Stop Calling My Kid the 'S' Word

Jacqueline Burt Cote

shy kidIf I had to choose one pet peeve I have as a parent, it would be this: Adults calling my kids shy to their faces. This especially drove me nuts when they were toddlers. How do you expect a 2-year-old to react when a human being she's never met before (who happens to be three times her size) pinches her cheeks and tells her she's cute? My daughter (and my son) both had the same response to the advances of people they didn't know very well, and that was to hide behind Mommy.

Who could blame them? But instead of adults being, well, adult about my kids' lukewarm reception, most people jumped to cover the awkward moment by blurting out something like "Oh, she's shy" or "Are you going to be a shy boy?" Yeah, cause that's really going to make my kid feel more comfortable. And by the way, thanks for labelling my very small child with a term that will now probably haunt her for years.

So I felt a great sense of triumph and vindication at the recent finding that shyness may in fact be an evolutionary tactic. It makes perfect sense, if you think about it: Naturally, those whose inclination is to proceed with caution are going to avoid the types of dangerous situations extroverts often dive into feet-first. As a friend of mine whose daughter was similarly "slow to warm up" and I used to joke, at least we knew our kids were never going to follow some weird guy they didn't know just because he promises there were puppies in his van or candy in his car.

I'd rather my child be one of the less-participatory kids at Music Together than one who assumes every grown-up with a smile can be trusted. I'm not denying that there are challenges for "shy" kids: There are, and lots of them, too. Our society is tailored for the extroverts among us. In a sort of variation on "you snooze, you lose," the quiet ones are often passed over for things simply because there's a louder, squeakier wheel right behind them, which is hard enough to deal with. But when adults actually take issue with a toddler's shyness as a personal rejection or even a display of disrespect, that turns a completely natural character trait into a disorder, something we need to "work on." That makes me mad. In fact, the next time I see a grown-up ask a cowering toddler if she's shy, I might just interject with my own answer: "No, she's not shy. She just doesn't like you."

Does it bug you when people call your toddler shy?

Image via Briles Takes Pictures/Flickr

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