I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog, but our eldest son is painfully shy. Well, he was painfully shy. At one point, my wife suspected he had selective mutism, a condition where the child behaves normally at home, but outside the house they barely communicate at all. In front of other adults outside the family, Jake would rarely utter a word.
Lately he seems to be gathering more confidence. I’ve noticed such a change in him in the last twelve months. He’s always buzzing about things in his life – whether it’s his adventures at school, or his time in Cub Scouts, or even things that’ve popped straight out of his (incredibly fertile) imagination. In fact, he’s become an unstoppable chatterbox!
It’s funny when you hit a certain point in your child’s development and realise they’ve really turned a corner. I remember taking Jake to endless clubs and classes from football to martial arts to swimming. It was always a painful experience of watching him become more and more tense in the run-up to the class, sometimes acting out to get a reaction to justify his frustration. And when we’d arrive at the class, it was almost impossible to persuade him to get involved. He’d spend the entire hour hiding behind me or trying to pretend he was invisible. It was a regular exercise in embarrassment and frustration, and stressful for both of us.
Talking it out
But like most things in raising kids, it gets easier when they’re older and you can reason with them more. You can talk things out, explain what you want to achieve and ask them to elaborate on what’s causing them problems. I think as Jake has got older, we’ve been able to talk about those times when he freezes up in public and look at the causes. We’ve also been able to point out that the first time he does something is the most difficult. He knows now that things he sees as commonplace now once caused him enormous anxiety.
Finding the right club for him has also helped. We found a swimming class that’s smaller and the instructor is in the pool with the children. The guy’s like a drill sergeant and should terrify the bejesus out of Jake, but his respect is hard-won and when Jake swims well, the praise from the instructor puts him on cloud nine.
We also allowed him and his younger brother Dan to join the local Cub Scouts. Again, this was a smaller club, so the numbers weren’t intimidating. And because they both joined at the start, they felt ‘established’ when new members came to join. Both Jake and Dan look forward to their nights at Cubs and to seeing a different group of friends to the ones in our neighbourhood. And they talk freely to the leaders, whether it’s to ask questions or to show them something they’ve done.
Having a shy child causes a fair bit of anxiety. You’re constantly wondering whether there’s something more behind the shyness: is there a behavioural problem or something else? When you start to see that child become more comfortable, you definitely breathe a sigh of relief. The Jake we know in 2012 is a chatty wee man, loves to talk with us and reason things out and share his thoughts and ideas. Trying to leave his room at bedtime is nearly impossible because he’s still trying to unload his thoughts on us, even as we close the door!
Last night, in a rare one-on-one moment, Jake and I were sitting watching Terra Nova. He was excitedly talking about the dinosaurs and chattering about school that day and anything else that came to mind. I told him that we don’t say it enough, but we’re proud of everything he does n the effort he puts into everything, whether it’s cubs or his artwork or his swimming. It’s just so nice to see a child who was once crushed by his shyness breaking out of that. And I can tell, simply because he’s just so damned happy at the moment.
(Photo credit: Shy Boy by Lili Vieira de Carvalho).