Linda and her 2-year-old daughter, Mia, arrived ten minutes late for the first session of Tunes for Tots. The class was already under way, and each toddler was snuggled in his or her mother's lap, shaking a tambourine or beating a drum. The teacher didn't stop to invite Linda and Mia to join them on the floor, and Linda was too hesitant to say anything. She stood frozen, her heart pounding in her chest. Should she join the circle and clap hands, or should she wait for the song to be over? Was it okay to just take an instrument from the box, or would the teacher prefer to select one for them? No matter what she did, she knew that it would draw too much attention to herself and Mia and the fact that they were late. In a moment of panic, Linda grabbed her daughter's hand and quickly ushered her out. When Mia started whining, Linda told her, "We'll just come back next week."
For many people, the toughest part of parenthood isn't sleeplessness or dirty diapers but socializing in their new, child-centered world. In fact, research has found that almost half of all adults say that they're shy. Before having children, shy people can often avoid the circumstances that make them most uncomfortable. Standing in the corner at a cocktail party isn't ideal, but you're the only one who feels like an outsider. If you don't join a book group, you can still read on your own. However, once you become a parent, situations that can make you anxious--approaching other mothers at the playground, making small talk before a school event, or calling to arrange a playdate--become extremely important. If you avoid them, you'll be shortchanging your child.
As a psychologist in New York City, I've conducted shyness workshops for the past 15 years and have become acutely aware of the particular difficulties that shy parents face on a daily basis. Janet, for example, saw her son regularly slapped by another child in a playgroup, and she chose to leave each time it happened rather than bring herself to admonish the child or ask the other mother to step in.
Over the years, I have developed a number of techniques that have helped shy parents develop more confidence. You don't have to be the life of the playgroup in order to reach out to other parents and help your child discover the joys of friendship.Classic Mistakes Shy Parents Make
Insisting your child speak for you. If you and your child are at the school book fair and you can't see the price of a particular item, don't suggest that she ask the mother she knows at the next table. Go over yourself. Say "Hi, I'm Kate's mom. I can't tell the price on this." Your child will learn that it's okay not to know things--and better still, you'll be teaching her how to get answers.
Blaming your child too quickly. Your fear of being judged as wrong can make you more likely to see your child as being wrong. When a conflict between your child and a friend arises (especially in front of another parent), you may be too willing to assume it's your child's fault. It feels safer and less confrontational that way, but it will also make your child feel unsupported by you.
Not being able to say no even when it's in your child's best interest. If the mother of a classmate calls to arrange a playdate and your child doesn't want to play with that child, it might feel easier to agree to the date and then tell your child that it isn't nice to hurt someone's feelings. However, she has a right to choose her playmates--and to have you respect her choices.