Parenting Advice Column
A situation arose recently with my 11-year-old daughter that I didn't know quite how to handle. We ran into an old friend and we were relating a funny story to her. Since the story involved my daughter, not me, I asked her to tell the friend, but she refused and just stood there in silence. As moments ticked by and the silence grew ackward, I proceeded with the story. Later, in private, I asked her why she wouldn't talk and she said that if she told the story, it wouldn't be funny but if I told it, I'd make our friend laugh. I'm not comfortable with the idea that my daughter is in competition with me because we are so different. She's rather quiet and introverted and I can carry on a conversation with any stranger.
Any ideas or comments?
Perhaps if you turn the situation around, and imagine how you might feel if someone asked you to speak about something that for some reason you didn't want to speak about, you'd probably feel that they had put you "on the spot", which is an uncomfortable place to be! I, too, was a "quiet child" who had many experiences like this, and really felt quite uncomfortable! It also affected my self-esteem to get repeated between-the-lines messages from my mother that there was something wrong with my not being more sociable. Interestingly, as an adult I've become talkative and sociable; in fact, there have been times when I wished I had allowed others to talk more. So a child's personality doesn't always persist into adulthood anyway.
In general, if a story involves a child - especially if she is present - the parent should ask permission, privately, beforehand, to tell it. This is simply a respectful way to approach such things - and also models respectful treatment to the child. Listening to a parent discuss them, in front of them, is a very common complaint among preteens and teenagers, because they are at a self-analyzing, sensitive stage. At 11, your daughter has entered this sensitive age.
Being "quiet" is part of who she is, and every person of any age deserves to be accepted as they are! It's most unfortunate that our society for some reason values "extroverts" and not "quiet" folks. There's nothing particularly better about being more sociable; in fact, there's a lot to be said for being quietly observant and reflective. Besides, she wasn't really being "introverted" in the scene you describe - she was trying to tell you, in the only way she could in the circumstances, that her right to choose when she speaks, and on what topic, had been disregarded. Just enjoy her company and let her know you love her. Remember Mr. Rogers' motto: "I like you just the way you are!"
Thanks, Jan! I needed to be reminded of this. I've been hoping to get her "out of her shell" when I SHOULD be happy with her just the way she is. It takes all kinds to make this world go 'round :-) Parenting is a learning experience everyday, isn't it! Some days it's easier to learn the lesson than on other days.
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