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My 5 year old son's shyness is driving me mad

(33 Posts)
juicy12 Fri 03-Jul-09 13:45:54

My eldest child - boy just turned 5 - has got progressively more shy as he's got older and it's becomming a big issue in our family. If we see one of his class mates out and about and they say hello enthusiastically to him, he looks horrified and just manages to squeak out a hello back. I think he comes across as pretty indifferent and not bothered about being friendly back. If any adult outside our family speaks to him - even ones that he knows well - he reverts to babyish behaviour. He hides behind me, whispers, uses a silly voice or answers their questions with his back to them. I think I was pretty confident and outgoing as a child, and his 2-yr-old sister is certainly happy to chat to anyone. However, DH is pretty shy and over-sensitive, which is why it's become a big issue in the family as DH blames himself. I get sooooo frustrated with my son, cos I just think, "Just say hello back and smile. That's all you have to do, it's not hard!!" Then I feel terrible for getting angry with him. I've noticed too that he's very easily led by boys he wants to be friends with and seems to do whatever they ask - at the moment it's only been small things like putting a jumper away for someone, but I worry what he'll do if asked in the future. I've spoken to him about standing up for himself. I feel terrible cos he seems to be turning into this little person that I never expected he would and i feel equally terrible for starting to feel a bit disappointed. Help! (btw, I'm new to this forum, so sorry if I've not followed all the rules!)

ilove Fri 03-Jul-09 13:48:10

Erm, it isn't as simple as "just say hello back".

I'm shy, and my throat closes up...it is a physical reaction I have no control over, and I shake and stammer when I try and force sound to come out.

Your poor little boy...

MadameDefarge Fri 03-Jul-09 13:54:26

You are already weighing him down with your disapproval and frustration.

Leave him be. He's shy. It is hard for him. If other people judge, stand up for him.

Being five is very hard. You need your mum on your side, not getting disappointed at you.

fluffyanimal Fri 03-Jul-09 14:01:53

I think you just have to accept that your ds is different from you. Try to weather this one, he may grow out of it, but also try to find social situations that he finds less threatening, e.g. play dates with just one close friend, much smaller family gatherings. Could you perhaps help him with rewards for doing things like asking the shop assistant for what he wants in a small local shop, so that he gets your support for doing social interaction and gets practice at small chunks of it?

I have a very shy 9 yo nephew, who dotes on his older sister and gets tongue tied and tearful at larger social gatherings, but who is nevertheless a delightful, well balanced kid who has his own group of close friends.

juicy12 Fri 03-Jul-09 14:27:00

Thanks for the replies. I know it must be hard for him - I just find it really hard to identify with him. I just can't understand why, if he wants to be friends with people, he can't just relax and chat. I know that I've come across as really harsh, but we're all finding it really difficult - I'm writing this with tears streaming down my face as I can't believe I have such little connection with one of my own children. I've tried to accentuate all the positive things with him, but it is really hard to see friends' kids being able to hold their own in situations while mine just seems to clam up. I've got to the point now where I feel that I'm probably making it worse for him so I should maybe just stay out of suggesting things to him?

MadameDefarge Fri 03-Jul-09 14:33:26

I think you need to relax a bit. Being shy is not the end of the world. His mates won't care a bit, and adults don't really want to talk to him anyway. Gently gently with him. The bigger deal you make of it, the more he will be aware of your disapproval, and it can be a way of getting negative attention, a pattern you do not want to set up with him.

You can connect with him, one to one, or with a small group.

Forgive me if I am way off base, but perhaps you might be focussing on your ds' shyness as a way of avoiding other issues?

It just seems a rather extreme reaction to get frustrated and actually angry because he is reserved.

And i do know what it is like, My ds is exactly the same. I have had to learn that he is entitled as an individual to make his own choices when it comes to interacting with others.

