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Shy Reserved 7 Year Old

by Gauri

I am currently very disturbed and worried for my 7 year old son.

He is smart and intelligent and his teachers are proud of him. But he does not mix easily with other kids.

If he tries, he is not welcomed and he gets dominated by others, and doesn't stand up for himself or defend himself.

He is shy, reserved, quiet, and doesn't share his feelings, and does not communicate. He has lost his cheerfulness and chirpiness.

He has a few friends but I would really like to make him feel confident about himself. I tell him inspirational stories and also talk to him about his fears but nothing seems to work. He is a super intelligent boy and I want him to find his smile and confidence.

Please help!

Comments for Shy Reserved 7 Year Old

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Encouraging A Seven Year Old - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Gauri,
It is very hard to see our kids struggling, and making friends is a big learning curve for children that are not an extrovert. Most likely he is much better one on one, rather than with a group of kids at once, and of course children can be quite cruel.

Extrovert Or Introvert?

Some of us are extroverts, and get energy from being with other people, and many of us are introverts and need time alone or quiet time to get our energy. The world needs all sorts, and the important thing is that he feels good about himself.

If there are kids at school making his life a misery, then the school needs to adopt an anti bullying program, as that kind of behavior is not acceptable. But clearly he also does not have the confidence to stand up to others and is hurt when his friendship is rejected.

Are the teachers at school concerned about him are they reporting bullying or domination from other kids? Is he unhappy just at school, but fine at home? Is he happy doing his own thing, or withdrawn and miserable? Sometimes we think a child 'should' be playing with others when they are quite happy on their own. Of course we all need to learn social skills, build friendships, work in groups etc, but we don't all have to be hanging out with a big group of friends to be happy.

What can we as parents do when we do see our kids are unhappy? Sometimes we just have to be there while our kids learn for themselves. You can't actually MAKE him confident, but you can affirm him, and encourage and and show you belief in him.

Clearly you are giving him all sorts of positive input and opportunity to talk and share how he feels. Some kids do find it very hard to put their feelings into words, and sometimes we as parents kind of keep them stuck in feeling bad. Kids can be angry, sad, happy etc then in the blink of an eye they are over it. We sometimes contribute to their feeling bad when we make a big issue out of something. Then they do really start to think they are not doing well!

Your worry and concern is good in that clearly you care very deeply for him and want him to be happy, and certainly noticing that he has changed from the chirpy happy child to a more withdrawn one is hard to see.

Part Two Follows . . . .

Encouraging A Seven Year Old - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

School is not easy for many of our children, particularly the quiet ones that get overwhelmed by the more dominant kids. He sounds like he is doing really well at the academic tasks and is a bright boy, but of course a big part of what we learn at school has nothing to do with the academic tasks. And his challenge is how to keep his center when other kids can be overwhelming and yes, sometimes downright mean.

Foster Friendships Outside Of School

Foster the friendships that he does have, invite them home for play-dates, give him plenty of opportunities to have the kind of play that he enjoys. It may be unlikely that he will be the life of the party, or the kid that is surrounded by others. He may be more of a quiet one who is much happier with just one or two people at a time.

Fostering and encouraging one on one friendships is a good thing, and gives him an ally. It also is in a situation where he is more comfortable, his own territory. Focus on building up all his strengths and on what an amazing little boy he is, rather than quite so much on your worry and concern.

Listening Can Be Enough

When he brings stuff up, or is upset, then that is the perfect time to just be with him and let him talk if he wants. Then help him to find what would help to make him feel better. Of course it needs to be things he is in control of, or can get help with. For example, if he is being bullied, then coach him to ask for help at school, or check out if he needs you to talk to the teachers. Often kids don't want parents to intervene, it can mean you are taking over and dis-empowering him even more.

If the situation is clearly more than just kids throwing their weight around, then there needs to be a program run by the school to help kids like him cope, and help the bullies learn to be kinder.

If the teachers have raised the issue that he is not very socially secure, then ask them what they are doing to help him. Some kids need a secure familiar group of kids to work with throughout the year, but sometimes our classes are set up so kids are never sitting with a friend, or are moving around for activities all the time.

