilted' conversation with a friendly adult!
It's hard, this socialisation lark, for a lot of people. Children grow though, and their social skills grow as well. Having said that, if I had a magic wand and could give my dd any gift, it would be - confidence. Confidence is a massive asset. You can pull the most amazing tricks career wise etc if you have confidence, even if ability is lacking. Not for nothing does 'confidence' begin with 'con'!

kelda Wed 03-Jul-13 08:01:32

If you want practical suggestions, I would just invite over one child at a time for a play date or birthday party. There is no point inviting half the class over if your dd is too shy to enjoy it.

Just invite one child, and keep them occupied with organised activities - nothing complicated - crafts games like snap.

Hissy Brazil Wed 03-Jul-13 08:11:57

I've known painfully shy toddlers, that blossom at nursery.

I've known painfully shy Reception children develop and grow into children on a par with their peers.

The MAIN thing in this is NOT to react, worry, panic or show that it's a concern to the child.

It'll be OK.

You and your H turned out OK didn't you?

exoticfruits Wed 03-Jul-13 08:12:30

All I am saying is that you have to be very careful. Treating it as a disability would have been the worst possible thing for me. OP was shy as a DC- it is highly likely she will have a shy child.
Mine was just shyness- all the attention drawn to me would have made it into a real problem when it really wasn't.

exoticfruits Wed 03-Jul-13 08:13:23

Exactly Hissy.

exoticfruits Wed 03-Jul-13 08:15:15

A lot of people don't understand shyness - it was a huge relief to me to find teachers who did.

exoticfruits Wed 03-Jul-13 08:16:19

Why does OP think that if she and her DH were shy as DCs she will have an outgoing, confident DC?

samandi Wed 03-Jul-13 08:28:16

As other posters have highlighted, you could stop being embarrassed and ashamed of her hmm

Lj8893 Wed 03-Jul-13 08:31:59

I was extremely shy as a child, not with my family etc but with other people I was awful!

Roll on several years I have a musical theatre degree and have done many many shows, auditions and am never afraid to perform in front of people.

I'm quite often told to stop talking so much Cus I chatter on and on. And when I tell people now that I used to be shy they laugh at me.

2rebecca Germany Wed 03-Jul-13 08:35:47

If she's shy I agree with those who say stop organising big parties, a birthday should contain things the child likes not the parent, and get her doing small group things or playing one to one. Some kids who have never been to child minders or nurseries and who have a SAHM find the transition to school difficult.
I wouldn't discuss her shyness with her but just be supportive but maybe do a few more sociable things as a family than you would normally do and encourage her in hobbies she enjoys to build up her confidence.
I would work on your own confidence as well as maybe you have avoided socialising as a family due to that.

exoticfruits Wed 03-Jul-13 08:37:49

Seeing the parents being outgoing and confident is much the most helpful thing.

shewhowines Wed 03-Jul-13 08:59:09

My DS was very shy as a young child, particularly with adults. At nursery he followed his friend round all the time and talked to no one else.

It wasn't learnt behaviour. I talk to all and sundry, all the time. Yet both my kids would put their heads down and refuse to say hello back when friends wallked past them.

And it is embarrassing when they are too shy to say thank you etc to adults who give them things or talk to them. Understandable and I never made an issue of it but you do feel uncomfortable.

In fact I probably should have made more of an issue of it. I probably babied him and allowed him to sit on my knee etc and made excuses for him too much. I perhaps should have made him say thank you etc. I would prompt him but never forced him. I don't know though, perhaps it would have made it worse. It got better when I had a more "deal with it" attitude but perhaps he was just growing up anyway.

He's now a popular, confident boy with his peers and not too bad with adults.

