Dear Dr. Wes and Miranda: I read your articles about how to work with shy teens, but what if you’re a shy adult? It makes it hard, especially when my kids are more outgoing.
Miranda: I admire that you’re inquiring about your shyness not for your sake, but for your children’s. That’s very selfless of you. It’s hard to defy our natural tendencies, but you are willing to do so for your kids.
There are a whole spectrum of personality types out there ranging from incredibly outgoing to very shy. I don’t know exactly where you fit in. If you’re just a little reluctant to socially engage, that’s different from not even being able to speak around others because of shyness. Either way, you’re not alone.
I’d suggest working to establish relationships with the people in your kids’ lives, even if this makes you uncomfortable. By making yourself available to these people, if a problem ever arises, you will have already created some form of a relationship with them.
Start with teachers. They’re pros at dealing with every type of parent. By attending open houses and parent-teacher conferences, you can put names with faces. This way you know whom to contact and how to best approach the situation if your kid comes home with a complaint against the teacher or vice versa. Attend parent meetings for athletics, extracurricular activities and anything outside of school (like piano lessons) for the same reason.
Another good group of people to know are the parents of your children’s friends. This is very helpful as your kids grow up, so you have a good base to communicate with. You can ask their advice and bounce ideas off of them to help stay informed about what your teen is doing.
This may seem overwhelming to a shy person, so take it slow at first. Start with a simple smile, handshake and, “Hi, my name is X and I’m Y’s parent.” You don’t have to spend copious amounts of time with these people, but a fundamental part of parenting is having a presence with the people in your child’s life.
Dr. Wes: Isn’t it wonderful to watch how the Double Take co-authors develop their skills over the course of the writing year? As we approach the annual contest next month seeking the next co-author, we really must consider how blessed we are to have Miranda at bat this year. Every week her writing and advice makes it harder for me to keep looking good by comparison! But alas, I must try.
I thought a lot about your letter this week, and this really is a tough problem. Shy adults have a harder time keeping up with outgoing kids because they aren’t wired the same. But just as Miranda suggests, we have to understand the difference between how we feel and what we do.
Throughout a lifetime there’s plenty of time to fit into your own social box (shy, extroverted, introverted, etc.), but when raising kids, you have to be flexible enough to spend some time in their box, at least for the few years you have them. For example, I’m not a big sports fan (my wife warms that part of the couch on Sunday). But I get interested when my son is interested, so I endure the uncomfortably big crowds at novice wrestling matches or the din of 15 field soccer games to support him and offer some different social outlets. On other days, we do my stuff, so it all evens out and we both have fun.
I’d encourage you to use these and other workarounds to help your child express him or herself socially, even without your involvement. Art, Boy Scouts, acting, sports, music, employment all allow teens and tweens to meet new kids and adults, with minimal involvement of the parent. You just need to properly monitor what your child is involved in, and then show up and be excited. You don’t have to shake the hand of every other person there.
I think it’s also fine to talk to your teen about your different personalities and acknowledge his or her strengths. Say, “I so admire how easily you work with others. That’s so much harder for me.” That kind of compliment is heartfelt and means a lot to a kid. It also reinforces more of the same, even if you’re not the one in the social lead.
We sometimes forget that a lot of what makes up our children’s personalities is inherent, and the best we can do is help adapt them to the world around them by teaching coping and conflict resolution skills. Toward that end, remember that the most important relationship your child will have is with you. As long as you’re engaged on a personal level and take pride in your child’s growth and development, everything will come out fine in the end.