Let me explain.
We took Darcie to a birthday party on Saturday. It was a princess party with an appearance from Cinderella herself. Darcie is princess obsessed at the moment and most days refuses to wear anything that isn’t one of her ‘princess dresses’. She had been excited for this party for weeks, from the moment the invitation came through the door, to getting dressed, wrapping the present and running down the road.
Until the moment we stepped inside the building. I felt little hands grab a tight hold of my leg and heard her quiet voice ‘mummy, I feel shy’.
I don’t know why I was surprised, she’s always been ‘unsure’ in situations like that, but because she had been so excited I’d let myself hope that it would be different this time. That she wouldn’t retreat and want to hide, that she wouldn’t cling to me and refuse to look at or talk to anyone else.
It’s hard to explain how that feels to a mum who has never experienced it with their child, to a mum who doesn’t experience it all the time with their child. Confidence is a quality that we hold in high regard; the parent of a confident child will proudly list it as one of their top qualities, there is pride in confidence. A mum can feel a really good sense of achievement for raising ‘a confident child’.
I know this because I have moments when I feel so incredibly proud of Darcie when she is confident. When she does things that I know are so far out of her comfort zone. In fact I would go so far as to say they are some of the times that I feel the most proud of her because when that happens she is being so strong. Stronger than a child for whom confidence comes naturally. I also know this because I feel the flip side of it. Every class, every party, every new friend, every new experience, every family member we haven’t seen for a while. We have to go through the ‘Darcie sometimes just takes a while to warm up…’ conversation. I see it in people’s eyes; they can’t understand why she isn’t just excited to be given a balloon, why she doesn’t want to take the chocolate, why sometimes even walking into a room full of people she doesn’t know is too much for her.
I see them wonder why she is like this. Maybe wondering what I’ve done or not done to make her be this way.
But the fact is that she has always been this way. From day one she has only been happy and comfortable with people she knows well, and even her own grandparents had to work hard to gain her trust and for her to feel secure with them. Once she knows someone, her confidence soars. She will happily go off for the day with her Granny or stay with one of my friends while I take Ernie somewhere. But any new situation where she doesn’t understand what is expected of her, where people look to her to react in a certain way, completely throws her off.
And while I know that it is not my fault that she is this way, I do always wonder if I could have done something differently to help her overcome her fears.
I have never used the word shy to describe her, I know this because it has been a conscious, deliberate effort, because I knew it wasn’t a label I wanted to give her. It’s the reason I’ve been hesitant to even write this post. But unfortunately it’s one that the world has given her, and now one that she has taken on and has used to describe herself.
Every time she has felt nervous and unsure, she has heard an adult ask her mum ‘oh, does she get shy?’, and so now she has decided that she is.
It makes me feel so sad, and I worry so much for how this will effect her going forwards if we can’t somehow help her to manage those feelings and overcome them.
In September she is due to go to preschool, and every time I breach the subject with her she says ‘no, I want to stay with mummy’. And that makes total sense. She has always been with mummy, so to try and explain to her that one day she’ll go off and do fun things without me, is a difficult thing for her to understand. And as much as I am always an optimist and I hope for the best, I know that it will be a difficult transition for her. But a necessary one in order to prepare her for school a year later.
Sometimes I feel like maybe this is a result of me not putting her into childcare sooner. But I’ve also always had a gut feeling that where possible, the best place for a young child is with their mum.
I don’t want anyone to read this as me saying that I’m not proud of Darcie because she isn’t the most confident kid in the class. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I am so unbelievably proud of her, and I wouldn’t change her for the world. She is perfect. She has a list of amazing qualities as long as any other kids, and then some. And being ‘shy’ isn’t a bad thing, it doesn’t make anyone any less of a person. I simply worry that things will be more difficult for her if this isn’t something she can grow out of, or that I can help her through.
All any of us want, as parents, is for our child to have as few setbacks as possible in life. And while this is a tiny detail in the grand scheme of things, it is something that really plays on my mind.
Confidence isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone and I know that she is not the only child to be like this. It’s just difficult when she is the only one like it within my circle of friends and at the groups that we have gone to.
It can be a lonely place, being the mum of the child who is ‘shy’. Being the only mum to have to join in with an activity so your child will do it too, while all the other mums sit at the edge of the room. They’re not worrying, not checking every five seconds, to make sure that their child isn’t about to breakdown over a little thing that puts them too far over the edge of their comfort zone.
I started taking her to ballet a couple of months ago. It was a class where parents are supposed to leave the room so as not to distract the class. I crept out the first week I took her and she was fine for all of two minutes before I had to go back in and rescue her. I did two classes with her, she wouldn’t even stand on the floor for most of it, I had to carry her and join in, to try and show her that it wasn’t scary. Luckily Ernie is happy to go with other people so I was able to do this with her. But on the third week when I asked her if she wanted to go she just said no and cried. So we didn’t go back.
I’m not an expert, she’s my first child, this is the first time I’m experiencing anything like this so I have no idea what I am doing or how to help her. But I know that forcing her out of her comfort zone doesn’t sit right with me. Not running into that room when she was crying for me, wouldn’t have felt right. I know some people will say that’s the way to ‘toughen’ up a child. But I don’t want to toughen her up, she is a beautiful, gentle, kind little girl and to not go to her when I can would seem like teaching her the wrong lessons.
Like I said, she has been like this since day one, and she has got more confident over the years. She will now go off with family and friends, she will chat to strangers on the bus and she constantly surprises me and impresses me by doing new things . So I have hope that this is something that will get easier over time and that it won’t be an issue by the time she goes to school. But I also find it hard to think about because if I let myself worry about how she will find it in the big wide world without me to hold her hand, I won’t stop worrying. I’ve been avoiding booking her into a nursery for September because I honestly can’t imagine her ever settling in and wanting to go. But I know I need to, and hopefully going ans visiting some will help us both get our heads around the idea.
There is no point to this post, I have no conclusion, no answers. But I feel better for writing it down and hopefully someone out there will feel better for reading it too.
By the end of the party she was happy to have her photo taken with Cinderella, she was happy to play with the other children, and to be involved. It just took her an hour longer than everyone else to get there.