Admit it; you’re confused. Your little one doesn’t act the same way that you did when at school. She is quieter, a little more reserved, and seemingly a lot calmer. There is no diving into rough and tumble play at the drop of a hat; instead, she would rather stand back and watch the other kids.
What worries you is that her teacher says she wishes she’d participate more in class and her social circle is extraordinarily small. But what’s odd is that your child seems perfectly happy with all of this!
All too often, we assume that quiet kids have social anxiety issues and lack confidence. Most of the time, though, that’s simply not true, as Susan Cain, author of ‘Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts’, explains: “Neurologically, they’re just wired differently than louder children and react more positively to less stimulating environments.”
Even, so, in the fast-moving and highly competitive modern world, it is good to be able to be comfortable in a wide variety of social situations. Happily, with a little practice, the vast majority of quiet children can learn to plot a course through this often raucous world more easily.
Parents can be a great help too, by thinking before they speak. Quiet children regularly get the message that being a little withdrawn is somehow wrong. Saying “Sorry, he’s shy” is not a good thing to say to another adult – or even another youngster – who is trying to engage with your child, with little or no luck. You are implying that being quiet is a negative thing and are showing disapproval.
Instead, say something along the lines of: “He’s in a quiet place at the moment.” This acknowledges how your child feels right there and then; they may not always feel this way and might talk the hind leg off a donkey at home, but in that moment they feel the need for calm and quiet. By creating an environment of acceptance, you’ll provide your child with the freedom to hold on to who they really are.
All children are different, with different personalities and characteristics. There could be a variety of reasons why a child is quiet within a children’s setting, including being shy and English being their second language. Then there is the impact of being in new surroundings for the first time. As a rule, children will be quieter than usual when put in front of new adults and new children without the support of their parents.
Some socially anxious children can indeed benefit from gentle encouragement to take small steps toward doing something they find frightening. For instance, a child who is afraid of speaking in class, as they believe the other kids will laugh at them, may perhaps be helped to face this anxiety by taking part in a small group discussion. But the best advice for parents of a quiet child is to simply smile and ignore comments from others who recommend that ‘little Nicola’ should be pushed to “come out of her shell.”