The Sweet Song of the Shy Child

Parenting the shy/anxious child is an exercise in letting go.

Posted Feb 19, 2012

Photo by AJ Franklin via Flickr

Such was the case for a couple friends of mine, Ryan and Susan, and their daughter, Linda. They were wonderful parents, attentive and devoted. Ryan, in particular, had an outgoing personality. Susan was somewhat more reserved, but still very comfortable in social situations.

Their daughter, Linda, could be a handful. From an early age, she had been very sensitive to noise and new stimuli. She could alternate between being very cautious and surprisingly adventuresome. Scott and Lisa never knew what to expect

When it came time for the fourth grade music recital, Ryan and Susan were proud to learn that their daughter would be singing a solo at some point in the performance. Initially, Linda was very excited and was looking forward to her moment to shine.

As the day of the event approached, though, Linda had a change of heart. She became obstinate and moody. On that Tuesday morning, she announced that she was not going to sing by herself.

Linda's parents did not know what to do. They understood their daughter's anxiety, but also knew she needed to face her fears. But, how? They couldn't just force Linda to sing.

They talked to Linda and told her how the whole class will be expecting her to sing. What was she going to do when everyone turned their eyes to her?

Linda obviously had given this a great deal of thought. "I will just look at the girl next to me when the time comes," she announced, "and everyone will think that girl is supposed to sing."

Ryan and Susan alternated between understanding and panic, not knowing how to handle this. They knew their daughter was frightened. They decided not to argue with Linda, knowing that it would not help. They simply allowed her to voice her fears without trying to take them away.

On the night, the twenty-seven fourth graders marched in and took their place on the risers in the school gymnasium. Susan was in the third row, near the middle. In a scene that takes place in countless schools across the country every year, the teacher anxiously got the children's attention, and they began singing with the loud and sincere voices of children of that age.

Ryan and Susan had no idea of what to expect. Halfway through the final song, the group's singing quieted in preparation for a solitary voice.

At just the right time, Linda sang with a confident and beautiful sound, her voice reaching every part of the room, and every corner of her parents' hearts.

I remember talking to Ryan and Susan after the event. They used a solitary word to describe their reaction: "Puddles. We were both puddles."

Now, not so many years later, this little girl is in college. She will soon be leaving for a semester in Paris. She still has her moments of self-doubt. Her parents still worry. And life goes on, just as it always does.

Copyright 2012 Greg Markway

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