Dear Mother of a Quiet Child,
I know you worry. You’re told at every parent-teacher conference: “Your child is so quiet” or “She needs to speak up more.” You think to yourself, “How will my child succeed in school when so much is based on group participation?”
You worry your child will be left out socially. You see him hold back in group settings. He’s not in as many activities as the other kids. He doesn’t get invited to friends’ homes that often. “What if my child is lonely?” you think.
Your family doesn’t even understand. Why doesn’t your child join in the dinner table conversation? “Am I doing something wrong?” you wonder. You might even be embarrassed, or angry that your child is so quiet.
Maybe you were quiet, too, and you don’t want your child to go through the same struggles you did. Or maybe you were outgoing, and you really don’t understand your child’s quiet personality.
This is what I want you to know: It’s going to be okay. Your child is going to be okay, and you’re going to be okay. I realize me telling you this is not going to make you stop worrying. Moms worry. That’s what we do. But here are some things that can help:
- Accept your own feelings as okay, whatever they may be. Experiencing a range of feelings about your child, and parenthood in general, is normal. Sometimes being a mom is really tough!
- Realize that your child’s quiet temperament is only one aspect of his personality, and in no way takes away from his unique strengths and inherent worth.
- Accept your child for who she is. You’re not likely to change her into an outgoing social butterfly, and you wouldn’t necessarily want this to happen. There are many hidden strengths in being quiet. For example, many quiet kids are thoughtful, self-controlled, conscientious, gentle, caring, and loving. They are sensitive to other’s needs and feelings.
- Show your child you love him just as he is. At the same time, find that delicate balance of letting him know you’re available to help him “stretch”—to try new things and to reach any goals he wants to pursue.
- Separate your own issues from your child’s. It’s easy to assume we know what our child is feeling because we’ve been through something similar. But our assumptions may or may not be correct. Check things out with your child, and recognize when your reactions might be stemming from your own experiences.
- This may seem obvious, but make time to listen, truly listen, to your child. Put your own agenda on hold and try to understand what your child is not only saying, but also what he’s feeling.
- Avoid shaming your child with statements such as: “Why can’t you be more outgoing like your brother?” or, “You’ll never have any friends if you’re on the computer all day.” Instead, focus on the positive. Start noticing your child’s strengths and look for ways to acknowledge these. Does your child have a sense of humor? Is she creative? You get the idea.
- Watch the labels. Although “shy” is not necessarily a negative term in my mind, in Western culture it’s not generally considered a desirable trait. Our society still places a greater value on being bold and outgoing. Hopefully this is changing. But until then, you want to give your child some other words. For example, instead of saying, “You’re shy,” try saying, “It takes a little while for you to feel comfortable with new people, and that’s okay.” Similarly, when other people call your child shy, try saying something like, “Wait until you get to know her. She’ll talk to you about anything.”
- Give it time. Quiet kids seem to need a longer period of “warming up” than their outgoing counterparts. Again, give your child the message that this is okay. Say things like, “It’s okay to watch first,” or “You like to check things out before you jump right in.”
- Okay, this one is tough: Realize you can’t protect your child from all pain. It’s natural to want to shield your child from adversity, but children must also learn—in small, gradual doses—to deal with reality. The Swedish writer Ellen Key reminds us in Words of Women—Quotations for Success, we’re not doing children any favor by being overprotective. She says, “At every step the child should be allowed to meet the real experience of life; the thorns should never be plucked from the roses.”
In addition to wanting you to know it’s going to be okay, I also want you to know you don’t have to be perfect. The points above are ideals worth striving for, but you’re going to make mistakes. My guess is that if you’re reading this, you’re already a nurturing mom who is well on your way to bringing out the hidden gifts of your quiet child.
A still quiet person who speaks her mind (softly and with conviction)
Follow Barb Markway on Twitter by clicking here.
Barb also blogs on self-compassion here.
Barb and Greg are the authors of Nurturing the Shy Child: Practical Help for Raising Confident and Socially Skilled Kids and Teens.
Top photo by James Jordan.