Looking for Words of Wisdom


I’ve mentioned here and there that Nora is a shy and relatively slow to approach person, but I haven’t spent a huge amount of time talking about it aside from the post about feeling bad for not standing up for her.  Chris and I were hoping this would just be a phase that she would outgrow with time and lots of positive experiences, so I mostly tried to ignore it and I’ve tried very hard to tell myself that it’s okay for her to not be outgoing in new situations or with new people, even though that’s how I am.  Over the last couple weeks however, it seems like Nora’s discomfort around others has gotten worse and after much discussion, Chris and I are at a loss as to how much shyness is normal and how to best deal with it.

The most challenging part is that we have a hard time identifying what exactly makes Nora uncomfortable.  It’s clear that she doesn’t like being put on the spot in any situation.  Generally, she has a harder time with men than with women, although not always with her friends’ dads and some women do bother her.  Despite the fact that we have gone to The Brotherhood multiple times per week for as long as she can remember, she completely clams up when we visit the restaurant and is incredibly uncomfortable if anyone there talks to her (except she is more than happy to order her own food and say thank you when it arrives).  She is very particular about her personal space and if anyone (man or woman) touches her (tries to shake her hand, helps her off the slide, etc.) she almost always cries.  She also gets upset and tells me she doesn’t like it if her little friends try to hug her; sometimes she will hold their hands, but will only hold my hand (no one else’s) in music class or at Tiny Tumblers.  The doctor terrifies her.  Inexplicably, she occasionally goes from excited about her friends arrival for a play date to inconsolably upset as soon as they get here.  She has started having a very hard time during my client meetings, even if we meet somewhere like the ECC, and while I’m leading LLL meetings.  The other day, Chris tried to take her to work with him but he couldn’t get anything done because she was so freaked out by the prep guy being in the same room.  Yet, she had no problem bonding almost instantly with Chris’ father when he visited or with my family at Christmas, and she has other moments where fear is nowhere to be found.

When something or someone is making her uncomfortable, she pretty much shuts down.  Even if she has no problem playing independently somewhere like the ECC, the second the person I’m meeting with shows up, Nora suddenly finds it impossible to play without me.  She says, “I’m tired,” which is code for “uncomfortable;” if I’m around, she asks to nurse (which I’m not really into doing these days); if she is with Chris somewhere, she asks to go home; she pretty much always cries and she is incredibly hard to distract.  Generally the only way to solve the problem is to remove her from the situation, and, worse, it often sticks with her, impacting her mood for at least 20-30 minutes, if not longer.  (Once, after one of the cooks picked her up, she cried for at least 45 minutes, and she still worries about it weeks later.)

Initially, we were trying to encourage Nora to say hello back to people and to talk to them.  Then we shifted to telling her it’s alright if she doesn’t want to talk, but we were not telling people to ignore her with her; we were hoping that if she had enough positive experiences she would realize there’s nothing to be afraid of.  So we’ve been taking her to The Brotherhood and giving her plenty of exposure to the guys in the kitchen, all of whom are never anything but friendly to her.  We’ve tried to have talks with her about why she’s upset or uncomfortable, but all she can say is that she doesn’t like XYZ.  We’ve told her over and over that she’s always safe with us.  We’ve tried to tell her that she can say no if she doesn’t want someone to talk to her or touch her, but she doesn’t have the ability to speak up in those moments.  Mostly, we’ve tried to ignore the shyness, hoping it will go away, but instead it seems to be getting worse and worse.

Now, though, we are recallibrating and trying to figure out a new plan.  It’s gotten so bad that Chris and I actually decided to not take her to The Brotherhood of Thieves to eat or to visit for a couple of months.  Even with her hands stuck deep in her pockets (so no one can shake them) and being held by me, she has a very hard time if anyone even looks at her for too long.  I’m afraid that the discomfort Nora feels while we are there is only reinforcing her fears (and, frankly, it’s exhausting and annoying to try to juggle her shyness when we go there), so we just aren’t going to visit Dada for awhile.

Chris and I are at a loss.  We want our sweet girl to be happy.  We want her to be able to function in normal social situations and we want to give her the tools to stand up for her self if she feels uncomfortable… So we are looking for some words of wisdom.  Is this type of shyness normal or at least age appropriate?  Or does it sound like something more that needs some sort of intervention?  Does anyone have any advice for how to deal with it or how to make these situations less traumatic for her?  I’m hoping that preschool in the fall will help her, but what can we do in the meantime?


