Grasping my skirt like a lifeline, our young daughter refused to let go.
“Say ‘hi’ to Mr. Smith, honey. He’s been daddy’s friend since he was a little boy. Just give a quick hello.”
I could feel her fingers clench tighter as she burrowed deeper into my skirt. No eye contact, no hello, not even a quick little peek around my leg.
“I’m so sorry; she’s just shy and tired. She missed her nap today.
There it was. Out of my mouth before I knew what was happening. I had once again intervened and excused our daughter’s poor choice.
Let’s set the scenario up correctly.
Everything communicated spoke fact. Our daughter was shy and tired, and sometimes, that’s enough to just let it go, but I began seeing myself as a parent who continually labeled their child’s personality, and she was using that.
When a parent continually labels their child, they feel vindicated to choose certain behaviors because that’s “who they are”. They now have an excuse to always retreat, rather than choose to do the hard thing which is learn to greet graciously.
It’s critical not to make the child feel self conscious over a personality trait, but embrace just how God has made her perfectly unique, yet desire to work through the weaknesses.
Our daughter’s introverted nature holds gifts that I can’t even imagine. She shyness is not a weakness. Her compassionate heart and listening ear result from her more introspective personality, and I love how the Lord perfectly knit such a precious personality together, but I quickly realized that while her shy tendency would always bend towards retreating, rather than an excitement to meet new people, that personality trait should never excuse rudeness, and sometimes, she was being rude.
Even as a child, no one is ever too shy that they can’t give
30 seconds 5 seconds of eye contact, a smile and a warm greeting. As moms, we have the power to help our children through that discomfort, train them, and dare I say ‘demand’ it?
On a practical level, dealing with a shy child actually means spending time role playing at home, as well as letting them know that when they make a poor choice in public, you will help guide them through making the wise choice.
Set them up for success and this means beginning early. At home, walk them through the new people they will meet. If you already notice this trait in your tiny ones, begin early, even before they are talking in complete sentences. When in public, pick them up, encourage them to give a little smile, and look the new person in the eyes.
We are not asking for an award winning speech, just begin with and expect warm eye contact. It may take time and training. There will be days when they just can’t seem to get out from behind that skirt, and that is natural, but when you leave, make sure you talk them through what just occurred. Give them an understanding of how they could have handled it better.
Keep encouraging them. Remind them to show Jesus love to everyone they meet, even if it’s just through a smile and a wave. As they get older, we don’t allow for any excuses.
They’ve reached an age where they are allowing their shy personality to serve as an excuse to be rude. By age 8, our sons’ introductions included a firm hand shake, direct eye contact, and a smile. “Good evening, Mr. Smith. It’s so nice to meet you,” followed up by an understanding of simple back and forth conversation.
Now as teenage men, they can hold amazing conversations with any adult they meet, in nearly any situation, but it came with much work and effort on our part to push situations that gave them that opportunity to grow.
I share these situations using the “Shy Child” personality, but honestly, we need to stop labeling our kids in any negative way that excuses their behavior. The same scenario can be said for children who are extraverts and constantly monopolize conversation without even realizing it. We talk through that as well and encourage self control and an “others first” mentality.
(For my personal story on extrovert vs introvert, read my “I’ve Never Been Told that Before” story. The comments are the best part.)
As moms, it’s so easy for us to desire to make a good impression, than instead of having our kids take on the natural consequences of their bad behavior whether it’s throwing a fit, whining, talking back in public, etc, we make excuses for their poor behavior by covering it with, “They are tired.”
Again, they may be tired and missed a nap, but work on calling their behavior what it is, “sin.” Oh yikes, stepping on toes. I don’t mean you call them a little sinner in public, but we need to stop excusing their choices and train them in wise choices.
Even with my teenagers, I don’t make excuses. I call it what it is. Selfishness, pride, anger, whatever they are struggling with and that gives me a true starting point on how to help pray for them and train them in righteousness. I do the same with myself. I can make so many excuses for my own behavior when it comes do to sin. I tell myself I am too busy, too overwhelmed etc, when it’s truly sometimes about my own choices.
It takes a lot of time, energy and consistency in encouraging your kids to do the hard things, but one day, it will result in tears of joy as that shy child who wouldn’t come out from behind your skirt stands on stage at age nine and recites a few Christmas story verses in front of thousands of people.
People might have thought my tears came from a proud momma and they would be right, but not because she was on a stage in front of people. No, this is a child who hates being the center of attention, a child content with remaining quiet, a child that doesn’t need the accolades from man in the public arena, this was just a daughter who rose to do the hard thing, the terrifying thing, one Christmas Eve when her family was asked to read the Christmas story.
She said “Yes” when she didn’t want to, and it’s for her bravery and boldness that I was proud.
So we start today.
Whether our child is 2 or 12, we can stop excusing our child’s bad behavior and begin to train those poor character choices right out of them.
Raise the bar. You aren’t asking for too much.
It’s not easy and it’s exhausting.
Some days you’ll wonder if something so little matters, but trust me, it’s does and it’s worth it.
*Please note that I understand this will not work as an easy 1, 2, 3 answer for children dealing with certain social anxiety issues or diagnosis, and that’s why I am thankful for counselors who can help children take those next steps.