Monday, September 1, 2014

What to do When You're Slow to Warm up

Several years ago, a friend held a birthday party and invited my children.  For fun, they rented an inflatable pirate ship water slide for the children to play on during the party.  We arrived a little early and were able to see them inflating the slide, which silly me, I thought would be fun.  In the midst of inflating the slide, it tipped over because it was not fully inflated.

That was it for my son. He spent the entire rest of the party trying to warn all the adults of the danger of the water slide.  He went from adult to adult, pointing at the slide emphatically.  When no one would listen, he went inside and watched the slide from the safety of the host's kitchen.  

He was 18 months old at the time.

Perhaps you can relate.  You have a child who is cautious, to the extreme.  Quick to see the danger.  Always looking ahead.  Slow to warm up.

A few things we have learned along the way that may help.

1.  Accept your child the way he is.
Regardless of the nature vs. nurture controversy, our children are born with specific personality traits. Introverts are never going to become extroverts and vice versa.  Our children are who they are and we can either accept that or spend our lives trying to force square pegs into round holes.  I for one would rather spend my time learning about and loving my child instead of trying to change him.  Now apart from that, we also can and should try to help our little introverts function better in an inherently extroverted world.

2.  Teach him to accept himself the way that he is.
While I'm not about labels, I am about creating advocacy.  In language that my children can understand, I try to help them to see themselves as the unique and wonderful people they were created to be.  My son knows that he prefers to be at home, struggles in new places, and is cautious.  We talk about it in the same way we talk about his blond hair and his blue eyes.  It's just a part of who he is.  His sister likes groups, makes friends easily, and loves to go places. They're different in personality just like hair color.  But in our family, we have no preference for blond hair or brown hair.  It's just who we are...  It's one facet of each person of our family that lets us know more about them in order to better love them.  If my child knows he is introverted, regardless of the terminology we use, he can better learn how to handle challenging situations.  He is free to tell people "I'm a little nervous right now.  I'm feeling shy.  I like my personal space."  These are all phrases he has learned his whole life to use in order to advocate for himself.

3.  Choose your battles.
Remember that story up above.  Now press repeat on your child has been invited to this year.  Until one day I had an epiphany.  He doesn't have to go.  Birthday parties are the worst possible environment for his introverted personality.  They are always crowded.  They are impossible to prepare him for.  There are always new people.  (Side note: my husband also hates parties so he stays home with him while I take my little extrovert.)  Y'all.  He is going to be fine if he doesn't go to birthday parties.  Actually better off most likely given the severe trauma they cause him.

4.  Minimize the risk.
My daughter is a social butterfly who loves to go out and do, do, do all day long.  She thrives on social and community activities.  I have to balance this with my introverted son in order to meet both their needs. One thing I have learned is to evaluate activities.  We try to go out- but to the same places so that my son can become familiar with them.  We shop at the same two groceries stores (and stores of the same brands in other towns).  We meet the people who work their and establish relationships to build his comfort level.

5. Prepare for new environments.
Every time we go somewhere new, I try to prepare my children to the best of my abilities before we get there.  We talk about what to expect, what the boundaries will be, what we might encounter.  A common question is "And what's the worst that can happen?"  We talk through all the worst-case scenarios and how we would respond.  We always end with "And what's the worst that can happen- you could have fun!!"  Preparing my child for these eventualities the best I can does two things.  It helps him know what he can reasonably expect and it lets him know that I am an adult in control of the situation, ready to help.

6.  Persevere.
In our town, we have a local gym that hosts preschool open gym for children once a week.  This is something that I knew my son would enjoy, and that would be ultimately beneficial to him.  I also knew it would be really, really challenging for him. We did everything we could ahead of time- talked about what to expect, arrived early to avoid initial crowds, and reviewed our coping mechanisms.  And then we went.  Every week.  Over and over for months.  It was hard at first.  The first several times we went, he pretty much clung to me.  Several times we had to leave early when it was super crowded or he was overwhelmed.  But we kept going.  Now, it's one of the highlights of our week.  I was delighted watching him take off on his own this week, comfortable in his learned environment.  Sometimes, the end result is worth the effort.

Veteran moms out there, do you have any other thoughts to share?  How have you helped your cautious children in new environments so that they don't miss out on fun experiences?

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