Once my kids get to know someone, they like to show off for them. They fight for the person’s attention. They do dances, sing songs, and bring out all of their toys and explain in great detail how they work. They smile and laugh and are absolutely adorable. I love seeing my kids let my friends know that they are loved and enjoyed.
My children don’t start off that way around new people though. They don’t give new people an enthusiastic greeting or a giant hug. As a general rule, they are shy upon first meeting someone — which is a perfectly acceptable way to be when interacting with someone who is a stranger to you. However, there are some people — strangers, friends, and family alike — who feel it necessary to torture those children who are more reserved.
They are people like a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. When we run into each other at the grocery store, they smile at my kids and ask their names and how old they are, and then they take it personally when my kids choose to hide behind my legs rather than answer them. The friend says things like, “Oh, you don’t like me?” or “Am I that scary?” (That’s really going to enamor a kid with your presence.) Then they follow it up with, “Are you just shy?” But the way they say “shy” is like asking if my kids are malcontent jerks instead of what they actually are — which is just shy.
Here’s a news flash: It’s okay for kids to be shy. I think it’s actually quite healthy. Ever heard of “stranger danger”? I’d much rather my kids are wary of someone they’ve never seen or talked to before, than to be all “Sure, let me jump in your van since you’re offering me candy, weirdo.” It takes time for some kids to grow comfortable around new people, and I wish everyone and their brother would get on board with this idea.
When someone my kids have never met asks them for a hug or a high five and won’t let it go when they don’t eagerly respond, it sends me into major Mama Bear mode. No one has any right to affection from my kids. If my daughter doesn’t want to sit next to you on the couch, she doesn’t have to. If my son doesn’t want you to give him a high five, that’s his prerogative. They don’t have to do anything they don’t feel comfortable with, and everyone needs to stop asking more from kids than they want to give.
If a child is shy around you, just be cordial and respectful of their boundaries. Don’t push them. Don’t make them feel uncomfortable. Don’t make it all about you. You will survive without a 4-year-old giving you a hug. You’ll get through your day if a 3-year-old runs the other way when you say goodbye to them. It’s not you. It’s them — and it’s not even them because being shy isn’t a personality defect. It’s just a personality trait.
In all honesty, you should enjoy your time around shy kids because (at least in my house) once a kid likes you, they will forever be up your butt from the moment they see you until the moment you leave. There’s always a silver lining.