Friday, February 22, 2013

Timid Toddlers

Last weekend, Jr. was invited to one of his little buddy's 2nd birthday party.  The party was at an indoor children's gym facility, where youngsters can climb, crawl, jump, and otherwise go nuts.  When we arrived at the party, we could see other toddlers through the window already deep into some fast-moving playtime.  My husband and I led Jr. into the building, each holding a hand, while he cautiously sucked his pacifier.  We knew that this was just the type of situation that can be very uncomfortable for Jr. 

Just as we walked in, a very large man slapped his hands on his knees (which were about at Jr.'s head level) and greeted Jr. with a big hearty welcome.  I cringed as Jr. scurried to hide behind my legs.  I picked him up and soothed him, gently taking him to the most quiet corner I could find.  I was able to convince him to take off his shoes and spit out his pacifier, but when I walked him to the door of the gym, he turned around and ran.  His daddy picked him up, said some encouraging words, and carried him into the toddler's play paradise.  As the other toddlers ran about screaming, rolling, climbing, and sliding, Jr. stayed on my husband or my lap and watched intently.  Even with gentle prodding, Jr. didn't feel comfortable exploring until it was almost time to leave.  He was able to enjoy a couple of parachute games, go down a couple slides, and throw a couple of basketballs before we were ushered out. 

Does this story sound familiar to you?  Could it be that you also have a timid toddler who is cautious or uneasy in new situations or with new people?  It can be a little bothersome for parents to see their toddler resist novel situations, especially when they look so doggone fun.  And, when your child is the only one sitting out on fun activities, a parent can start to wonder about their child's well-being. 

Be encouraged, parent, you are not alone.  In fact, there are many children who are shy or "slow to warm up."  This term, "slow to warm up," is used to describe one of three temperament styles that is first evident in infancy.  Some children are "easy" children. They are cheerful and adaptive babies, who respond well to new people and situations.  Other children have temperaments considered "difficult."  These babies are difficult to soothe, irritable, have difficulty adapting to a schedule, and respond very poorly to new situations.  The third temperament style is the "slow to warm up" kiddos.  These infants are shy and need time when exposed to new situations and people to feel comfortable.  They act just like Jr. did when placed in a new and unexpected situation.

No temperament style is better or worse than another.  All children can be successful and well-adjusted.  And, there is nothing a parent did or can do to change a temperament style. They are innate and stable.  As I once read, "each temperament style has it's own delights and challenges."

So, what can you do to help your timid child?  It is likely that your child may always be a little shy, but many children who are "slow to warm up" outgrow much of their shyness.  You can support and encourage your child to best handle new situations with just a few Dr. Momsie tips:
  • First, and most importantly, accept your child for who she is.  Let her know you love and respect her. Don't belittle, yell at, punish, or insult your child for her timid temperament.  You won't change her temperament this way, but you will make your child even more fearful and anxious.
  • Slowly introduce new people and situations to your child.  Don't force him into activities he isn't ready for and gently let people know that "Jr. needs a little time to get to know strangers before he is comfortable." 
  • Prepare and reassure your child.  Let her know ahead of time when you plan on experiencing something new.  Read about it, play about it, and reassure your child that you know it will be difficult for her but you will be there to help.
  • Give your child time to warm up to new caregivers.  Allow some time for your child to get to know and adjust to babysitters before you run out the door.
  • Role model social behavior.  When you are out and about with your child, greet and chat with people you see so that your child can be exposed to appropriate social interactions.
  • Value the strengths in your child.  Slow to warm up children are often sweet children who are careful observers. Notice what your child is good at and is interested in, and praise them for it.  Praise your child's successes and efforts to bravely join social situations. 
As I was thinking about this topic and doing a little research, I came across a suggestion that really hit home:
"Host friends and family at your home.  Getting together with family and friends gives children an opportunity to practice social skills in a familiar, safe setting."  found here

I'm starting to make plans for Jr.'s 2nd birthday party in April, and really was leaning toward having the party at a location away from home - the aquarium, a children's gym, etc.  They do much of the work for you, and there is no clean-up.  That is a beautiful idea for this pregnant and exhausted momsie.  But, now I'm thinking that just might not be an ideal situation for Jr.  It may be better to host a few friends at home instead (even as I type this, I begin to dread the clean-up).

What do you think?  Join my poll below!  Also, leave comments if you have suggestions for how this tired mommy can best create a birthday party that the birthday boy can enjoy!


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