I know, I know. How many psychologically construed ways can we describe our children and what we all probably perceive to be as “shy” behavior? The difference, I’m learning, is almost much more about how we react to our children when we understand what makes them tick. If you think your child is shy, consider some of these other things that might be underlying causes for her shy behaviors.
Shy, Introvert, or Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?
I recently read an interesting article in TIME magazine, The Upside of Being an Introvert (And Why Extroverts are Overrated), by Bryan Walsh. He openly admits that he considers himself an introvert, even describing stolen moments in a bathroom where he takes a reprieve from a social dinner hour among colleagues. Walsh strives in his article to demonstrate the difference between shyness and being introverted.
While there are similarities and overlapping characteristics of the two, shyness (especially extreme) is usually the result of anxiety, fear and apprehension of social situations, and diligently and regularly doing what one can to avoid social situations. On the other hand, introverted people usually don’t make strong efforts to avoid social situations, they just don’t prefer to actively seek out those situations. They want time to absorb ideas and prefer “alone time” much more often that extroverts. Extroverts tend to thrive on social interactions – loving to interact with people – and are much happier when they can share their time and experiences with others.
Infants Show Signs of Introverted and Sensitive Behaviors
So – how do you know if your child is shy or an introvert? Studies show that even infants display traits of introverted personalities. They are “high-reactive”, startling more to stimuli, and biologically having lower thresholds for stimulation. Walsh makes several good observations about how so many parents wouldn’t choose caution, inhibition, and even fearfulness to be characteristics for their kids. However, sometimes these introverted traits are the biological way for these kids to cope with their aversions to larger amounts of external stimuli.They are good, effective coping mechanisms. Parents are strongly encouraged by child psychologists not to criticize their children for these tendencies or they risk overwhelming their natural coping capacities.
Reaction to Shyness Article in TIME
In reaction to the article by Walsh, Elaine Aron, Ph.D., writes that while Walsh did advocate for a new look at introverted behaviors as positive, he missed out on another aspect of the equation – Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs). While I would usually have my overfill of acronyms at this point and be walking away from this conversation, several things that Aron said ring true and familiar for me as a parent.
“We are not always shy or introverted, but quiet.”
Aron claims that what is missing from this equation is the discussion of HSPs who are actually social extraverts. They enjoy meeting new people and sharing conversations, but they are like introverts in that they are sensitive to pain, caffeine, loud noises, and environmental and emotional stimuli. This is one of my kids – who can either be the life of the party and the jokester, or the one in the corner trying to disassociate from too much stimululation in the environment. Fortunately, he has already learned at his young age to give himself what he needs – quiet time by himself to think, relax, invent, and create. He is not shy – probably somewhere between introverted and HSP, but I like to think of him as my son, with no acronyms attached – who has figured out what he needs to be the best version of himself. Now it’s up to me to make sure that I react to his individual needs with understanding and encouragement. And Aron says that scientists are working on better understanding of these characteristics.
“As we learn more, we will become more accurate. For now, if you are socially extraverted yet feel things deeply, ponder the meaning of life, reflect before acting, and need a lot of down time, please, be patient. If you are socially introverted but not especially bothered by loud noise, are not very emotional, and make decisions rather easily, please also be patient. We’ll get it right about you, too.”