LeninGrad Fri 03-Jul-09 14:39:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

hullygully Fri 03-Jul-09 14:42:49

One of the things you could do is role play. I did this with my ds (on a different issue) and it really helped. You can practise together (make it a laugh obviously) taking it in turns to be the shy one etc, practising just managing a hello at first, then a smile etc.

Tell him you understand how he feels and it is very difficult to talk to people etc so that he doesn't feel weird to boot!

juicy12 Fri 03-Jul-09 14:42:58

I think you're right, Madamedefarge. It's not so much that there are other issues, it's more that I'm finding it hard to accept that he is so different to me (DH would prob say this is a good thing!) But, I know I do have to accept it and will. I suppose (without sounding patronising) that in my mind I imagine life might be harder for him if he is shy/reserved and bottom line is that I just don't really want anything to be hard for him.
And thanks, fluffy animal for ideas - will try those.

juicy12 Fri 03-Jul-09 14:44:59

Thanks, too, for all other advice - really helps put things into a bit of perspective and some good practical tips.

sanae Fri 03-Jul-09 14:45:41

My DS is same - always been shy, sometimes appears rude when he doesn't make eye contact with adults who speak to him, and often can appear indifferent to others. On the positive side, he has moved schools twice now and seems to make friends OK, and he is going to secondary school in September and doesn't appear to be frightened by the prospect of another change. I have realised that there is little I can do to change the situation - I have tried to suggest that he looks people in the eye when he speaks to them at least! I have become more relaxed about it as he grows older. I think that there is a lot of evidence that these sorts of personality traits are inherited to a large extent - I am quite introverted so he probably gets it from me. DH isn't and neither is my youngest DD. My eldest DD also is a quieter personality. Agree with other posters, you need to show him your support or you will knock his confidence and make him feel bad about himself. In the end it is important that they feel comfortable with themselves, even if they find it more difficult with other people.

Scorpette Fri 03-Jul-09 14:49:07

My Dp was like this as a kid and he's still like it now! Beware - his mother's frustration at him 'being silly' because he found it impossible to do 'such simple/normal things' and just expecting him to 'snap out of it' led to him just feeling more and more anxious, and being really down on himself for being 'weird' and not being able to do things everyone else found easy and for disappointing his parents by not looking 'normal' and he got worse and worse and as an adult, he now has Social Anxiety Disorder. Kids who are v shy usually go blank when confronted by different and new situations and people and need to be talked through stuff in advance - his folks used to get annoyed with him if he said things like 'tell me what it will be like' (for ex. about his first day at school). His folks used to try to force him to speak (in a nice way, but still...) and apologise to others for his shyness and discuss it with other adults in front of him and this made him miles worse. The thought that all these big, scary (often strange) grown-ups thought bad of him and there was so much expectation placed on him to do the thing he found scariest in the world just snuffed out what little confidence he had.

On the other hand, I too was cripplingly shy as a kid, but my parents never made an issue out of it or made me feel odd/bad about it (though perhaps people accept shyness in a girl as more acceptable and even find it cute?). They used to explain to me why people did and said things the way they did and how people acted in certain situations and as much as possible, they told me what to expect before we got into a social situation, ie, who was going to be at a family party and what they might say to me and help me think of ideas of what I might say back - if I wanted to speak back, no pressure. If I couldn't, they just acted like nothing odd had occurred.

I was shy from birth, but Dp was confident and got shyer as he aged. His shyness started when his younger brother was born - and you say your Ds has a little sister. Dp remembers feeling like his world was rocked and wondering if his parents had had another baby because he wasn't 'enough' for them. However, when I put this idea to his Mum when she brought up the topic of his shyness, she said he'd not been jealous or anything. The point is, he kept it all inside. So it would be worth talking to your Ds about feelings about his sister being born - he might be bottling up bad feelings about himself. Or he might just be a shy little boy who does or doesn't grow out of it. Either way, love and accept your son for being who he is - NOT who you thought he would be. Getting annoyed with him and forcing him to do stuff that terrifies and upsets him (not suggesting that you do already) is the best way to make him shy for life.

