Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Shy Kid

"We are all something, but none of us are everything."  -B. Pascal

Allow me to introduce you to my daughter, N.  She's going to be three this year.  N. is the most girly-girl, precious and soft spoken three year old fairy princess wanna-be you might ever meet.  If you do ever have the absolutely divine pleasure of meeting her, though, you might not hear her voice during that first meeting.  (Unless, of course she's begging me to pick her up so she can bury her face in my shoulder).  In fact, if N. warms up to you in twenty minutes or less you might have to put smelling salts under my nose because I'll most likely have passed out from the shock of it all. 
Because of this, some people say she is "shy, " but I don't.  And let me explain why.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines shy as "having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people." Another definition of the word is "slow, or reluctant to do something."  The major problem that I have with this definition being applied to my daughter, and other children like her, is that these children do not display nervousness or timidity around other people all the time.  They simply display what others interpret as timidity, and what I refer to as "caution," in the presence of some people, some of the time.  

That said, if you've ever said that N. is shy in my presence, I want to let you know it didn't make me angry.  I know the difference between malice and misunderstanding.  And I also know that we live in a world, actually a civilization, that undervalues the traits that seem, so far, to predominate my daughter's personality.  She behaves in very careful, cautious, reserved and measured ways (well, as measured as a two year old can be) around people with whom she is not completely familiar.  I respect these traits because they are traits that I have had to learn, often at my own peril. 

To me, children like N. are not shy, though they do act like it sometimes.  But you know what?  They also chatter, jump up and down on the sofa,  giggle, dance, have tantrums, give bear hugs and kisses and they've even been known to high five complete strangers at the supermarket.

So, what is the big deal with saying a kid is "shy"? 

Let's say your idiot boss has just done something idiotic for the fifth time today. You're upset and storm off to the water cooler to keep yourself from killing him or her.  Your closest water cooler buddy says, "Wow, I can see you're angry."  Are you actually angry?  

In my opinion, the answer is no.  You may be feeling angry right now, but in the grand scheme of it all, you are you, not the anger that you feel.  You are infinite possibilities, infinite emotions and far too complex and wonderful to be pigeon holed into the one feeling that you have chosen to act upon in this very moment.

As an adult, you have the understanding and wisdom (hopefully) to contextualize emotions with events.  In other words, you can say "I am angry" and understand that there is a cause behind it and that the feeling will eventually pass.  However, if an adult tells a small child that she is shy, mean, wild, crazy, or stupid, they tend to understand that statement as if it were a universal truth, not in the context of the current situation.  Incidentally, this also applies to comments directed at other adults within the hearing range of said child.

Really think about this, do you actually expect a three year old, or even a five or six year old, to have the advanced skill of contextualizing your judgement of them with respect to specific instances of behavior?  Well, they simply can't.  They hear things such as "He's so hyper/shy/mean" and they believe that you think they are that quality all of the time.
In this world, the majority of people either spend their lives trying to live up to or destroy the expectations that others have set upon them.  Furthermore, most of the dysfunctionality in this world emanates from unchecked self-centeredness.  I think these issues are connected by the way that children have been socialized.  It's unfortunate that the inherent goodness of a child is forever linked with his actions or specific personality traits.  

If you do your homework, you are good.  If you break something, you are bad.  If you say hello to a new adult, you are polite and outgoing.  If you don't, you are rude or shy.  If you sit quietly and play with your toys, you are well mannered.  If you jump up and down on the sofa, you're feral.  Hello?  Kids are always good.  A child might feel angry, shy, sad, mad, etc., but those emotions shouldn't define them.  There are times when they behave badly, but no child is inherently bad.  Love the child, judge (if you must) the behavior.
And we may not think that what we say or how we say it matters too much, but to a small child we are god-like in our wisdom and understanding of how things work.  They believe what you say about everything, especially what you say about them. Every single word.  By the way, I'm not making this stuff up.  This is what the "experts" on child development have said.  (Only they needed three hundred plus pages to communicate that while I did in a few paragraphs.  Is it even worth wondering why I still haven't finished writing my Masters thesis?)

A few days ago, we went to Target and N. held my hand as we walked into the store.  This is probably her thousandth visit there, so as soon as we entered she let go of my hand and just started walking.  I lingered behind her for a while, still watching, but very amazed at her dramatic show of independence.  I finally just grabbed her and put her in the shopping cart because I had a lot of shopping to do.  But I wonder, where was she going?  

Probably the toy section, or even the clothing aisle, she has become quite the little fashionista. Maybe, though, she was just headed towards the aisle called, "Infinite Possibilities."  Next time, if I don't have so much to get done, I might just follow her there.



Anonymous Romeen said...

You have an AMAZING way of getting your message across, I love it!!

Tuesday, 08 April, 2008  
Anonymous Amreen said...

Your blog is so cute I really enjoyed reading it but was thinking in the back of my mind what am I labeling Inaya unintentionally.

Tuesday, 08 April, 2008  
Blogger Sahar said...

Why have you not published a book already?? You express your thoughts with such beauty..kudos to you.

After reading this Blog, I realized that I too label Ibraheem as being shy from time to time. Infact, he really isnt shy. He is just not comfortable showing all his emotions to strangers..
Thanks..I really enjoyed this..

PS: Good to see you "come out of the closet"..

Tuesday, 08 April, 2008  
Anonymous nancy said...

This is so insightful. It reminds me of something that is really different on the one hand, but not on the other. When I was an undergrad, I had to do what they would now call "service learning", that is, volunteer for credit. I volunteered at a state mental hospital in a wing of boys, aged 6-12, who were diagnosed as "psychotic." I never considered that a little boy could be officially labeled psycho until I went there. After one weekend of volunteering for credit, I started going on my own to volunteer, because I got something out of it. One of the things that was so frustrating was that it was really clear that these children were some of the most loving, grateful, beautiful people I'd ever met. At the same time, they had deep mental problems, well beyond "normal" people's abilities to even imagine. However, it was as if--and in fact, it just was the case--that their lives were already ruined, because someone somewhere had already decided that their behavior, and their mental problems, was their inherent being. It was depressing. I could see these children already facing lives of total institutionalization. If not in mental hospitals today, I am sure they are in prison (this was nearly 20 years ago). It's hard to remember not to ascribe behavior as identity, but it's so important, isn't it?

Wednesday, 09 April, 2008  
Anonymous mahnaz said...

Awsome blog, you are so right!!

Wednesday, 09 April, 2008  
Blogger sybil law said...

Absolutely fantastic.
Your daughter is GORGEOUS.
And I agree completely - you have to be extra careful what you say to a child, especially with labels, because in a sense you are giving them their sense of who they are. Such a shame if someone says horrible, hurtful things to a kid.

Thursday, 18 September, 2008  
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