No one that knows her believes me when I tell them that Blissy WAS a shy child. She would hide behind my skirts, turn beet red whenever someone would speak to her, and avoid eye contact constantly. It took a few years to work most of that out of her, and I would say the eye contact issue took the longest. But people who know Bliss today would never characterize her as shy, or even quiet. She is quite the forthright, outspoken young woman.
Folks, this took time and training. It began when she was about 2.5 years old and by age six, we had worked through everything but the eye contact. David and I had to “practice” with her on how to react when people would compliment her, and before we went somewhere we would remind her how to respond. I wouldn’t allow her to hide behind my skirts anymore, instead she would have to stand at my side. David and I would talk to her about the importance of looking people in the eye and how critical it was to be able to communicate with confidence. Of course, all of this was said in language that a three or four year old could comprehend.
“Look the person in the eye, sweetie, and tell them thank you if they say you have a pretty dress.”
“You have to say ‘Hello Mrs. Smith’ when she comes to the door, and say it loud enough–looking into her eyes–so she can hear you.”
Shyness is defined as an apprehension in social settings, an awkwardness in front of other people. The answer then, is social skills training…there’s no other way around it. Many times, parents may focus on academics, sports or musical skills, and underestimate that a giftedness in any one of those arenas is moot without an ability to socialize effectively…so that’s why shyness, with us, was never an option. Don’t just assume the answer to shyness is more social interaction, that will only lead to further phobia. The answer to shyness is training, practice, and role playing. As a parent, you are responsible to train them in these matters and thereby develop their social confidence. Knowing that my daughter was called to be “in the world and not of it,” she was going to have to interact and respond to others appropriately to communicate.
For those of you still curious, it took us from age 2 to 15 to train her to stay focused in her eye contact. We began with teaching her a firm handshake and then looking the other person in the eye. By age ten, if she was conversing with a family friend and we caught her eyes looking away, we would call her out on it. This was not embarrassing, as these friends knew we were working on this…and in all honesty, 9 out of 10 times Bliss was completely unaware that she had looked away. Folks, it took another five years to finally have her consistently maintain eye contact. So all y’all with wee ones emailing me about how your little one does not maintain eye contact, read this again:
IT TOOK 13 YEARS TO TRAIN HER TO FOCUS HER EYES ON SOMEONE DURING A CONVERSATION.
It took a solid four years to work our way through most of the “shyness.”
It took a lot of time and effort, but mostly it took us not believing that she was “just shy,” and there was nothing we could do about it. As a wee one, when someone would see her initial reaction, and call her shy, I would always disagree and say it was just something we were working on. I didn’t want her to be characterized by shyness or given an excuse that her challenges were permanent and acceptable. We worked through it. And many of you who know Bliss today would never even put the word “shy” in the same sentence as her name.