kitchen table math, the sequel: Neufeld on shyness in adult-oriented kids

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Neufeld on shyness in adult-oriented kids

Shyness is not the problem we think it is

We usually think of shyness as a negative quality, something we would want children to overcome. Yet developmentally, even this apparent handicap has a useful function. Shyness is an attachment force, designed to shut the child down socially, discouraging any interaction with those outside her nexus of safe connections.

The shy child is timid around people she is not attached to. It is only to be expected that adult-oriented children are often socially naive and awkward around their peers, at least in the earlier grades. Peer-oriented kids, by contrast, appear to be socially successfu. This is their forte. They should know what is cool and what is not, what to wear and how to talk--they are applying most of their intelligence to reading from one another the cues on how to be and how to act.

Much of the sociability of peer-oriented children is the result of a loss of shyness. When peers replace adults, shyness is reversed. The child becomes shy with adults but gregarious in the company of peers. We see the child around her peers coming out of her shell, finding her tongue, presenting herself more confidently. The change in personality is impressive, and we are apt to give credit to the peer interaction. Surely, we tell ourselves, such a highly desirable outcome could not emanate from something problematic! Yet true social integration and real social ability--caring about others and considering the feelings of people they do not know--will not, in the long term, be the attributes fo the peer-oriented child.

Adult-oriented children are much slower to lose their shyness around their peers. What should eventually temper this shyness is not peer orientation but the psychological maturity that engenders a strong sense of self and the capacity for mixed feelings. The best way to deal with shyness is to promote warm relationships with the adults who care for and teach the child. With attachment in mind, it's not shyness we ought to be so concerned about but the lack of shyness of many of today's children.
Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté
This is the exact opposite of everything I've ever been told by anyone on the subject of children and parenting. Pretty much.

Shyness is a good thing?

Premature lack of shyness is a bad thing?

As I think about it, I realize that when I was a child people did have a category for premature loss of shyness, mainly relating to girls who were "sexually precocious."

Today, I'm pretty sure that a fair number of parents in my neck of the woods actively promote what my parents would have considered precocious sexuality.

That reminds me.

Back in Los Angeles one of the neighbors -- dear people, but also the subject of intermittent social opprobrium from the other moms on the block -- treated their 7-year old daughter (who had had a brief career as a beauty pageant contestant when she was two) and her friends to a birthday party .... where?

Was it Planet Hollywood?

Something like that. An adult venue. They rented the place out and threw a big bash for twenty 7-year old girls.

My neighbor further down the street thought the whole thing was crazy.

"What are they going to do when she turns 8?" she said. "Fly them to Vegas?"

I loved that street.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you read much about attachment, especially in works on adopted kids or kids who have dealt with trauma, you will quickly find that "Premature lack of shyness" is indeed considered to be a bad thing, in fact, a serious red flag for future problems. See, for example, The Connected Child ( or Adoption Parenting, Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections, (