Sorry for writing loads, but it's a subject v. close to my heart.

GrungeBlobPrimpants Fri 03-Jul-09 15:02:13

I echo what the other posters have said. I was also painfully shy as a child (worse than your ds) and I just can't explain why or how. Knowing that my parents thought it was a problem made it far, far worse. I'm still shy now but nothing compared to my schooldays - I do avoid certain social situations, though. The best you can do is try hard NOT to show your frustration, or to show that he should not be behaving like this. Accept him as he is, support him, do thigns that make him feel good about himself - and don't worry about his futre. He's only 5 and still has a long way to go. smile

NanaJo Fri 03-Jul-09 15:26:09

My older DS (5.9) is also a very shy and deeply sensitive little boy. He is very intelligent and creative. I have had similar situations to yours when we encounter a child from his class who bounces over all friendly and "hi!" and my DS lowers his head and attaches himself shyly to my side. What I do in these situations is I put my arm around my little boy, and give an eager response to the friendly child myself ...ask him or her a few questions etc. I will then make a comment about my DS such as "Lee is going swimming this afternoon" or "We're just off to the park. Thank you for coming over to say hi. That was very nice." I make no comment about my DS' shyness. I find he will then relax and sometimes be able to give a little smile of his own.

My younger DS (3.2) is a much more outgoing, chatty little boy. This doesn't make him better than his elder brother. They just have very different natures.

MadameDefarge Fri 03-Jul-09 17:56:53

juicy, I know you will do you best for him. Try not to worry about life being harder for him. My ds is actually very popular with other children, because he is fun to play with and not bossy! And he is popular with teachers because he is a hard worker.

And yes, being sensitive can be a burden in life, just feeling stuff more intensely than others, but it can also make your ds the most wonderful, perceptive, empathetic person, and possibly very creative too!

So its a bit swings and roundabouts, with personality types. Some children are very robust and its all like water off a ducks back, but if your ds was like this, you might find yourself worrying about his lack of empathy with others....

philopastry Fri 03-Jul-09 18:21:16

Have found this thread really useful and reassuring. Thanks for those insights Scorpette.

My eldest is also v.shy (age 5) and I am ashamed to admit I used to get frustrated with him and want him to 'snap out of it'. But I have come to accept it is just how he is. ANd as Madame has said there are positives that come with shyness - my DS is very affectionate and loving (towards the family), very creative and really self sufficient ( a different sort of confidence I suppose). I can not imagine him being led astray or doing anything daft because of peer group pressure - he genuinely does not seem to give a hoot what the popular mood is - he goes his own way. Kind of admire him for that.

mussyhillmum Sat 04-Jul-09 18:05:19

DD2 (4yr) sounds very much like your son. I have always been outgoing and love social situations, so I have also struggled to identify with DD's shyness. However, I never discuss her shyness in her presence. Like an earlier poster, I put my arm around her or hold her hand when she is approached by a child or adult. I give her an opportunity to answer and, if she remains silent, answer on her behalf.

I think it is important to help your little one find something which will bring him out of himself. DD goes to drama and ballet classes which has boosted her social confidence enormously. In fact, last night I watched her perform on stage in front of a hundred people! There is no way she would have done anything like that 6 mos ago.

Hang in there, relax and accept your little boy for what he is.

iwouldgoouttonight Sat 04-Jul-09 18:24:08

I've always been shy, and at school I hated it because I was labelled 'the quiet one'. My mum called me rude because I ignored people, but it wasn't like that to me, I was genuinely terrified of talking to people sometimes. I didn't think I had anything worthwhile to say and thought I'd make a fool of myself.

My DS (nearly 3) is also shy. We were actually at his friend's birthday party this morning and he spent most of it attached to my leg. My initial reaction is to be sad because he's inherited my shyness, but I'm really trying to make an effort not to make a big deal of it.

