Tips on rais­ing quiet chil­dren


“Oh, she’s too quiet for that. She won’t do that, she’s too scared. She won’t join in, she’s too shy.” Th­ese are just some of the com­ments I re­mem­ber grow­ing up with as a child. Learn­ing to in­ter­act with the world and find­ing your place is all part of de­vel­op­ment, and although the com­ments were quite truth­ful ob­ser­va­tions, I do re­mem­ber think­ing that maybe I wasn’t enough, or as nor­mal as my more con­fi­dent, out­spo­ken peers. We live in a world that of­ten favours the ex­tro­verted, the bold and out­spo­ken, and chil­dren may find them­selves stuck with the la­bel of ‘quiet’ or ‘shy’ if they don’t ex­hibit such qual­i­ties. But th­ese in­tro­verted per­son­al­ity traits are not the neg­a­tive at­tributes they are of­ten made out to be. In­stead, in­tro­ver­sion should be some­thing that is em­braced and cel­e­brated; it is nei­ther bet­ter nor worse than ex­tro­ver­sion but a dif­fer­ent way of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the world. So how do you tell which way your child’s per­son­al­ity swings, and what can you do as a par­ent to em­brace and sup­port your child’s ‘quiet’ side? We talk to psy­chol­o­gist Dr Liz Peter­son, a se­nior lec­turer at Auck­land Univer­sity, about recog­nis­ing your child’s tem­per­a­ment and how you can adapt your par­ent­ing style and give your quiet child a solid plat­form to be them­selves.

Shy­ness, in­tro­ver­sion and in­hi­bi­tion ex­plained

All chil­dren are in­di­vid­u­als and re­spond dif­fer­ently to the world, but there are over­ar­ch­ing per­son­al­ity traits that ev­ery­one falls into. ‘In­tro­ver­sion’ and ‘ex­tro­ver­sion’ are two broad types of tem­per­a­ment, which Dr Peter­son de­scribes as the “gen­eral la­bels”. The dis­tinc­tion be­tween ex­tro­ver­sion and in­tro­ver­sion is in how you in­ter­act with the world and how you process your en­ergy and recharge. To put it sim­ply, ex­tro­verts gain their en­ergy from be­ing around peo­ple,

and in­tro­verts gain their en­ergy from soli­tude or alone time. Shy­ness, on the other hand, is more fluid. Su­san Cain, au­thor of Quiet: The Power of In­tro­verts in a World that Can’t Stop Talk­ing, de­scribes shy­ness as “the fear of neg­a­tive judg­ment” and in­tro­ver­sion “a pref­er­ence for quiet, min­i­mally stim­u­lat­ing en­vi­ron­ments”. “Shy­ness is just a com­po­nent of in­tro­ver­sion,” ex­plains Dr Peter­son. The two aren’t mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. You don’t have to be an in­tro­vert to be shy. Slightly dif­fer­ent again is the trait of in­hi­bi­tion that many chil­dren feel. Dr Peter­son de­scribes “in­hib­ited chil­dren as those who have trou­ble seek­ing so­cial in­ter­ac­tions but ac­tu­ally want them”. In­hi­bi­tion dif­fers from shy­ness in that a shy child may be just fine with their own com­pany or play­ing by them­selves. The in­hib­ited child may des­per­ately want to join in “but they just don’t know how to en­gage”, says Dr Peter­son.

How do I tell if my child is shy?

Your baby may be­gin to show you they are in­tro­verted or shy be­fore they can even talk. “We do pick this up at the early age of around four months,” says Dr Peter­son. “It is a lack of adapt­abil­ity and we can spot this early on.” Watch­ing closely how your lit­tle one re­acts to dif­fer­ent stim­uli can be a great guide to see how sen­si­tive they are. Dr Peter­son de­scribes a com­mon sit­u­a­tion in which a young baby may show th­ese traits. “When you put your child in a cot with a novel stim­u­lus they haven’t seen be­fore above their head, they might start scream­ing or arch­ing their back,” she says. “They don’t like the un­fa­mil­iar.” It doesn’t have to be only vis­ual stim­uli they re­act to - shy chil­dren may re­act to phys­i­cal ir­ri­ta­tions such as a wet nappy or an itchy tag, or changes in rou­tine. When it comes to older chil­dren, shy­ness can be eas­ier to spot and re­spond to. You may no­tice your tod­dler be­comes grumpy when around peo­ple for too long, or be­comes anx­ious in a very stim­u­lat­ing en­vi­ron­ment. “A re­ally shy three year old might throw a tantrum about be­ing put in the mid­dle of a room full of peo­ple,” says Dr Peter­son. Sim­ply ob­serv­ing how your child re­sponds to var­i­ous sit­u­a­tions can give you a good guide of their tem­per­a­ment, and what they will and won’t han­dle.

Is there such a thing as too shy?

It’s only nat­u­ral to worry about whether your child is un­happy or lonely, but as Dr Peter­son puts it, “It’s not a curse to be shy. Tem­per­a­ment or per­son­al­ity is not some­thing to ever be wor­ried about, it’s just the way you are.” Your child may sim­ply pre­fer to play by them­selves, or they may take time to warm up to so­cial sit­u­a­tions. “It’s not nec­es­sar­ily fixed either,” says Dr Peter­son. “There are a lot of things that make a child be­have in a cer­tain way. A shy, in­hib­ited child can still, as an adult, get up and make a speech at work.” Show­ing quiet traits at a young age is not go­ing to pre­vent your child from do­ing cer­tain things as

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