Monday, January 17, 2011
Why do we label our children?
We talked to her as we drove, practicing what she should say when we arrived. She replied enthusiastically: 'Yeah! Yay!' while Steve and I muttered to each other, 'Sure, but she'll probably act all shy when we get there and not say a word.' Then I heard some talking from the backseat, quiet this time. I turned to see her, head down and saying 'Bit shy. Abbey's a bit shy.' We were a little shocked, and encouraged her some more and told her there was no need to be shy.
When we arrived, she ran to her grandfather with her arms open and yelled, 'Happy birthday Opi!'
Sometimes you have these eye-opening moments as a parent, where everything suddenly makes sense. When you realise that every word you utter is heard. Despite the fact that she might be playing elsewhere, or chatting to herself or being noisy, she actually hears everything. And she understands.
Abbey is not a shy child, not by any stretch of the imagination. She never has been. She will run up to strangers without any qualms, introducing herself and chatting away like she's known them forever. She will run into a room and make herself at home straight away. She will take a child's hand and ask them to play, as though they're best friends. From the first day I took her to childcare, she turned and waved at me, saying ‘Bye Mummy!’
She is not a child prone to cuddling into me, or easing into things, or holding my hand uncertainly – in fact, there’s almost nothing worse in her mind. This is a girl who will run straight into any situation, with such confidence and enthusiasm that I am constantly amazed.
But recently, she started showing signs of developing some shyness. Someone would talk to her and she'd cuddle into me, hiding her face. I would explain to the person: 'She's been a bit shy lately'. And so, she wouldn't have to respond, to say hello nicely or answer a question. 'That's okay,' they'd say, 'she's shy'. And I'd nod and give my little girl a cuddle.
But then we realised the effect this was having on her. We came to understand that the labels we placed on her were doing more harm than good. It had become an excuse.
I was a shy child, and can at times be a shy adult, and I know plenty of children who are naturally shy. So I understood this feeling of shyness, or at least I thought I did. But then I realised, this is not about me, and this is not about other kids. This is about Abbey. This is about giving her the freedom to be her own person.
What she needed was encouragement, to be made to feel comfortable with being herself.
No more labels.
Posted at 9:59 AM