Dear Stranger: Here’s How to Speak to My Shy (Selective) Kid Monday, December 19th, 2016
I used to call my daughter shy, but then I decided that our children hear, listen, and believe what we say about them. And while she might actually be shy, she’s also very brave. And I would rather her remember that she’s brave and wild and adventurous than believe the label I give her every time a stranger tries to speak to her in public. Now, I don’t call my daughter shy. I say that she is selective… and there is a small group of people that she selects to speak with. Strangers don’t make that list.
I used to try and prompt her to reply. I used to think that my daughter owed strangers her attention. They were kind enough to speak to her. She should be polite enough to respond. I used to be embarrassed and try and explain her selectiveness. But recently, I stopped.
I don’t force her to reply… ever. As a woman who used to struggle with social anxiety, I have a little bit of compassion for my kid who doesn’t want to talk to people that she doesn’t know if she doesn’t have to. Requiring her to reply, when I already know that she won’t, is like pulling her from behind me and adding my expectations to this stranger’s request for her attention. It’s like pushing her further out when she already feels exposed.
So here’s what I do now. I usually try and redirect the conversation with the stranger, intervening so my kid doesn’t have to feel so put on the spot to speak.
Stranger: What an adorable _______ (bow, dress, sparkly headband)_____.
My daughter: *Silence*
Me: I think so too! It’s sure cold out there today. Are you staying warm?
The thing is, these conversations happen so often, there are some things I have learned about shy (selective) kids that changed how I engage and interact with those I meet in public.
Whether you’re a parent of a selective child, or you are interested in making a selective child more comfortable, please consider these three tips.
1.| If you greet a child with a comment or question, and they don’t reply, don’t keep questioning them.
I think it is in our nature to want a response when we speak. We are created for connection, and when we reach out, expecting a response, and we don’t get one, sometimes we keep reaching. If you notice the child is purposefully withholding a response, please don’t keep pressing. Recognize that the child is reserved and give them an “out” without expecting anything in return.
“Are you out shopping with mommy today?”
“Hope you’re having a great day!”
End the conversation without requiring the child to reply first.
2. | Don’t feel like it is necessary to point out that the child isn’t responding.
At least once a week, my daughter is told that she is shy by someone we don’t know. While I truly believe most people are attempting to connect with her by acknowledging her quietness, it changes the entire narrative. What do I mean? Well, if the original comment was that she had a pretty dress on, but because she didn’t reply, an additional comment was made that she was shy… the conversation changes from her dress to who she is. It’s hard to re-write those words spoken to her over and over again.
3. | Please don’t touch a selective child if they don’t speak to you.
This might just be a southern thing, but I can’t tell you how frequently people will reach out and touch my daughter if she doesn’t speak to them. Like I said, I’m pretty sure this has to do with their desire to connect with her, but if she’s not connecting verbally, they will actually reach out and pat her back or tickle her neck. This is one of those things that’s not weird until you stop and really think about it. But if an adult didn’t respond to something you said to them, you hopefully wouldn’t keep talking to them, call them shy, and then reach out and tickle them, hoping for a response. Let’s not do that to kids either.
As people, we’re all communicating in different ways, on different levels, and with different filters and expectations for the messages we are sending and receiving. It often takes work to make sure our hearts are heard clearly. When speaking to a shy (selective) child, using these three tips will hopefully help them feel more comfortable.