School and the Shy Child

School and the Shy Child

Recently, my 3 and 1/2 year old hit a milestone that had me stressed out and worried: his first foray into the school system. This may seem like small time peanuts to some of our readers. I can envision someone patting me on the head saying, "Just wait until the teen years, dear, then you will really know what stress is."

The reason for my worry is that Junior has a shy personality. Kids are born with a temperament, and my child is shy, wary and sensitive. Unfortunately, this makes everything in life a little bit harder for him. He hated Gymboree. I started taking him there as a toddler to get him warmed up to structured activity. He did not like it and wanted to hide in the corner while we were there. Eventually he would start to cry when we turned into the parking lot. I decided not to continue on with something he didn’t like. I felt a little unsettled with that decision. I didn't want him to think that just because something was difficult it was acceptable to give up.

People around me were quite critical of my child's reserved personality, especially after I stopped going to Gymboree. Since I am a stay at home mom, folks would often say to me, "Well, he's just at home with you all day. You don't do enough or go enough places with him." Or, "He needs more socialization. Is there something wrong? Questions like this really hurt me. I wanted to retort, "Well I'm sorry my child isn't living up to your expectations!" Isn't that the root of this? Adults have high expectations of kids. Kids are supposed to jump into new situations with boisterous cuteness.  They are supposed to smile and laugh on cue. My child is a crazy, dancing and singing maelstrom at home, but outside the house he tends to hide behind my proverbial apron strings.

I decided to wait until he was older to take him to structured activities such as pre-school or classes without a parent present. At the beginning of the summer, I decided it was time to try again. I signed Junior up for an activity class at my local park district. It involved gardening and art projects, two of his favorite things. I was very stressed about this before it began. Would the teacher give him the extra attention I knew he would need? Would he participate? Would the other kids be nice to him?

The morning of the first class, I explained how fun and exciting school was going to be. Junior asked me, “Will you be there too, Mommy?" I said that yes, I would be there waiting outside the door. He thought about this for a minute, and then said, "OK, let's go"! Was this my child? I was surprised and pleased with his reaction. When we arrived at school, it was time for the big moment: the drop off. There was some leg clinging, but the teacher was very understanding and was able to coax him away. Sweet freedom was mine! I had a whole 90 minutes to talk on the phone, stare into space, spend money at Target on things I didn't need, whatever I wanted.

I went back to the school 10 minutes before dismissal so I could peek through the windows to observe him. When I looked in, Junior was sitting at a table with two other kids. He was poking at his snack plate and looked utterly miserable. He kept looking at the door, probably hoping I would burst in and take him out of there. My heart sank. He hated it! When the teacher opened the door to let the flood of kids out, I asked her how Junior did. She said, "Don't let the sad face fool you, he had fun". And he did have fun for the next couple of classes.

Two weeks into the session, he decided he had enough of school. One morning, I woke him up and told him it was a school day. This was met with screaming and crying. I told him how great he had been doing and how much fun he would have. He went downstairs, threw himself on the couch in his underwear and screamed that he wouldn't go to school. I had 10 minutes to get him to go to the bathroom, get dressed, and eat a snack. I knew it wasn't going to happen. We missed that class, and then the next one. I felt like a failure. I could hear those lecturing voices in my head, "Don't teach him that it's ok to quit! That's wrong!"

In the end, I realized that I have to do what is best for my child. Sometimes forcing them to do things just doesn't work, and it creates stress and misery. We went to some classes, and then we missed some. I have to get over the feeling that I failed in some way. All I can do is help Junior along the way with love, understanding, and....homeschooling?

Do you have a shy child? How did they adjust to school or daycare?


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  • Some children are more sensitive than others, they have deeper feelings, which may serve them well in the other areas of life. But for now, just give them as much love as possible. And you are doing well. In the meantime try let your own parental fears go. Sensitive kid catches fears about his being insecure from you. Focus on positive aspects of his personality. Ignore the "shy" aspects. Mentally. It's work. It's sort of meditation. Imagine the optimistic scenarios of the everyday life events. Sooner or later, you kid will sense your confidence and faith in him. Then change will happen, for sure!

  • In reply to UpParent:

    Great advice, thank you!

  • I believe in you, Amanda! You're doing the right thing by your child, in my humble opinion.
    We, too, had a shy one for many, many years. She is much more outgoing now, and her shyness peeled away over the course of a few weeks last summer. It may, or may not, happen with Junior, though I expect it will at some point. How much the better that you are feeding him what he needs, instead of pushing pushing him to be somebody he clearly isn't (yet, or ever, only time will tell). Such an excellent way to communicate that he is loved for who he is. Yay! Offering opportunities for engagement, and when the time and opportunity is right, it will click.
    Homeschooling sounds fantastic. That's the road we're headed down, too. Don't let the oogie-boogie "but how will the child get socialized" get in the way. From what I hear, and can see so far, socialization happens all around us, not just in school. And more naturally in the world outside of school. How often are we surrounded by 29 other people born within 12 months of our birthday, in The Real World? But that is a rabbit hole for perhaps another time.
    Go you!

  • In reply to parachuteparent:

    Thank you so much for your comment! I am so glad that folks can relate to this. Thank you for reading!

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