I’m the mom of one really shy child.
But not your quintessential shy kid. I don’t mean she is “slow to warm up,” because my daughter might not warm up at all. And I don’t mean that she’s only shy until she gets to know you. There are friends and family members she still hides from or won’t talk to.
What I mean is my almost-4-year-old struggles so much with her shyness that it’s hard for her to interact with most people. Especially her peers.
I’ve Googled more than you could ever imagine about this topic:
How shy is too shy?
Could my toddler actually have a problem?
How can I teach my daughter to play with other kids?
Is something wrong with my child?
I love my daughter, and I would never want to change who she is. But it’s hard to watch our kids struggle. What if their feelings get hurt from being left out? What if they are self-conscious about the fact they don’t know how to just jump in and play?
It’s in a mother’s nature to want to fix things. But I can tell you now this quality of hers is not something that can be “fixed”—in fact, it shouldn’t be.
In the past, attempts to push my daughter out of her comfort zone and socialize, whether she wanted to or not, were met with, “No, Mommy. I just want to be by myself!” I thought it was great that she knows herself so well and that she can be so honest about her feelings.
But if I’m being honest, it’s not what I always wanted to hear.
As a stay-at-home parent, I envisioned our days being filled with all kinds of gatherings, the things that working parents wish they had more time for. I tried joining moms’ groups. Attending and arranging playdates. Signing up for extracurriculars. Local children’s activities and events. All the things that Google or well-meaning friends or family tell you to do.
It was partly because I desire social interaction, too. I want to attend playdates and events with friends. I want to continue being invited to birthday parties and splash pads. But more often than not, agreeing to all of these functions would backfire. I’d assume or hope that my child would eventually warm up, but she’d cling to my leg the whole time.
Other kids would ask her repeatedly to play or participate in whatever activity they were doing. And she’d say no. Every time.
I’d get the chance to socialize and talk to other moms, but I was silently wishing my daughter would just go play with their children.
I’ve often felt alone on this journey with the painfully shy child because, in my mind, it seemed like my daughter was the only one committed to remaining on the sidelines. Not showing even a slight interest in other kids. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t have a close-in-age sibling as a buffer in these situations either.
One day it just hit me: I realized she’s been honest with me and herself her whole life. I fought it because I thought I should, or that I needed to.
It may have taken me a while but I knew I needed to listen to what she was telling me. Really listen. Parenting is not about me. It’s about my daughter and who she is. Perfectly and imperfectly herself.
She’s not yet conformed to people-pleasing ideologies. She hasn’t been overcome with the notion that she needs to change in order to meet others at their level. All she knows is how she feels.
When it comes to kids her age, she’s most content with her friends in preschool. That was where she learned to make friends independently and truly came out of her shell. I’m a stay-at-home mom, so she doesn’t need to be there. But I encourage her to be where she’s happiest. With the classmates that she considers her friends. Even if being more involved in her social activities was what I had envisioned for us.
As the only child in our house, she thrives on alone time. To be honest, I enjoy it too. Alone time is a priority for us both. I’ve become more conscious of how many times we say yes to invites. We have stopped saying yes to everything, deciding carefully instead. There will still be times we go to gatherings she won’t enjoy, because we are the parents that ultimately make the final choice. But this awareness allows us to say yes to the ones we feel are in the best interest of our entire family, leaving space to say no to ones that aren’t. To preserve everyone’s sense of peace.
This has been a journey of discovering my growing daughter and who she is, unapologetically. And advocating for authenticity in both of our lives.
She certainly still has her days, her shy moments as we all do. But I worry less about her now.
I know she’ll be OK.
I know there is nothing wrong. Nothing I need to fix or that should be fixed.
She is who she is, and she’s been true to herself this entire time.
I’m so proud of her.
I think we can all learn something from the shy children in our lives. They are sensitive and imaginative. They display an empathy well beyond their years. They care about the people in their lives a lot. And when they feel things, they really feel them.
These kids don’t adapt to the world in the way that people want them to. They do exactly what they feel comfortable with—nothing more, nothing less. I think this is a trait that will make my daughter happier overall.
I hope to apply more honesty and introspection to my life as well. I know I could use a stronger sense of security in who I am and how I feel. What I want to do and what I don’t. A true understanding of who my people are and unwavering loyalty to them. A lack of interest in people I don’t consider to be in my core circle.
My kid is a shy kid.
And I’ve learned so much from her. I hope that will never stop.