Not quite ready to step in…

As this school year starts, new adventures await our children. Some students run into a room and embrace all they see; others tend to hang on the outskirts of the room and watch all that is happening with the studiousness of a keen observer. Parents often worry if their child is not naturally inclined to jump into a situation, wondering if this means that their child is unlikely to be involved. The staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center would like to share what they know to be true about these more reserved children. With more information, a parent of a cautious child can confidently watch as her child enters into a new situation in her own time.

A reserved child is often excited about the activity at hand, but is not yet ready to trust those involved. Therefore this child will take her time to understand the people, the situation, and the expectations before becoming too engaged. This is a trait we appreciate greatly in teenagers; that thoughtful moment before awarding trust is sometimes what keeps them out of situations that could be harmful to them. As your young child is showing this same self-preservation skill, remember to offer positive statements about what they are doing. As a parent we can show understanding by saying:

  • You want to take your time
  • It is ok to watch
  • You will join in when you are ready
  • Let’s explore together – you can stay close to me

With these statements, you are letting your child know that tuning in to how she is feeling about a situation is acceptable and beneficial.

It is helpful for parents to show that new situations and new people can be trusted. A reserved child is often trying to read the situation, and she will use your reaction to help her make her decisions. You can boost her confidence by showing that you are comfortable with it yourself:

  • Provide your child with information about what is to come, so she knows what to expect
  • Talk with the new people, and show that you feel comfortable with them
  • After leaving the new situation, talk about and focus on the positive parts of the activity or people

These actions will help your child learn what it is they should be looking for as they assess whether or not they can trust others in new situations.

A teacher will often assess the level of reservation in each of his students and act accordingly. For this reason, you might notice a much softer approach toward your cautious child when a teacher first meets her. Your teacher will be less likely to come right up to your child. He will be more likely to match his interaction level to that of your child. By matching the level of interaction, the teacher is allowing for a respectful space to build trust. This trust will be much stronger if it is not rushed.

Remember that the words you choose to describe your cautious child can have an impact on her self-image. A child will see her approach to new situations positively when she is described as reserved, cautious, intuitive, or as a person who takes time to think about a situation. The word “shy” is often applied inappropriately in these situations: a person can feel shy, but “shy” is not a character trait. (Just as a person can feel angry, but she is not an angry person all the time).

Looking for a book that helps children to see their approach in a positive light? Joy Berry has written a book entitled “Let’s talk about being shy.” The book stresses the feeling of being shy, and discusses ways for children to build trust in new people and situations.

All of us feel a bit shy sometimes, it is a natural approach to new experiences. Offering support to our youngest children will help them to be confident in the way they handle this feeling.