The Right to Remain Silent

February 20, 2012 by Katy Brown
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Last week, I volunteered at my daughters’ school by making copies of flyers promoting an upcoming PTA event.  As I counted and sorted, I noticed a copy of Time magazine, which prompted me to stop what I was doing, find a bench and read the cover story word for word. I probably committed some type of faculty mailbox felony, but that’s OK. I did it for “The Power of Shyness.”

I gave birth to two extremely guarded, cautious, timid children. Often times, they would hide behind my legs when someone asked a question, forcing me to answer for them to kill the awkwardness of the moment.  They inherited this trait from their father, God love him, but I can’t hide the fact that I, too, get bashful on occasion. One of the reasons I write, blog and “chat” via Facebook is because it’s my preferred method of communication.  Despite having an early career in television, I’d rather type than talk.

So why does it bother me that my children are of the quiet persuasion, too?  Because a few people told me it wasn’t normal…and I started to believe them.

Who were these people?  Former educators, other parents, babysitters, psychologists, etc. One parent suggested I have our oldest daughter tested for Selective Mutism. Another woman asked if I had considered she might be Autistic. Perhaps it’s a Mama Drama-thing. I don’t recall ever having this conversation with a man.  And each time I tried to talk to my husband about it, he exploded in anger.  “There’s nothing wrong with being quiet!”

I will never forget the first time I left Ava with a sitter, who was a retired reading specialist. I warned her that Ava would be nervous and upset for a while, but she would settle in after a few minutes.  When my 50-minute class concluded, I went back for Ava but was met in the hallway by another childcare provider.

“Oh, Mom. Oh, Mom,” she began nervously, reaching for my hands.  “Mom, I’ve been a teacher for a long time, and I have to tell you – this little girl isn’t ready for kindergarten.  I’ve been screening kids for years, and she doesn’t even know her own birth date.  I asked her when she was born, and she couldn’t tell me.”

I pulled back. “Oh, Ava knows how old she is.  She just didn’t want to tell you. She doesn’t know you.  She doesn’t trust you.  And, my name is Katy.”

Let me see if I understand this correctly:  Parents dedicate hours to the topic of safety – don’t talk to strangers, never tell anyone where you live or how to find your house, never give anyone important information such as our telephone number – but then we should encourage our kids to recite details of their lives to total strangers?

The Time magazine article written by Bryan Walsh, “The Upside of Being an Introvert – And Why Extroverts are Overrated,” investigates why 30% of all people fall on the reclusive end of the communications spectrum (Must we all be on some type of spectrum these days?!).  He writes that shyness is not a behavior, but a level of anxiety; a fear of social judgment. Shy types want to be involved, but they’re simply afraid of the situation. However, true introverts choose not to participate. Introverts find social situations “taxing,” he adds.

Compared to their outgoing peers, introverts actually stand out in a crowd more so than the engagers, because they’re silently protesting what’s going on around them.  However, experts believe that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Introverts are deliberate in their actions, deep thinkers, keen observers and master listeners.  In a world that refuses to shut up, introverts apply their talents in other meaningful ways. Joe DiMaggio could be heard through the crack of a baseball bat, Moses produced the Ten Commandments in stone, Bill Gates communicated through computer code, and Bill Clinton raised millions of dollars behind a desk (go ahead and make a joke…you know you want to.).

The writer also tackles the pattern of quiet babies producing worried parents. Pushing a child to become more outgoing in play groups or in the classroom only pressures their son or daughter to perform on cue, which can actually cause them to clamp down even tighter. The pressure to conform to a parent’s vision is more stressful than taking center stage at a bar on karaoke night.

When our youngest daughter attended preschool, I asked one of the teachers to give her personally honest yet professional assessment of Maryn’s shyness.  This highly-trained and well-respected educator who was extremely proficient in early childhood development wasted no words.  “She’ll talk when she wants to talk.  Leave her alone and let her come out when she’s ready.”  Case closed.

Six years ago, my Maryn was born on Groundhog Day, making her debut on a cold morning drizzled in a wintery mix of rain and sleet. Weighing nearly 10 pounds, she was the star attraction of the labor and delivery hall, dubbed “the only toddler in the nursery.” Today, Maryn is even quieter than her older sister. But, what I love most is that she’s totally in control and quite self-assured.  While she may prefer her secluded little burrow, I know this kid will never see her shadow.

 

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3 Responses to “The Right to Remain Silent”

  1. CarrieNo Gravatar says:

    Ahhh! We are going through this right now and it’s about to send me over the edge. I had a teacher say that Julia might not be ready for kindergarten because she’s not social. Doesn’t seem to matter how smart she is. “She seems to lack an innate desire to reach out to other children.” Well, yeah. She’s always been content to play by herself. She’s happy to chill out with a book or puzzle. But I’ve never thought it was at a level where it’s a “problem.” Why can’t some kids just be quiet, shy kids? Thank goodness I can hear my Mike’s voice in my head, reassuring me. “It’s just her personality. There’s nothing wrong with her.”

  2. katy brownNo Gravatar says:

    After four years in elementary school, I can tell you that teachers almost prefer the quiet kid because there’s no disruption. They have to get through so much material in such a short amount of time that there isn’t a lot of opportunity to discuss topics and share what’s on their minds. Preschool is an entirely different world where creative, group play is encouraged, which may be the reason why kindergarten is such a shock to kids and why so many have discipline issues for the first couple of weeks: It’s serious business; there’s no time to be social except for recess and maybe lunch (but that, too, is monitored because kids talk and don’t eat…).

    We’re still working with both of our daughters to SPEAK UP if they’re hurt or sick, or if they feel threatened by another student. We’re also working with them to overcome their fear of asking questions in front of the class. But we can change these things. These are easily fixed with some confidence, which comes with age.

    One person told me that she worried Maryn would be lost in the mix of school; overlooked by teachers and staff because she’s so quiet. That hasn’t been the case at all: She’s the one they choose for classroom jobs because she’s responsible and she listens.

    However, you do have to make sure Julia’s quiet character doesn’t get used, such as seating her in a group of rowdy kids because she won’t encourage the negative behavior. While that’s flattering, it’s also problematic: YOUR child then becomes the one who’s distracted by those around her, and that affects her ability to learn and comprehend what’s being taught.

    It’s always something, that’s for sure — but in the big scheme of things — being shy is really no big deal.

    Julia will be fine, and you will be so proud of her. :)

  3. AmyNo Gravatar says:

    Since I am a “quiet” kid myself, I know what it feels like being the shy and introverted one at school. Because of my “shyness,” I was discriminated against. My local blood bank wouldn’t let me donate blood last week because I don’t talk. I never thought my “shyness” would ever be used against me like that, so I started a petition online:
    http://www.change.org/petitions/houchin-community-blood-bank-stop-denying-those-who-are-unable-to-speak-from-donating-blood

    The only way to overcome the shyness and anxiety is to let the “shy” person go at their own pace to become more self-confident and outgoing.

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