Shy kids

Benjamin has never been a shy boy. He might have been stoic upon meeting someone new once, but in general, he was always very laid back, social, and friendly.

Then, out of the blue, he started getting shy under certain circumstances.

The first time I really noticed his shyness was at his Montessori daycare. His previous toddler teacher, whom he sees daily when she picks up the toddlers from his new classroom, acknowledges him every day and tries to engage him in conversation. Benjamin spent almost two years with this teacher, and as a barely 17 month old, was very attached to her.

Now, he hides behind my legs whenever she walks by with the little toddlers. He won’t even make eye contact with her.

I asked him once why he was acting this way, and he said he was shy.

Speaking with the toddler teacher, I was reassured that this is perfectly normal. That she had many boys (not girls though), some who are in Benjamin’s CASA class, some who are in the parallel class,  who will not talk to her anymore. She does not take it personally. She said that those kids, who were particularly attached to her in toddlerhood, are now unwilling to re-attach themselves to her, even if it only means saying hello. She said some of them, like Benjamin, express their newfound independence this way. They are no longer babies, she said. They are no longer in need of that kind of attention they received from her when they were in the toddler class.

So I learned something here. I didn’t know that it could be interpreted this way, and I feel fine with it. At the same time, I would like to emphasize to him that being shy is ok, as long as he wasn’t rude. And ignoring her when she acknowledges him is rude.

We are working on this.

But the shyness has developed further. He hides behind my legs when entering a house he’s never been to even though he knows the boy in the house very well. (It doesn’t last long, the toys are enticing.) He is shy in stores (sometimes, but not always), around strangers (sometimes, but not always) and around people he knows (for a bit, then he gets over it). He is shy with family members at first, then he does a 180 and won’t leave them alone. He also doesn’t chatter up strangers, even neighbours, whom he would have yip-yapped to incessantly just a few short months ago. 

He is by no means “quiet” when he’s acting shy. He may lower his gaze and refuse acknowledgement to some friendly chatter, but he has no problem yelling across the playground that “the ice-cream store is closed now” (upsetting the little oriental boy half to pieces) to other parents near by. Or to smack a grocery store cart, unintentionally of course, into a display case (he’s watching the wheels turn instead of what’s ahead of him) and then talk with other customers.

It’s hit and miss, this shyness.

Today, at a little fruit and vegetable store which we frequent semi-regularly, the lady behind the counter offered him and Sonja a free banana.

Sonja, being a toddler and always hungry, grabbed the banana like a half-starved monkey. Shoved more than half of it into her mouth and said “more”. I had to remind her to say “thank you” which she did in sign language (since her mouth was full).

Benjamin however turned away from the lady. He then met my gaze, and I assured him it was ok to accept the banana, and he looked at the nice lady and said “NO”. And walked away.

I thought that was rude.

I said to him: “you can say no thank you if you don’t want the banana”, thanked the lady for her generous offer, made some more friendly chit chat, and left.

Outside I said to Ben that his behaviour was rude. I explained that it was a nice gesture from the lady who enjoyed having him and Sonja in her store, and that she was giving him a gift. A free banana is considered a gift. Saying no like he did was not a very nice thing to do and that next time, if he didn’t want something, he could simply say no, thank you instead. Or, alternatively, he could accept the banana, say thank you, and keep it for later. Or for Sonja.

He said “but I didn’t want the banana, and I’m shy”.

(The whole idea of accepting things from strangers, when it’s acceptable and when it’s not acceptable, what is right and what is wrong….it hasn’t even occurred to me that this is something I might need to consider teaching him soon.)

By this point, we’re in the car. We have one more stop to make, and I ask Ben where he would prefer to pick up the bread. The bakery, or the Polish deli?

He chose the Polish deli.

We have paid patronage to this deli for as long as we’ve been in this neighbourhood. They have fresh rye bread, sweet desserts, polish meats and saussages, pickles and a counter full of candies. When Benjamin was a toddler, we often walked to the deli. Occasionally, the lady behind the counter would ask me if she could offer him a lollipop.

