I’ve mentioned here and there that Nora is a shy and relatively slow to approach person, but I haven’t spent a huge amount of time talking about it aside from the post about feeling bad for not standing up for her. Chris and I were hoping this would just be a phase that she would outgrow with time and lots of positive experiences, so I mostly tried to ignore it and I’ve tried very hard to tell myself that it’s okay for her to not be outgoing in new situations or with new people, even though that’s how I am. Over the last couple weeks however, it seems like Nora’s discomfort around others has gotten worse and after much discussion, Chris and I are at a loss as to how much shyness is normal and how to best deal with it.
The most challenging part is that we have a hard time identifying what exactly makes Nora uncomfortable. It’s clear that she doesn’t like being put on the spot in any situation. Generally, she has a harder time with men than with women, although not always with her friends’ dads and some women do bother her. Despite the fact that we have gone to The Brotherhood multiple times per week for as long as she can remember, she completely clams up when we visit the restaurant and is incredibly uncomfortable if anyone there talks to her (except she is more than happy to order her own food and say thank you when it arrives). She is very particular about her personal space and if anyone (man or woman) touches her (tries to shake her hand, helps her off the slide, etc.) she almost always cries. She also gets upset and tells me she doesn’t like it if her little friends try to hug her; sometimes she will hold their hands, but will only hold my hand (no one else’s) in music class or at Tiny Tumblers. The doctor terrifies her. Inexplicably, she occasionally goes from excited about her friends arrival for a play date to inconsolably upset as soon as they get here. She has started having a very hard time during my client meetings, even if we meet somewhere like the ECC, and while I’m leading LLL meetings. The other day, Chris tried to take her to work with him but he couldn’t get anything done because she was so freaked out by the prep guy being in the same room. Yet, she had no problem bonding almost instantly with Chris’ father when he visited or with my family at Christmas, and she has other moments where fear is nowhere to be found.
When something or someone is making her uncomfortable, she pretty much shuts down. Even if she has no problem playing independently somewhere like the ECC, the second the person I’m meeting with shows up, Nora suddenly finds it impossible to play without me. She says, “I’m tired,” which is code for “uncomfortable;” if I’m around, she asks to nurse (which I’m not really into doing these days); if she is with Chris somewhere, she asks to go home; she pretty much always cries and she is incredibly hard to distract. Generally the only way to solve the problem is to remove her from the situation, and, worse, it often sticks with her, impacting her mood for at least 20-30 minutes, if not longer. (Once, after one of the cooks picked her up, she cried for at least 45 minutes, and she still worries about it weeks later.)
Initially, we were trying to encourage Nora to say hello back to people and to talk to them. Then we shifted to telling her it’s alright if she doesn’t want to talk, but we were not telling people to ignore her with her; we were hoping that if she had enough positive experiences she would realize there’s nothing to be afraid of. So we’ve been taking her to The Brotherhood and giving her plenty of exposure to the guys in the kitchen, all of whom are never anything but friendly to her. We’ve tried to have talks with her about why she’s upset or uncomfortable, but all she can say is that she doesn’t like XYZ. We’ve told her over and over that she’s always safe with us. We’ve tried to tell her that she can say no if she doesn’t want someone to talk to her or touch her, but she doesn’t have the ability to speak up in those moments. Mostly, we’ve tried to ignore the shyness, hoping it will go away, but instead it seems to be getting worse and worse.
Now, though, we are recallibrating and trying to figure out a new plan. It’s gotten so bad that Chris and I actually decided to not take her to The Brotherhood of Thieves to eat or to visit for a couple of months. Even with her hands stuck deep in her pockets (so no one can shake them) and being held by me, she has a very hard time if anyone even looks at her for too long. I’m afraid that the discomfort Nora feels while we are there is only reinforcing her fears (and, frankly, it’s exhausting and annoying to try to juggle her shyness when we go there), so we just aren’t going to visit Dada for awhile.
Chris and I are at a loss. We want our sweet girl to be happy. We want her to be able to function in normal social situations and we want to give her the tools to stand up for her self if she feels uncomfortable… So we are looking for some words of wisdom. Is this type of shyness normal or at least age appropriate? Or does it sound like something more that needs some sort of intervention? Does anyone have any advice for how to deal with it or how to make these situations less traumatic for her? I’m hoping that preschool in the fall will help her, but what can we do in the meantime?