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I Was Not a Shy Child

By Yvette Vignando - 7th September 2011

I’m quite an outgoing person – not a ‘raving extrovert’ but do I love meeting people, finding out all I can about them, telling them something (okay, a lot) about me, and I thrive in other people’s company. I love talking and chatting and debating – you might’ve already figured that out about me by now. But I don’t fit all the stereotypes of an extrovert. For example, I don’t really like huge parties – I prefer small ones, talking around a table over good food – and I love a good long time to read a book all alone. I love thinking about this kind of thing because I’m fascinated by humans and the way we think and feel. Part of my work with adults involves executive coaching and supporting people’s development – it includes running Myers Briggs Personality Type workshops with adults. For all those reasons, I often think about the personality types of our three boys.

One of our boys was quite a tentative young man when he was a toddler and young primary school student. He didn't have huge problems with separation anxiety but it was certainly often a challenge to leave him with other people. He’s now a confident and assured young man who does not hesitate to try new things or new situations. However, when he was little, I used to worry sometimes – for example, he didn’t want to be left at birthday parties even of friends he knew well, he cried every time he was left at school or preschool (only for the first half hour and then he was very happy) and he always checked to see if we were right behind him before he ventured too far away.

My inexperienced inner parenting voice kept telling me I was doing something wrong – somehow we needed to do more to encourage this little man’s independence.  I used to feel embarrassed when he wouldn’t stay at a party without me when all his little friends were quite happily playing on the trampoline or watching the clown, oblivious to where their parents were.

If I could go back to that time now and speak to myself I would say this:

  • Your little man is just fine. He just has a different personality type to you; he takes time to warm up in new situations. He is still learning that it’s safe without you and that you’ll always come back and get him again.
  • Don’t be in a hurry to force your little man into new situations – give him time to adjust, keep reminding him that he is safe and you are there – he just needs more reassurance than some of the more outgoing children around him.
  • Don’t expect your little man to feel comfortable in a new situation as fast as you, or other children; he is taking his time. He is very observant and is checking out the entire social scene – he’s also very sensitive to other people’s feelings including your own, so make sure you don’t let him pick up on your own anxiety about leaving him – and don’t let him see your worry or frustration about him not being ready for you to leave yet.
  • This will pass; focus on your child’s efforts and make sure he keeps having fun – build his confidence with plenty of social experiences and eventually he’ll work out for himself how to interact safely and happily in new situations.
  • Very soon your hesitant young man will be as sure of himself as he needs to be and you will be so proud to see the confident and beautiful person he is becoming.

And then, last night I was thinking back to my own childhood. Reportedly I was a chatterbox – no surprises there. I was also quite happy to go to parties and not ever called shy. But I do remember a few things about myself that my parents would never have known – and now when I recall them, I realise that even for confident, outgoing children, there are times when it’s hard to be independent. For example, I remember finding it very hard to go to sleep at other people’s houses overnight – I didn’t feel scared but I didn’t feel relaxed enough to sleep. I remember at age 5 sleeping downstairs in our two story house while my parents and toddler and baby siblings slept upstairs and feeling awfully alone; I used to reassure myself by shutting my eyes and imagining the millions of lights you see out the window when you land in a city by ‘plane at night. And I remember hating having to wear a swimming cap at a pool in Germany when we went swimming with friends we visited – I felt weird and ‘stupid’ and foreign and certainly did not feel confident or outgoing at all.

Even if you have an outgoing ‘raving extrovert’ of a child, I’m sure they have plenty of insecure feelings from time to time- you just don’t always get told about them. And I think now about our hesitant little man, I realise I could have recalled some more of my own childhood memories – times when I felt insecure – and it would have made me understand his feelings of shyness or uncertainty in a more visceral way. Empathy, it’s a powerful thing.

Do you think you have quite different personality type to one of your children? How does this impact on your parenting? Like me, did it take you some time and more children to work out that nature really is stronger than nurture when it comes to personality – and that it’s all going to be okay?

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