Ben never forgot this (of course).

So we’re in the deli. The lady behind the counter is someone I haven’t seen before, and there was some issue with her entering the wrong price for the sunflower rye bread. I’m balancing the baby on the counter, trying to keep the loose change out of her hands, and Ben is standing quietly beside me, staring at the candy (naturally).

We finish up and we head back to the car. As I’m wrestling the tot back into her car seat, Benjamin starts whining. I can’t hear what he’s saying because of Sonja’s protests, the cars whizzing by on the road, and various other noises coming at me from all directions.

Finally, I hear what he’s complaining about.

“But mommy, the lady didn’t give me a lollipop!”

I was stumped. My kid expects free handouts. But he feels perfectly comfortable to reject them when they do come.

It made me realize how complicated a world we live in. Here is a little boy, learning about the rules of society. Only the rules seem kind of muddy. There are rules that apply today but not tomorrow. And rules can change pending on circumstances. And sometimes there are no rules. It’s all very confusing.

Like the banana. He saw me pick up some bananas and pay for them. The lady then offered him a banana that did not come from my bag. For free. Did he realize this on some subconscious level? Or was it simply a case of “I don’t want a banana now”? Or, “I don’t know this lady and I don’t want a banana from her”? Little kids can be fickle.

He’s only 4, and lives in a very literal world. Slowly, he is learning that actions have reactions and/or consequences, and that other people don’t always behave the way you expect them to. He didn’t expect to receive a free banana from the fruit lady. That has never happened before. He rejected the banana, even though later on, in the car, when I was busy driving, he wanted the banana after all. At the deli, he expected a free lollipop. Even though he does not get one every time we go there. And when he didn’t get it, he was disappointed.

I feel fortunate that I have opportunity to observe these occurances in my kids. And to be the one to help them understand, and learn behaviour. It makes me realize just how important my own behaviour is, since modeling said behaviour is probably a lot more effective in terms of teaching kids than any lesson I may present to them with words.

Just thinking about it makes me tired. Because today, a can of worms has opened, and I realize that he needs to be made aware of a bunch of situations which, up until now, I have not needed to delve into.

Like I said…tired.


2 thoughts on “Shy kids

  1. This is how I dealt with teaching children in public situations:

    1. Prevention/Awareness: we talk about all kinds of issues well before they happen (day to day stuff and naturally only the ones I think of in advance or are presented in good children’s literatur… at this age, you had sent us Richard Scarey’s Please and Thank You book… )

    2. Speak for the child: First give the child the opportunity to reply appropriately (no need to praise him when he does, at least not publically, afterwards you can say something like: Hey, you handled that really well!). If this does not happen, then speak for the child and say: Please excuse my son, we are working on his communication skills. No thank you, he does not seem to wish for a banana.

    3. Look for specific chances to teach you child: by example, through literature, through other media, through experiences you make in everyday life. Or through observing other children.

    We get loads of discussions going especially through the behaviour of other children. This is a fine line to travel because I find I need to keep my children in check when they are easily tempted to put their own behaviour above the other childs… this is not good either! But we have some nasty kids in the nieghbourhood and we can talk about what kind of feelings their behaviour brings up, what kind of consequences might further develope, what virtues are missing in the situation, how they could take the same problem and deal with it on their own… (yes, this is for older kids, but E. is slowing going through the Academy on these issues too).

    And you are 100% right when you say that you are fortunate to be able to observe and help navigate these waters. You are doing your children a great service!

  2. Funny you mention the Please and Thank You book. Just yesterday I heard DH use an example in it to illustrate something he and Ben were into. I didn’t even realize he would remember to make such a connection and made a mental note to myself to go read that particular story. But you are right. You can use literature, or other things, to help illustrate and explain.

    I’m new at this, as you well know. The benefit of your experience, at the ripe old age of 5 kids (!) is very helpful!

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