THE SHY Vs THE WITHDRAWN CHILD
by Sally Burgess, Forefront Families LLC
We often become concerned when our kids don't naturally join in games and conversations with others. We label them as 'shy' too quickly. There is a big difference between a quiet child and a child who is actually withdrawn.
THE QUIET CHILD
The quiet child is not one who is too scared to speak. It is more likely that they enjoy listening to what others have to say rather than feeling the need to hear their own voice or draw attention to them all the time. This child may come from a very noisy environment where they don’t get the opportunity to speak much or, they may come from a quiet home where parents enjoy peace and quiet, also.
If a child is merely quiet by nature there is no problem. It is part of their personality. Some people are quiet while others gregarious, with many variations in between. As long as the child will look you in the eye when you are speaking to them, they do not shrink away in the presence of strangers or large groups, they are happy to share concerns with trusted others and are generally well behaved, then the quiet child is not likely to have a ‘problem’. Be aware that in some cultures, it is considered rude to look directly at someone in authority.
THE WITHDRAWN CHILD
The withdrawn child is a completely different scenario. Their negative reaction to other people, groups and circumstances that would draw attention to them is often instigated by fear or embarrassment. They tend not to look others in the eye, and may be loathe to be part of a team or group for fear of not being accepted or good enough. Their self-worth has either not been developed or has been challenged in some way.
When a child is withdrawn, parents may put it down to shyness rather than the fact that there is an underlying issue e.g. a sense of worthlessness, fear or anger. It may come to the point where their feeling of lack of control and uselessness pushes them towards violence. It is vital that we recognize the signs of withdrawal in our kids and get professional help as soon as possible.
IF YOU THINK YOUR CHILD MAY BE WITHDRAWN:
a) Monitor your child carefully. Is their behavior deteriorating? Are they particularly uncomfortable around certain people or in certain circumstances? Do they seem afraid or angry?
b) Take your child somewhere they will feel at ease, and talk. Give them the chance to say what is bothering them. They may be being bullied, or physically, sexually or psychologically abused.
c) Make an appointment with the teacher to see if they can shed any light on the issue.
d) Do not allow your child to spend the majority of their time alone in their room or with kids who may be a negative influence over them.
e) Discuss your concerns with a professional counselor and act on their advice.
Watch for changes in your child’s behavior. Talk to them, ‘one-on-one’. You are much more likely to discern their worries when you talk casually and regularly with them. Sometimes they just want someone to listen and not judge them. Make them feel that their thoughts and opinions have value. Don't put your kids on the spot to ‘perform’ in front of others. If you wouldn't like it, then they won’t either. Don't label them in a negative way e.g. shy, timid or a sissy. Instead, think of positive descriptions e.g. thoughtful or focused or precautious. Gradually introduce children into small rather than large groups so they don't feel completely overwhelmed and afraid. Remember your child will not automatically have the same personality type as you. Don’t try and force them out of their comfort zone.
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