So, I have no research studies on this at all…this is from my own experience and observations in working with families who have had extremely shy and almost fearful children. I am not really talking about children who are more inward; all of us are on the continuum of extrovert to introvert if we look at personality. I am thinking hear of children who are rather socially anxious, fearful a bit… Many of these children whom I have observed were only truly comfortable with their mothers and no one else. Many of these children were first-born children, but not all of them, and many of them were girls, but again, not all of them. This is my special small population sample.
This is how I have personally observed this type of child’s progress into the world outside of his or her mother:
- The shy child learns to trust his or her father. This seems like a no-brainer, but in some cases these children really seemed to reject their fathers and other adults. Only mother would do.
- The child learns to trust other significant adults whom they see on a frequent basis (extended family or close family friends) and a few children in one- to- one play settings where things are structured by the adults. Usually the play setting is at the home of the child, or in a park or other neutral setting.
- The child tries to enter a group play situation with mother right there by their side; they may only really play with one child the whole time
- The child enters a group situation with mother there but further away; may need mother to come and be by them at different points; they may only play with one child the whole time
- The child enters one- to one play setting at the home of someone they trust without mother present for one- on -one play settings; playing with a group of children at someone else’s home may be overwhelming without mother there
- The child begins to learn how to balance playing with two children in a play setting, usually at their own home or in a natural setting.
- The child learns to trust other adults in highly structured settings – like in a class, etc. and can function in a group held such as this
- The child can play freely in a group, at first with only one or two in the group and then progressing into being able to weave in and out of play with many children in the group.
- The child can speak to adults cordially whilst looking them in the eye
- The child learns how to freely stand up for themselves in one on one play situations and in group situations and comes into more complex social interaction.
I think one thing in dealing when a child is facing this type of challenge is NOT to push the child, to have great respect for where the child is, but to provide opportunities that you feel will be helpful and beneficial. It will not always go smoothly, so the more you can be calm about it, ho-hum, and involve adults who can also be ho-hum, the better. I feel it is also important for the mother to continually express in different ways that the world is a good place, a safe place, and that other adults can also meet their child’s needs. It helps to have children whom the child loves and admires to also be modeling this within the context of community. Many of the children marked as shy and socially fearful really open up around the ages of six/seven or at the nine year change, if they have opportunity to try within a safe community. I would expect three and four and even five year olds to be a bit on the shier side socially unless they have had a lot of experience with other children. I always try to keep in mind that children in the Waldorf Schools used to start Kindergarten around the age of four and a half or five, so of course children these ages are just learning, but it is the age when many children are truly interested in having a friend or two.
Again, these are just my observations and perhaps some of you have different observations to share. If you yourself had a child that really was only comfortable with mother and has now progressed beyond that, I would love to hear what you thought the progression was and what helped your child learn to enter the larger community around them.