When people called me the quiet one I withdrew even more. Now I'm an adult and people don't really comment either way on my shyness I'm much more confident, I'm not 'the quiet one' I'm just me. I'm shy but its not a big deal. If everyone was confident and loud it'd be horrible! I know its frustrating because I'd love DS to be really outgoing and confident like you with your DS but I'm trying to not make it into an issue, if he doesn't feel able to speak or join in I don't try to make him.

Tee2072 Sat 04-Jul-09 18:46:55

I've always been shy, still am, to be honest, I just have developed ways to hide it in the last 40 years!

IMHO the worst thing you can say to a shy person is 'just get on with it.' That just makes it worse.

Let him make friends and talk to people in his own time. Support him in any way you can.

He may not outgrow it, but he will (hopefully) find ways to hide it, like I did.

Smithagain Sat 04-Jul-09 19:06:44

Please don't get hung up about it affecting his life chances. I was similarly shy at five, but people don't believe me now, because I've left it behind as I matured.

Was still pretty shy as a teenager, but happy in my own group.

Now I have a job that requires lots of meeting people, speaking in public etc and I absolutely love it.

Try and cut him a bit of slack and be there to support him, not making him feel more awkward.

BottySpottom Sat 04-Jul-09 22:23:39

Even your statement 'over-sensitive' is loaded with disapproval. Why is being sensitive a disability? My sensitivity has always been treated like that, yet it gives me enormous insight into all sorts of situations I wouldn't otherwise have.

Chill and let him be as he wants to be and thank your lucky stars you are not shy too.

BottySpottom Sat 04-Jul-09 22:25:29

Sorry if that came across as harsh. Your original post touched a nerve but I have read your other ones now smile.

Being shy isn't the end of the world ... unless your parents make it that way.

piscesmoon Sat 04-Jul-09 22:38:33

I was a very shy child-my mother could never understand why I couldn't just say hello to DCs if we met them when out. The worst thing you can do is draw attention to it-just ignore it-the only thing that solves it is time.

RambleOn Sat 04-Jul-09 22:50:43

Agree with a lot of the posts. I was also shy as a child. Still am as an adult really, but have learnt to deal with it and people would say I was pretty confident socially now.

I would say that drawing attention to it and forcing me to talk made it worse.

But also, that you should try anything you can to help him.

Morrissey had it right,
"shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you'd like to"

Dalrymps Sat 04-Jul-09 23:14:58

I was a shy child. I still am shy in certain situations with certian people. I'm known as 'quiet' by people who don't know me well.

What I would say is that one thing you shouldn't do is keep pointing it out. For eg: when I was little and an adult would say hello to me I would hide behind my mums skirt etc, I remember my mum saying things like 'oh you're not shy, she's pretending to be shy, why you being shy?' etc etc. This made me feel really self concious about it and made it worse IMO.

I also found going in to new situations quite scary and if I wasn't sure hwat was going on would get anxious. Looking back it would have really helped for my mum/dad/ to quickly explain to me where we were giong and why and what would be happening and when we would be going home again. I often just felt 'lost' and 'confused'. I remember being at nursery once and becoming confused as to why I was there, not being sure of when I was being picked up, anyway the result of this is that I wee'd in the sandpit blush.

Another time we were at some kind of fair and my mum popped back to the car for something, she said she'd be back in a minute but I wasn't sure where she'd gone and in my little world it was a very long minute. I wandered off thinking she must have come back but missed me where I was stood, I was lookinf through all the strangers trying to find her getting more panicky by the minute. She came back and found me but I was confused and lost for a minute.

Anyway, my point is, just take that extra little bit of time to really thoroughly explain things to him so he doesn't feel 'lost' or 'confused' or like he doesn't know whats going on.

A few activities might build his confidence too, outdoor type things that are non competative?

He really can't help it, I know it must be frustrating but try and stay patient.

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