Try not to worry too much. She'll find her own way and as long as she is happy about it, then leave her to it.

mamadoc Wed 03-Jul-13 08:59:11

I'm not going to judge you for occasionally feeling embarrassed and ashamed.
I love my DD so much and am very proud of her but she is very shy and at times yes it is embarrassing.
DD is 6, just finishing Y1. She has a small group of friends who she is really comfortable and quite confident with, she's usually fine with adults she knows after a warm up period but with unfamiliar adults she won't say a word. Not even good morning to her teacher for most of the year. She will almost never answer or speak up in class. People try to speak to her and she just doesn't reply-it does look rude.
I have felt embarrassed because I know that other adults are judging her as being rude. One family member has said I should discipline her for it but I don't feel that's going to help. I have tried to reward her when she does manage it but it rarely lasts long. I am hoping she will just grow out of it.
I don't have any magic answers. Getting angry about it doesn't help, bribery doesn't really help. I try to talk about it to her and explain that although I understand she is frightened others might not but she is really embarrassed and just says she knows already but can't help it.
I think just trying not to put pressure on and lots of praise for trying is the only thing you can do.
I think DD gets it from DH as MIL says he spent most of his childhood hiding behind her skirt and he's turned out just fine.

shewhowines Wed 03-Jul-13 09:06:35

Yes mama adults do judge you. My elderly granfdfather in particular used to be very vocal about it.

CHJR Wed 03-Jul-13 09:11:24

Oh, God, yes, those terrible moments when you realize your child has inherited the exact, precise trait you have always most hated in yourself! YABU and YANBU, and it’s pretty clear from your OP that you do sort of know that. Her life already ruined at age 5, yeah right.

About shyness, may I provide a multi-cultural view? I have only been in this country six years and I still notice that the British particularly value what they call “social skills” in quite small children, one of those cultural rules along with “the playing fields of Eton” (your son’s a failure if he doesn’t love ball games) and “cleanliness is next to Godliness” (if you don’t wash your hair now you must be an axe murderer). Now I grew up in the Middle East, bounced through the refugee process around countries like Sweden and Canada, married my equally shy husband here and immediately spent the next two decades in far East Asia. In none of these countries would a child even be in school yet before 6!

This isn’t to deny your perception that your DD is very shy, sounds like she is. But where I’ve been most of my life the advice would be: don’t force her. If you have a delicate flower, you keep her in the greenhouse a little longer and plant her out later in the spring. If your ankle is sprained, running a marathon will make it worse, not better. Acknowledging she’s shy will help her to learn strategies. For instance, when they meet new people I still prompt mine (some of them teenagers), “Shake hands and say hello to Mrs X, and then you may go play.” This gives them something specific to do, cues Mrs X that the kids are shy, and demonstrates that even so I’m still a Good Mother who Values Manners. At the nativity play, teachers will quickly learn to cast her as a wordless lamb instead of the Virgin Mary, and you can tell her to look for you in the audience (sit front and central and give her a good wave, it’s hard to see from the stage) and just keep her eyes on you the whole way through, so at least her head will be up. As for birthday parties, some will remind you they’re not at all necessary, but she might well want one even if they make her shy. In our family it’s always been considered normal that at the moment the cake comes out, the birthday child will be having extra birthday cuddles in mum’s lap, pretty much cheek-to-cheek, and we will cut the cake hand-on-hand which gives us something to look at instead of all the singers.

You do have to be your child’s advocate. Ask the teacher, or DD, if there’s one perhaps also rather quiet child she sometimes chats to, and invite that child for a short playdate, perhaps with mother. And put out play-dough or paints or a paddle pool so they can play side-by-side instead of directly interacting. When you drop DD at school try to look round and say, “There’s Sarah, she’s having trouble with her coat, let’s go help her with the zip.” As classes are reshuffled from year-to-year ask the head or the teacher to try and keep DD with at least one or two friendly kids; I still do this for DS (9).

When we first moved here 6 years ago my older son’s new teacher got cross because he didn’t look her in the eye and shake her hand at the door the first day: “You need to teach him some manners!” I was too shy myself to answer, but when I got home in tears, DH reminded me: “In the country we just came from, it would be so arrogant for a small child to stare in an adult’s eyes and touch them without permission!” I was shy, still feel it often, but you notice no one can shut me up!

GinniferAndTonic Wed 03-Jul-13 09:43:46

OP, my DD is 5 and has selective mutism. Now, this is not the same thing as being shy, but some of the same techniques might be of help. And anyway I second the idea of looking into selective mutism (the SMIRA website linked to by a poster above is excellent) just to see if it fits your situation. The Selective Mutism Resource Manual by Maggie Johnson and Alison Wintgens has been a big help.

