Monday, 14 April 2014

Please Don't Tell My Daughter She is Shy

My two year old is lots of things. She’s loud, determined, curious, thoughtful and always changing. She might be loud and excitable one day, and quiet and thoughtful the next. She might be daring and fearless one week, and cautious and unsure the next.

My daughter is a work in progress, she hasn’t yet figured out who she is. She is still trying things out, being shaped by her experiences, and, sadly, listening to what the world tells her she should be.

I try not to use labels to describe my daughter, I want her to figure out who she is, I don’t want her to be who she thinks I expect her to be. I don’t want to tell her she’s messy, or clever or creative. I just want to let her be, and I would really appreciate if the rest of the world would support me in this.

I hate hearing people assign traits to her, I hate listening to people tell her she is quiet, or clever or ‘bossy’. I hate when the same words crop up, reinforcing society’s ideals of who my daughter is, before she has even worked it out herself. I worry that if she is repeatedly told she is something, then that is what she will grow up to be, because she will think it is who she should be.

We went for a walk today, and Ebony wanted to go over and look at some horses. A rider was stood with the horses, and seemed over the moon that a child wanted to look at her horse. The rider went into CBeebies-mode and started talking in a very loud sing-song voice. She was so pantomime that I half expected her horse to actually turn out to be Ant and Dec or the Cheeky Girls.

“Hello! Oh wow, you like horses? Great! Do you want to know my horse’s name?”
Ebony stared at her awkwardly from a distance.
“Oh, are you shy?”
More staring.
“You ARE shy! Little girls aren’t usually shy around horses.”

Because, y’know, it takes testicles to truly understand the motivations behind horse-induced shyness. Of course.

This was the first time Ebony has ever been described as shy. I have never described her as shy, and I have never heard anyone else say it to her. And yet, this afternoon, as we were sitting on the sofa, she turned to me and told me she was shy.

It’s so depressing that an off-the-cuff remark from a strange can resonate with a child, and that it could actually affect how they think about themselves. I don’t want my daughter to classify herself as shy, or even feel that she should be shy. I want her to talk to people, and not talk to people, as she sees fit. And if she grows up with a dislike of painfully over the top friendly patronising horse riders, then that is fine by me. She is going to have to put that already impressive shit-eye to good use at some point.

Firstly, she isn’t shy, but I suppose she’s slightly cautious of strangers. Isn’t that normal? And anyway, if she was shy, rudely pointing it out is hardly going to make her warm to you. And finally, perhaps, she’s not shy, maybe you’re just being weirdly over familiar towards a total stranger.

Next time, I’m definitely going to reply with, “Oh, she’s not shy, I think she just thinks you’re weird.”


  1. Totally agree. Your daughter does not need to become a self fulfilling prophecy x

  2. So odd you posted this today! Wilf got told he was shy yesterday by a over friendly neighbour and I when we got inside he said 'I was a bit shy' I told him it was OK to be shy as I didn't really know what to say tbh. I spent my entire school life being told on reports that I was a nice but shy student so I always described myself as shy. Actually up until the point I was describing myself as shy even last year and then realised 'wait! I'm not shy at all, why am I still describing myself as that?!' I often find myself almost apologising to old ladies who point out that Wilf isn't talking to them, I don't want to be rude and they are just well meaning but I should think of a better response really as I don't want him to be labelled as anything either xx

  3. That sounds like a perfect reply. I'm going to tuck it away for future reference!

  4. while people are generally well meaning and the phase where they want to talk to/at your kids passes fast - i dont want to be all stereo typical about errr, older people but they can come out with some corkers - ' oooh shes a little LIVEWIRE isnt she ? translated as "she talks too much. lol

    there used to be an ad on in the 70s where a kid said ' mummy says when I grow up Im going to be a proper little madam' i used to get that quoted at me as a small kid constantly in the end i just STFU so what you are saying is right - I do love talking to toddlers now that mine are all grown but Im careful to try not to say anything too dumb ;)

  5. ack just typed out a reply and it vanished - which went along the lines of - i used to get the opposite with my daughter " ooh shes a little livewire isnt she" with a undercurrent of " shes too loud " lol most people are generally well meaning though i just dont think they put a lot of thought into it they see cute child and go a bit doolally. plus I bloody loathed horses as a kid urgh. ;) so much for 'little girls' grrrrr.

  6. Oh goodness, this is one of my pet hates. I was a shy child and when people (many, many of them) pointed this out to me - 'ooh, are you shy?' - it made me feel so much worse and I got a complex about it. Bagl isn't particularly shy, like Ebony and most other toddlers he is a bit cautious of strangers (hell, I'm a bit cautious of strangers) but is generally reasonably sociable. I never tell a child they are shy, and if I hear an adult asking another child (mine or anyone else's) if they are shy I always subtly challenge it, something like 'they are just getting used to you' or 'maybe they don't feel like talking today, I know I don't sometimes'. If a child doesn't want to talk to me that's fine too. It's ok to be shy, it's ok to just be a bit cautious about a situation, but it's not ok to label someone you don't know or to make someone who really is shy feel bad.

  7. whilst i do get when people say things like this there's no malice in it, and it's just a way people generally react..i was for-EVER told i was shy as a child and i HATED it! even then i didn't want to be told what to do, or who i was. only i know that! i was quiet, sure, but there's nothing wrong with that. i saw (see) it as being independent, i didn't talk if i didn't feel the need to rather than do it because that's what's 'normal'.

  8. I left a long comment on my phone earlier but I don't think it worked. I hate this!! Cherry went through the phase every child goes through of being extra wary of strangers and the amount of people who would tell her she was shy used to do my head in! You're so right though, it's not them being shy it's just that they find strangers overwhelming and weird! x

  9. I hate labels! Baya is a really picky eater, but i make a point of not telling her that, or calling her fussy, as I don't want her to be 'bound' by it..

  10. This post is so true, F has always been one to take a step back and observe before diving in and do you know what? That's totally ok with me. Who am I to say he should be jumping on everyone he meets. I am a social butterfly and Paul is a bit of an introvert so I guess we have to wait and see what F will be like. However when he is told he is shy by a stranger I am the first to say 'No he's just taking it in' It's not like I walk up to randoms and say wow you're vain/noisy/aggressive/meek??! Get my back up it really does. x

  11. I love your reply. My children are CONSTANTLY being described as shy...and they are just thoughtful, that's how I see it. It's very odd that it's a term that people are happy to use so freely, I think it's almost like a reason for why that child isn't talking to them, to make them feel better somehow? I don't know, it's annoying...and I'm going to use your response next time too!!

  12. Talitha has been called shy quite a lot because she can be quieter and sometimes takes a little warming up. I've even found myself throwing that word in there as a kind of silly apology for why she isn't talking to someone. And I kick myself. Every. Time. Thankfully, she doesn't yet seem to understand what the word means but she will one day and what you've written here has really resonated with me so thanks for sharing it.

  13. This is so true, people do label people all the time and then you act to it.

  14. I just hate the way people feel they can sum up your whole child's personality in one word, and from a two minute interaction. Perhaps it is well meaning, but I guess people don't really see what effect their words can have on incredibly young and impressionable minds. Theo is a bit of the opposite and is quite loud and can be a tad over enthusiastic, and I often find myself apologising for that!

  15. I totally agree with what you are saying in this very well written post. I also really don't like it when people label my son or other children around him and the worst is that family members do it as well, like you said they still haven't worked out who they are and should not have other people putting them into boxes either

    Laura x



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