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10 responses

  1. Kalina Avatar

    We live in a world where babies are expected to smile and say hi/bye to random people and then throughout their childhood we teach them not to talk to strangers… My son was the exact same way until he finally opened up to people who he really liked and had something in common with–his own little friends (who he goes to pre-school with). She is a smart little lady and you and Chris are her world, no one else will even come close, so when she is ready to explore other relationships she will on her own.

  2. What Kalina said.

  3. Sarah M Avatar
    Sarah M

    It’s a bit of a shot in the dark, but it sounds like this is really upsetting your (and Nora’s) life so I’m throwing it out there… you’ll know better than I if it doesn’t fit. Maybe Nora has sensory issues? The trouble with being touched/picked up my someone unfamiliar, or at an unexpected time could be an issue with tactile defensiveness. Being afraid of strangers who are only in the room is a little harder, but maybe something to do with vision? If Nora’s peripheral vision is poor she may get anxious not knowing where these folks are in relation to her. Or, if her visual acuity is poor, she may take a very long time to recognize new people’s faces.

    Like I said, you’re the best judge if this fits Nora. If you’re thinking it might, the person to talk to is an occupational therapist who specializes in pediatric sensory issues. You should have access to one for free through your school district’s early childhood program (but I don’t know how your services work on island or even your state for that matter). That OT should have recommendations for optometrists who can properly screen her vision as well, if that seems like an issue. Best of luck!

    1. Amber Avatar

      That is interesting that you mention sensory issues, because I’ve wondered about that a little too. She had her startle reflex longer than is typical and is still uncomfortable around loud noises like vacuums, lawnmowers and power tools. She actually has to be in a different room when I vacuum and prepared, or she gets upset…

  4. Susan Avatar

    I would second what Sarah M said. Another possibility would be if your school district offers a screening for 3 year olds (CT does, I am not sure about MA) I know you are planning to home school Nora, but the teachers and specialists at a screening may have some suggestions or insight. I realize this may not work, because it sounds as if a preschool screening with unknown adults and children would be distressing for Nora. Your pediatrician may have helpful suggestions too. I obviously do not know Nora, but this post sounds as if her shyness is starting to limit opportunities for her and for you. Trust your instincts; if you feel that something is wrong, get some professional advice. Good Luck!

  5. Meg Glidden Avatar
    Meg Glidden

    Amber. I’ve only raised 6 so I’m no expert but…if you’ve ever worked in a church nursery you’ll find kids go in and out of stranger anxiety. 18 months is a classic switchover point. My oldest used to hide and cling until one day I told her what to say when people talked to her–she was just dumbstruck (cool word). When people say,”Where did you get your red hair?” you say: “Daddy’s beard is red when he grows one.” Worked like a charm. Ask your mom what helped you. I totally agree with this guy:http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/child-rearing-and-development/8-ways-help-shy-child Hope that helps! m

  6. jenn sullivan Avatar
    jenn sullivan

    Amber call me at some point. Sophie had Selective Mutism and I have a lot to offer about what you are going through. I am hard to read but give it a try in the next few days. I have TONS of resources and ideas.

  7. Donna Avatar

    Hi Amber,
    I’m sure you’ve received many helpful tips regarding your concerns about Nora’s “shyness.” I would consult with her doctor about your concerns and how it is affecting your family’s life. You may need more than one opinion. I would proceed from there based on their replies/recommendations/strategies. Secondly, if you have not already, consult the internet for research-based strategies that might be helpful for Nora based upon her doctor’s recommendations.
    I remember like any young mother, I was concerned about a few aspects of my daughters’ personalities/intelligence/physical attributes. As they’ve matured, my concerns disappeared, and I quickly forgot what I was worried about. It is good to be aware, however. I hope you can find some answers to provide relief to your concerns, however important.

  8. Kristin Avatar

    Hi Amber,
    My name is Kristin and I am an occupational therapist working with children on Nantucket. If you would like to speak with me about your concerns I’m happy to be available to you. You sound like a fantastic advocate for your daughter. The beat advice I can give you is to always listen to your gut, only you know what it’s saying. My email is listed, feel free to contact me.

  9. sarah Avatar


    from Dr. Sears…. I haven’t read it yet, but it might have some ideas for you : )

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