The Shy Child (page 2)
Some children seem to lack get-up-and-go. Even though they have no developmental differences, challenges, or disabilities, they seem to lack initiative. They may be labeled shy, or perhaps they are looked at as withdrawn.
Let’s look at one of these children:
Dakota has always been the quietest child in the preschool she attends. She hangs out on the fringes of things and seldom talks or even smiles. When someone talks to her, she lowers her eyes and stares at her shoes. She follows the routine of the program but never really joins in with anything that is going on. She’s so quiet that sometimes she’s almost invisible.
What could be going on with Dakota? The place to start answering this question is with the family. What is their take on their daughter? Is she the same way at home as she is at school? Certainly this conversation should be held without indicating that the teachers think something is wrong with Dakota. An exchange of information is what will be helpful. In this situation what the teachers finally figured out was Dakota fit a particular pattern that they had already discovered in other children.
Here’s the pattern. Some children are born extra cautious. This trait may even be in their genes. They don’t enjoy putting themselves out in the world, taking risks, trying new things. Sometimes this trait doesn’t really hinder them, because it’s more a matter of timing than a deficiency. Some children are observers; they learn a good deal by watching for long periods before they try something themselves. When they do try something, they make rapid progress because of their careful observations. They may be thought of as being slow to warm up. Other children jump in with both feet without giving a thought to the consequences. If these more impulsive children are successful in their endeavors, they may be valued for their speed and compared with children like Dakota. (Bright and quick are sometimes thought to be synonymous with intelligent.) Thus, Dakota’s slow, cautious way of doing things may be undervalued in some settings. That wasn’t the case in either the family or in the school in this situation with Dakota. The teachers decided along with input from the family that though Dakota may look as though she lacks initiative, it’s really a matter of timing more than initiative. An unfamiliar environment slows her down even more. Dakota at home with a sibling or a playmate is much more secure and outgoing, She doesn’t look so shy and cautious. Shyness and caution are situational with Dakota.
The teachers at Dakota’s school have discovered that pushing her doesn’t do any good. She’s very resistant to joining an activity until she decides on her own to do so. She has the ability to absorb by watching—far more ability than any of her teachers, who at first worried that she must be bored, because they were projecting their own needs onto her. She isn’t bored. In fact, they discovered that she was getting much more out of preschool than anyone realized, but she was doing it in her own way. The teachers, with the family’s input, decided to be patient with Dakota and to respect her style. They also, when they could, arranged for her to be in smaller groups and play alone with one or two children rather than always urging her to join into large-group activities.
The teachers have discovered that this quiet, cautious child has grown into something of a leader in the class. The other children are drawn to Dakota and are influenced by her. In fact, the day doesn’t truly begin until Dakota arrives. The teachers were really surprised when they discovered that Dakota’s quiet presence now influences the activities in the classroom. They shared their findings with the parents, and invited them to come observe their daughter’s new-found leadership role.
Factors other than those that influence Dakota may be at work on another child who exhibits similar behavior. Take Brandi, for example:
Brandi is shy and cautious for entirely different reasons—she has a history of abuse and attachment issues. As a result, she has a great deal of trouble separating from her foster mother, who delivers her to school. She cries loudly and must be peeled off, so that the foster mother, who has other children to deliver to another school, can leave. Once Brandi quits crying, she goes into mourning. She stands by the art table with one finger in her mouth and her eyes staring vacantly. The teachers have decided that she isn’t even really “there” most of the time. She stares into space. She sits in circle time silently. She doesn’t seem to have learned a single song (compared with Dakota, who never sings at school but at home can go through every word of every verse, complete with hand movements). Brandi is withdrawn, and it isn’t just that she has a slower pace than most children. She has a problem. In fact, this child might well have been born quick, lively, and a willing risk taker, but her life circumstances have beaten her into the child she is now—one who needs more help than her teachers alone can give her. Under ideal circumstances, Brandi’s teachers, foster parents, and biological family are working with social workers and therapists to help her family get back together, help her resolve her attachment issues, and heal the raw scars of her abuse. If all goes well and everyone cooperates, Brandi will get her life back together and her spark will come back. She’ll be the child she really is rather than the child she has become.
The vital difference between Dakota and Brandi is that Dakota is the child she is and Brandi is not—she’s been damaged.
© ______ 2009, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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