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Some of us are introverted and others extroverted. Some quiet, others loud. Some are reserved and others are outspoken. There are many spectrums, scales and theories with endless possibilities in between to prove that yes, we are each entirely unique, brilliantly one-of-a-kind, remarkable. We are lucky enough to exist in an educated, enlightened era, where we value the quiet as much as the loud. Opposites attract and there is space for, and a need for, different types of people in the work force and society.
But just like labeling a confident child as “bossy,” “loud” or “over-the-top” can be damaging, causing them to doubt themselves, hold back and curb their natural leadership abilities, so too, “shy” is a negative, and potentially damaging tag.
One of my biggest “ah-ha” moments was when I first read the famous Lady Bird Johnson quote:
I understood how powerful a parent’s perception of their child is and how constructive or damaging basic descriptors can be. Because we know and agree how hurtful and damaging these labels are, we certainly wouldn’t call our children, friends or family “fat” or ugly.” I believe labeling people, especially children, as “shy” is just as damaging.
I have always argued that being “shy” is the habitual fear of “getting it wrong.” The Oxford Dictionary describes that “a shy person lacks confidence and is uncertain how to behave or what to say in the presence of other people.”
When an, already frightened, child habitually hears their parent, the center of their universe, call them “shy,” they believe that to be true and live up to this expectation. They withdraw when meeting new people, avoid raising their hand in class, don’t ask questions or contribute ideas, struggle with socializing and do not join in at social events like birthday parties. The parent, is urged to comfort the child and to defend their behaviour, branding them again as “shy.”
Children who don’t say a lot, or retreat from new situations have always been called “shy.” There has been no malice in the title and this has been perfectly acceptable in most western cultures. I believe it is high time to scrutinize this label and challenge ourselves to find healthier ways to describe the more quiet little ones among us.
By doing so, we can help these children. Being “shy” is simply being afraid. We can arm children with confidence and courage without changing their character. Some children will grow up to be Pop Stars and others to be accountants, but both will need to ask questions, make friends and contribute to society.
Let’s help children to develop their social skills and confidence. Opt for using descriptions like “reserved” or “observer,” when describing quieter kidz. Introvert, extrovert, or whatever shade of magic in between, let’s just minimize our children’s fear and build their courage so they can express their individuality.