My 3.5 year old son is shy. Reserved. Cautious. Sensitive. Quiet (well, until he feels comfortable, then watch out!). I was the same way as a child, which is ironic since he and I are not biologically related. As an adult I have not completely outgrown my shyness, although I can manage it better now than I could as a child. I see shyness as something that needs to be managed to some extent, but I’m not convinced that it’s a character flaw.
We live in a really fast-paced world. My husband and my son are not usually in a hurry. They are the types that like to slow down and smell the roses (literally in my son’s case, since he sniffs everything he comes into contact with!). I admire this about them, but feel really sad that our society doesn’t have much patience for their slower approach to life.
My son takes his time warming up to new people and any type of experience that seems potentially intimidating. People who have known him almost his whole life have no idea how chatty he is, because he clams up when they’re around. When he does open his mouth, he speaks very softly. When I take him to Story Hour or music class, he quietly observes, and then as soon as we’re in the car he belts out the songs we just finished singing with the group.
He’s cautious on the playground, too. We see other kids his age running past him and zipping all over the playground while my son takes slowly and deliberately. I acknowledge that I have contributed to his approach, because I’m sure he senses my nervousness and apprehension (and my mother has accused me of using the phrase “Be careful” way too often!).
I’m glad that my son’s cautious approach has potentially spared us ER visits, as we have enough of those for things like respiratory distress (he has allergies) and mosquito bites. I also appreciate the fact that he doesn’t fly around the playground with reckless abandon to anyone on his path who he might inadvertently knock over. But I still worry that his slower pace might put him at a disadvantage.
When I am able to let my son advance at his own pace, he does really well. Some children will go to anyone as babies, stay overnight at grandma’s from an early age, etc. Some people consider this a sign of a well-adjusted child, and consider slow-to-warm up children as clingy and insecure. I don’t necessarily agree.
I see my son’s sensitive nature as a personality trait rather than a character flaw or sign of insecurity. I do encourage him to step outside his comfort zone, but I try to respect his feelings by easing him into new situations. This has been very effective, as evidenced by his success at attending an On My Own Story Hour at the library this winter (he was not one of those children who stood in the doorway crying for Mommy).
I hope that as my son grows, he will find ways to meet the world halfway. I would like him to learn to take some risks and to step outside his comfort zone more, while also being appreciated for who he is. If the world would slow down a little and wait for him, it would be in for a treat.
Claire is a regular writer at Catholic Mothers Online.