Let’s hear it for the child who is quiet, reserved, an observer of the world around him – one who doesn’t readily respond with an easy smile or answer. Often parents of these young children experience a sense of frustration and concern that their child is not meeting age- appropriate social expectations. They see their child at home, talking and laughing, singing and dancing, but when he is in a group or unfamiliar situation – he just ” stands there and stares”.
I have a special affinity for these reflective, cautious children. I probably was one myself. They are slow to warm up to new situations and people. They study their surroundings and activities to see where they might fit in – and if they care to. It is the temperament they were born with.
I see this often at Family Resources Play Shoppe. A parent walks into the room with a child attached to his/her leg. Once in the room, the child stands and watches. Usually the parent, feeling uncomfortable because their child is not responding to the greetings and invitations to join in, begins to encourage and prod their child to answer and participate. This usually has the opposite effect.
By the end of Play Shoppe, this reserved child has most often found his niche – usually even interacting with others. By the time they get home, he is often singing the songs the others sang (and he listened to) and describing everything that went on at Play Shoppe whether he participated or not. His experience was positive and enjoyable. He has no clue that there would be any concerns about his behavior.
Unless it was made apparent to him. As moms and dads, this is what we need to understand and appreciate. It is our own interpretation and expectations of the situation that is fueling our concern. Accepting, enjoying and celebrating our child’s temperament and personality is key to his success. It is this that will instill the confidence and strong sense of self that we are seeking for our child.
I try to encourage parents who have a child like this to just let her be. Come into the group – if your child needs to stand by you or sit on your lap and watch – accept that as perfectly okay. Let your child hear you talking and greeting others without bringing the spotlight on her or remarking that she’s so “shy”. One thing I’ve found about these children – the more they’re pushed and prodded to respond, the more clingy and unresponsive they become.
Parents have shared that they feel their child is just being stubborn. The parents are worried that they will be socially unprepared and not know how to function in a group. It is my own observation and experience that these very observant young children mature into older children who know themselves very well. They exercise critical judgment and make good choices in friendships and self- selected interests.
As parents, we can provide safe, fun, social situations with friends. We can model interaction, socializing and caring. We can prepare them for what to expect at new experiences. We can address their interests and competence. But most importantly, we can give these children the time and pace they need to be comfortable in their own right.