Most people who know me would consider me a social butterfly. I’m a joiner and I like to attend every event to which I’m invited, lest I suffer from FOMO. When I had my daughter I threw myself full force into mommy and baby events. I started a local moms group on Meetup, recruited members by chatting with moms at the library, in the supermarket, and anywhere else I could find them. I made it my business to be out and about for every event that I possibly could. My daughter, on the other hand, had plans of her own. Large crowds upset her, she wasn’t receptive to many people, and was generally calmer when we were at home. Ummmm, WHAT? This couldn’t be right! I couldn’t possibly have given birth to an introverted girl! How could I be at home all alone with nobody to chat with?
I started to believe there was something wrong with my child. Did she have sensory issues? Was she on the spectrum? I simply did not understand how she could prefer the quiet of our home over the fun and excitement of being out and about. So I pushed. I figured that she would just have to get used to being social. It had always been my belief that shy people just never pushed enough to come out of their shell. I was determined to break my daughter out of her shell. She was MY daughter, after all. How could she possibly be shy?
Needless to say, my plan backfired. The more I pushed her to be around large crowds, the more she resisted. She would scream, throw tantrums, and generally protest in any way that she could. When I would get her home, she would be perfectly content. Many tears were shed lamenting the play dates and birthday parties I had to leave or miss altogether, but not by my daughter. She seemed so much happier when we did. I, however, was miserable. I thrived on social interaction!
After one particularly rough afternoon, it occurred to me that my husband was shy. Much like my daughter, he prefers more intimate gatherings to large crowds. He prefers people he’s known for years over meeting new people. He prefers staying at home to venturing out to a new dinner spot. Right. This was going to be harder than I thought. I realized that all of the things I loved about my husband also came along with that quiet and reserved package. He was calm when I was running around like a chicken without a head. He was the voice of reason when I had overcommitted yet again, and he was the welcome “let’s-play-it-by-ear” when I harassed him with my endless plans and agendas.
I realized that this was MY issue and not my daughter’s. While I did want her to socialize, I had to come to terms that she wasn’t going to be comfortable charging right in to a room full of strangers no matter how hard I tried. I had to figure out a way for her to develop her social skills in the most comfortable way possible. If you have a shy child, both consistency and gentle encouragement prevail.
Make new friends one at a time: Developing friendships is difficult enough without adding a whole bunch of new faces at one time. Instead of heading to a new play date with a bunch of new faces, I try to attend ones that are much smaller and have fewer new faces. It’s always helpful if she already knows someone already.
Home Court Advantage: I love hosting play dates at my home, since it’s much easier to get my daughter comfortable in a place where she already knows the ropes. Having new friends come over really helps ease the transition, since the scenery hasn’t changed much.
Limit the Number: I now try to keep my play dates to once a week so that my daughter can spend some quality time at home or out and about with me. This is very low stress for her and allows her to feel comfortable more times than feel uncomfortable in any given week.
Low Stakes “Play Dates”: A trip to the park is a play date, but it doesn’t stress my daughter out since she’s not in a confined place forced to interact with strangers. At the park, she has the option of interacting on her own terms. That makes it feel much more organic and less forced.
Keep Trying: Just because my daughter is uncomfortable with big crowds, doesn’t mean that I simply keep her home and in her comfort zone all the time. We do have to attend larger social events on occasion and she is required to go. When she does a good job playing with a new friend, I always make a big deal about it and say what a great job she did.
Familiar Names: I like to repeat the names of the new friends we have made over and over again so that when we do have to attend another event, I can say things like, “We are going to the party and your friend __ is going to be there.” This helps her to connect the name with someone she already knows and helps her to feel comfortable about going to the event.
Raising a shy or introverted child can be challenging, especially if you’re much more outgoing. The most important thing to remember is that people interact in different ways and that encouraging rather than forcing, always produces better results!
What are some ways that you have encouraged your introverted child?