Dear Caring Parent,
There are three often confused quiet-child characteristics that matter. Because how we support each of them is different! I can think of several cultures in which these three are outside of the cultural norms/expectations for sure. These three are the shy, cautious or introverted child. It can be confusing. We frequently misjudge a child because of these. It’s not just hard for the children, it can be hard for parents too.
Well honestly, being introverted or cautious is not hard for children – they just are busy being that way. It’s not until everyone starts pushing them to be otherwise that it gets hard for them.
Being shy however, can feel hard. Shy is not the same as cautious or introverted. We can understand this more if we go for what differentiates the three – and that is that the wants of each are different. Let me explain.
THE WANTS of THE SHY, CAUTIOUS OR INTROVERTED CHILD
All of these are part of a person’s personal style; how one approaches and reacts to the world.
A shy child wants to interact with others but experiences great hesitation or utter fear at the idea of getting started, of initiating connection. We can almost see the longing on their sweet faces. Interaction feels scary. According to Kids Health, 20% of people have a genetic tendency towards shyness. The good news here is that this can be largely overcome.
Introversion and being cautious aren’t something to be overcome however. These are DNA temperament traits.
The introverted child wants to get to know others. They want for that and after playing or studying with others because they get drained. They often quietly observe a group or activity before engaging. Then they leave the group sooner than most and find a quiet place with a friend or by themselves. Hence they get called shy a lot. They aren’t. They meet more slowly and get overstimulated more quickly than most, simply tuning out. Additionally, they tend want close, but few friends. WEBmd says about 30 – 50% of the adult population is introverted so it’s pretty safe to assume the same is true amongst children.
The cautious child simply wants time while getting involved with others and activities. They are inclined to initially hang out with smaller groups and on the periphery of the group. They don’t tire once they figure out their way, ‘find their feet’ and get involved.
Just to make life more confusing with these three often confused quiet child characteristics, sometimes a child has a combination of these characteristics. Yet, it all matters because, rather than pushing these children to be bold and ‘in front’, they need their positives called out and supported.
HOW DO WE SUPPORT THEM?
A child with these quiet child characteristics is often called non-participatory, unenthusiastic, or unconfident. It’s rapidly brutal on their self-esteem if they are pushed to be something they simply are not.
Giving shy children skills for approaching others helps, along with being set up in situations where they’ll likely be successful. They also benefit from learning to notice when others are inviting them in. Additionally, asking them to help us do a task works. If the shyness gets extreme, therapy (play, occupational, or counseling) is beneficial. It can help keep them from tipping into social anxiety. Extroverted children can be shy too! Imagine the frustration of being unable to enter into situations from which you actually gain a lot of energy! If this shyness moves into social anxiety, they won’t be able to use their skills.
Introverted children benefit from not being called shy! Instead, let’s congratulate them for taking care of their needs when they wander off to be by themselves. Let’s praise their powerful observation abilities. Give them the time and space when they are asked to move into new situations as well as their 15 minutes of quiet or touch base time with their few close friends! By the way, when with their close friends they appear extroverted, which sometimes confuses people.
Cautious children need time. They need to be congratulated for persistence, for entering into different situations. We want our cautious ones around when teen impulsivity hits so call them out for how well they thought through something before engaging in it. Call out that they observed, then were careful to notice their foot safety, that they stopped when it didn’t feel safe to them. Call it out that they brought up good things to think about before moving into a plan or activity.
PARENTING OUR QUIET CHILD
It’s hard to watch our child with one of the three often confused quiet child characteristics. We hold our breath as they hesitate to join others at the playground, or when someone says they lack confidence. I believe understanding what’s going on makes a difference for us. And ultimately for our children. Along with allowing the skills, time or space needed as discussed above, one thing I found helpful with my quiet child is to take her to environments before she’d have to be in them – driving by the building or field. Before middle school, I walked the halls with her a couple times. She got to find where her classes would be, greatly reducing her stress.
When it seems that someone involved with our child isn’t ‘getting them’, we need to provide our ideas about what helps. It’s about informing your parenting team!
These traits become evident even in our child’s first year. Stand back and notice how they enter new situations in particular. If we or others push them to be different than they are, we’re damaging their self-esteem. It doesn’t take long for them to pick up on comments and start to feel ‘less than’ those around them.
In the end, it comes down to noticing what our child’s need is, non judgmentally. Because honestly, the feisty child can be called out negatively also, but that’s another article. So take a deep breath, keep from getting drawn into worry. And remember this, although I don’t know who said it! “Never assume that loud is strong and quiet is weak. It’s the lion’s silence that signals danger, not his roar.” Still waters do indeed run deep.
Take care now, Natasha
If you are unsure what your child is, you’re worrying about them, or you aren’t sure how to support them, let’s talk it through.