“Mummy, what does shy mean?” asks my (newly) four year old son. It dawns on me, in that moment, that he hears so many people call him shy.
Shyness is stigmatised in society. Sensitive boys, in particular, are misunderstood and even bullied. Shyness is a personality trait, not a fault.
My son is very self-aware, compassionate, observant, inquisitive and kind. He’s slow to warm up in social situations, even if it’s something he is really excited to be a part of.
Given that I’m introverted, I realise the significance of nurturing the person Cameron is. I want him to feel empowered by his sensitivity. I want him to be himself – not some molded version of himself that fits societal norms. I don’t want him to feel like he has to change who he is to gain the ‘approval’ of others.
What I want Cameron to know is:
- He is respected. I respect his need for time and space.
- Being sensitive/shy/introverted are not negative things.
- I’ll always be there – encouraging and guiding him.
What I want other people to know is:
- Embrace shyness and sensitivity for the gift it is. Don’t simply accept it.
- Respect him.
- Don’t label my son – there is no need to call him shy or clingy. He may be feeling shy or taking time to warm up to the situation, but there is no need to shame him.
With sensitivity comes insight, creativity and empathy.
When I feel challenged as a parent with a sensitive son, I remind myself that I’m learning too. Some points that I’ve found helpful:
- Parenting a sensitive child is a delicate balance between helping your child flourish within their personal boundaries, and becoming over-protective.
- Prepare your child for events or changes that you think could overwhelm them. Discuss what will be involved and how they can feel more comfortable.
- Discuss both your own, and their emotions; as well as how to best deal with and react to strong emotions.
- Validate your child’s concern/s. Being empathetic themselves, they may often need to know that they are understood.
- Let them know that your love is unconditional regardless of the emotions involved (anger, sadness, even positive attributes like pride)