As I mentioned in a previous post, I am an introvert (see previous post for the true meaning of the term). In writing about it, I realised that my daughter is also an introvert, and my son an extrovert. He always wanted my attention, company or for me to sit and watch what he was doing and comment. My daughter has always been happy in her own space, could entertain herself for ages, she was fine as long as she knew I was around.
In social situations this came across differently. I have always gotten cross when people labelled my daughter as shy. When meeting a strange adult that I knew but she didn’t, she would stand next to me, look down and not say a word. People would smile at me and say “oh she’s shy” I would say clearly, “No, she is not shy, she is choosing not to speak until she knows you and feels comfortable”. I got quite a few shocked faces at that! I personally think “shy” is a damaging label, especially, as in this case, it wasn’t true. Why do I think it is a damaging label? Well, if a child is told often enough they are shy, they will view themselves as that and behave to confirm that label. It also gives them a reason not to engage in public, as they can say to themselves “I can’t talk to that person, I am shy”. It would be better to work on getting a child to feel confident in public, regardless of whether they are an introvert or extrovert.
Susan Cain, acclaimed author and expert on introverts, agrees that introverted children have their own quiet strength. My daughter just didn’t like talking to people if she didn’t know them. She also used to be hesitant to speak up in front of a group, but one-on-one she talked non-stop.
She is now quite confident socially, and in front of a group, and I aim to have that continue.
How have we achieved this?
This is what worked/is working for us and is not intended to fit all kids, as my daughter has a few characteristics that are also commonly found in kids on the autism spectrum, such as: she does not make eye contact if she is not interested, can’t see the point in social niceties and has to make a real effort to remember to say hello or reply when spoken to, has certain routines that need to be completed before she can go on with the next etc. (By the way, I had her assessed for social skills, spectrum behaviours and school readiness, and the result confirmed what I thought – she is fine, just an introvert and a unique quirky person.)
1. Understand how they think and what motivates them.
I know that my daughter needs time to be by herself to recharge. I also understand that her priorities are not the same as mine. I think it is important to put your shoes on and leave the house to get somewhere on time, she thinks it is important to finish colouring in her picture. Me telling her why she has to stop and do what I am asking does not work, as she doesn’t see what it has to do with her (the “why”). So if I put it in a way that she can see the benefit, she is much more likely to cooperate. “By leaving the house on time, you be in time to do *insert fun thing here*”. Plus I can give her plenty of warning of when a change is about to take place. “In 5 minutes, it will be time to finish colouring and put your shoes on”, “Last minute before it’s time to put your pencil down” or “what part of the picture are you going to stop, and come back and do later?” On the flip side, this means she is very focused and tenacious in achieving a goal.
2. No pressure to socialise
Instead of foisting her into a large group of people and expecting her to just “get used to it”, I found a place where she felt there were fun things to do, which also had a group of kids. We had a fantastic Kindergarten, and she had seen her brother go there for two years before it was her turn for 3-year-old Kinder, so she was confident to start 4 year-old Kinder. The teachers understood her, and didn’t pressure to join the other kids, simply praised her for any interaction or cooperative play with others. After 6 months, she was starting to do activities where other kids were, and by the end of the year she was fully interacting in social and creative play situations.
3. Acceptance for who she is and her strengths, teach others how to treat her.
She did not speak up in mat time at Kindergarten, and while the teachers gave her opportunities, they quickly moved on if she did not participate. On starting school, I gave a detailed behaviour description with strategies to the Prep teacher. At first she was very hesitant, played by herself on the playground or only with a couple of the girls she knew from Kindergarten, or looked for her brother. She was the target for some bullying, which was quickly addressed and the whole class taught about what was acceptable behavior. Once she became familiar with the routine and learnt what the expectations were, she started speaking more. By the middle of the year she was speaking up in front of the class and regularly played with all the kids.
4. Give her time away from others to recharge.
When she comes from school, or on a weekend and especially at the beginning of school holidays, she does not really want to socialise. Arranging a play-date at the beginning of the holidays does not go down well, or if we do, it needs to be with people who know she sometimes likes to play by herself until she is ready to interact.
5. Give her a space to do alone activities
I recently repainted and rearranged her room, and set up a craft/drawing table just her size, just for her, with all her pencils and colouring books in reach. She loves it and it gives her a needed “head-space” place.
So, as the years pass, I watch my daughter blossom and become more and more socially confident. She is now confident enough now to get up in front of the school to accept an award. And at dinner last week she asked if I could belly dance at assembly, with the proviso that she can come up with me, in a nice costume and do the moves she knows too. Shy? I don’t think so!