Some classes are set up with desks in rows, and very little opportunity for working in groups or giving students the opportunity to interact with each other until they are in the playground. Kids that work in small groups or share tasks in the classroom get to have practice at interacting in a controlled environment, and learn to interact and work as a team. If a child only gets to interact out in the playground, the the dominant children will lead the play (or bullying).

Part Three Follows . . .

Encouraging A Seven Year Old - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Unfortunately we don't have much control at all about what happens at school, we can just keep talking to the teachers and asking for support, and then trying to fill the gaps at home. School is such a big part of our children's lives, but sadly most schools are set up with large classes aimed at the average child. Many Many children struggle to find their feet for a while, particularly if they are a bit shy or less confident.

My own daughter really took a big knock after being at school for about 6 months. She went from being a confident outgoing child to being nervous and upset most of the time. I ended up changing schools to a smaller more family oriented school, and it made a huge difference.

Many children can't talk about how they feel - actually heaps of adults can't either! But kids often play it out, or draw it out. He might be playing with his cars or Lego and acting out the situation at school. Or he might want to draw or paint how he feels when he is unhappy. Finding a way to express it is good, but it might not be words.

Affirmation Games

Then he can also do lots of affirmations about the good things about himself. You can get some big sheets of paper (or chalk outside) and draw all around him. Then either you or him, can write down the words or images that represent all the good things about him. Get as many from him as possible, so he is claiming them, rather than all of them coming from you. You can just chip in when he gets stuck. Or you can get him to imagine what you or his Dad think are fantastic about him.

We have heaps more tips about using positive affirmations with kids on our website.

He doesn't have to be perfect, the willingness to learn, explore, try, risk is much more important than mastering something. Sometimes kids that struggle to make friends feel they have to be cool, or do it right to be accepted. Trying to please others (including Mum and Dad!) can mean he will always feel he is not good enough.

A seven year old is not going to communicate feelings like an adult will. Instead they might act up, or cry or withdraw. Clearly he is more the type to withdraw, and it is hard to help a child to learn to speak up or say when they are unhappy.

But don't think you have to fix him up - sometimes kids just need to have their feelings and keep learning ways to deal with it as they develop. It is really hard as a Mom to see your child unhappy, but you can't always fix it. If he is happy at home, and happy in other situations, then the bigger issue might be at school.

Part Four Follows . . .

Encouraging A Seven Year Old - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

You didn't mention if he has any siblings, or what kind of family interactions he has. If he has brothers and sisters, cousins or family friends that are a big part of his life, then he will have lots more opportunities for learning to deal with conflict and learning to stick up for himself. An only child - or one that mostly has contact with adults, has had less chance to be in situations that are challenging, so they have less resilience to dominant peers, or conflict situations.

So part of all this, is simply life! Being in challenging situations does give him more exposure and practice at dealing with difficult people or situations. Unfortunately we can't pave the way for our kids to never have to be hurt nor can we protect them.

Building Resilience

It sounds like you are doing a great job of communicating with him and giving him lots of opportunities to talk about how he feels when he is unhappy, which is great. But shift focus a little to giving him the belief that he can handle things, that he has a quiet internal strength, that you know he can figure out how to deal with mean kids. Instead of trying to make him express how he feels if he can't put words to it, help him to come up with other ideas about dealing with the meanies.

You don't have to have the answers for him, and he doesn't have to actually do anything, but playing around with possibilities or lots of ideas will start to help him to realize he does not have to stay stuck in being miserable.

Parents want to fix things up, but our kids are learning all the time, and will figure out lots of things without us having to find a solution. Sometimes just knowing they have other choices can relieve the stress. Whereas staying stuck in feeling bad, doesn't shift the energy.

You can't control a lot of what happens at school, or even how he deals with it. But you can give him lots of other experiences at home or on outings where he can shine, and where he can be happy, and where he is interacting with others. Then that translates over into other situations that are more difficult.

You are doing a great job as a Mom, and clearly are very close to your little boy. He'll find his feet and gain more confidence as he matures.

all the best,
Annie D :)

Thanx A Lot
by: gauri

Dear Annie,
Thanx a lot, your advice meant a lot and really made me understand my cluttered thoughts better.

I'll definitely try to implement certain things you have mentioned. Just knowing that someone understands your motherly concerns means a lot. I really appreciate you taking time to answer my query.

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