Why must we try to change children's personalities?
Have you ever heard people say that they must encourage 'push' children to talk, project their voices, be more social? I'm talking about little ones, younger than five. I heard it a couple of times the other day and it just didn't sit well with me. This is not one of my theories. This is personal.
I was that child. That child hated to be pushed. That child had a will of her own. She knew what she needed. Dismissing what she needed and drawing attention to her so called shortcomings made her feel misunderstood, undervalued and anxious. Social anxiety is something that you grow to overcome, in your own time, by your own will.
That child is observing. She is collecting information about people so that she can learn how to interact with them. As a result she may grow up with a deep understanding and appreciation of people. She may become a great listener and a wonderful friend.
I wasn't pushed but I did suffer as a child from being constantly labelled. I was shy. By the time I was a teenager I became 'quiet'. Until I was about seventeen that was pretty much the sum of my identity outside the family. I took this identity on and felt that I had the most boring personality in the world.
It's been a long journey since then. That child is still there. I'm particularly aware of her at the moment having just started a new job. Now I acknowledge her, breathe, and move on. No amount of pushing will teach a child to navigate life. It comes from inside.
I am constantly exceeding my own expectations. I find it amusing and surprising that I often find myself doing things that many extroverts would find challenging. I have sung before hundreds of people and spoken to groups of twenty-five parents. I acted in a play a few years ago.
The other day I turned up at a childcare centre unannounced and requested to speak to the owner. We sat down and had a long discussion, where I explained to him that I couldn't accept a permanent job there as I felt that the education system that they had chosen was so far removed from what I believe is best for children's learning. I alerted him to the poor practices that were happening there and implied that it was impossible that those in charge could not know what was going on. I walked out of there feeling quite weird, thinking "who are you and where did you come from?"
Leave these children alone. Let them create their own identities rather than imposing identities on them. Let them imagine all the possibilities for their lives and watch them exceed their own expectations. Never underestimate children's capabilities. Encourage their strengths instead. They will show you who they are.
(The hidden gifts of the introverted child, Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., 2005)