The key thing to understand is that your child's perception of some ordinary situations differs from yours, in that to her they seem huge and insurmountable. You must think of ways to break things into very small steps, and give lots of help and encouragement so your DD is able to start taking these steps. When she gets a sense that she is moving forward, she will become more and more keen to take more steps. Be creative and try to give her social situations that favor quieter children. For example, my DD does ballet - it's a group activity but one where she gets positive feedback for being quiet and attentive. This has boosted her self-confidence a lot, and I'm convinced it has helped her make progress in other areas.

21stCenturyDropout Wed 03-Jul-13 09:44:34

Exotic fruits you seem to assume that by saying that I am embarrassed and ashamed on this post, that is the way I behave towards my Dd.

Did you really read that from my post? All I am trying to do is help my daughter. I don't need to feel ashamed for the way I feel.
I am not a complete monster. There is no way I let her know how I am feeling inside about this. When we are out I don't make a big thing of her shyness, I just give her a cuddle and reassure her.
On the subject of Selective Mutism, I have briefly looked into this but it may be a bit early to tell as she is only 5.
I am ok with her being shy. What I am not ok with, is her missing out on experiences because her shyness and lack of self confidence holds her back.
Thanks to everyone else for the kind and helpful comments.

Loulybelle Wed 03-Jul-13 09:46:31

21st you could be describing my daughter, shes the same age and has been diagnosed with selective mutism, that pattern fits my DD to tee, but she is starting to open up and trust more now.

ARealDame Wed 03-Jul-13 09:47:40

I knew a boy like that at school. He would not speak to anyone - teachers or pupils, except my son for some reason. At home he was apparently chatty.

I don't know all the ins and outs of it, but he did grow out of it, and according to my son, doesn't stop talking now ...

But I agree, school support might be helpful. I am sure they see this kind of thing a lot.

(I also read Quiet - the Power of Introverts In A World That Won't Stop Talking. Fantastic, recommended).

LilacPeony Wed 03-Jul-13 09:48:09

I felt so embarrassed and ashamed that my child is so lacking in confidence. Maybe the OP wasn't saying she was ashamed of her child, maybe she meant that she was upset with herself for not managing to bring her up to be confident? Us parents have a habit of blaming ourselves for how our kids turn out and wondering what we could have done differently, even though there was probably nothing we could have done differently and it is just how they are!

LilacPeony Wed 03-Jul-13 09:48:30

Cross posted!

propertyNIGHTmareBEFOREXMAS Wed 03-Jul-13 09:56:28

Very sad, OP.
i would throw her in the deep end, I think. Sign her up to lots of after school activities, invite lots of friends round, socialise with others on the weekend, send her up to the counter to buy sweets and cake in cafes whilst you watch. Kill or cure. Good luck!

21stCenturyDropout Wed 03-Jul-13 09:57:14

CHJR I just read your post again and it must say it has really stuck a chord with me. Particularly the line about having a Delicate Flower! Thanks for that perspective. I will try to remember that at tricky moments!

Sometimes it feels as though to be valued in this world you have to shout the loudest and be larger than life. Whether or not my Dd just happens to be in a class where most of the kids are outgoing I am not sure. But like it or not, it is upsetting when it feels like your child is the only one finding it hard. Its nice to know that she is not alone.

takeaway2 Wed 03-Jul-13 10:14:49

A v quick post just to say I'm really interested in this SM as I have a dd and it all sounds v similar. I am abroad for work so will post when I'm back in the UK.

Goldmandra Wed 03-Jul-13 10:22:46

Sign her up to lots of after school activities, invite lots of friends round, socialise with others on the weekend, send her up to the counter to buy sweets and cake in cafes whilst you watch. Kill or cure.

hmm

Why on earth would you put the child through this sort of hellish experience?

She already goes to school. What would enforced extension of the school day doing things she hasn't chosen to do add?

How would forcing her into situations where she feels under enormous pressure make her less anxious about speaking? How would she feel standing in front of a stranger in a cafe with everyone looking at her expectantly but being unable to speak? That would destroy her.

The problem with throwing children in at the deep end is that they either drown or end up even more terrified of the water.

I'm all for challenging children in ways they can rise to but they should never be set up to fail like this.

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