When my daughter Ruby was around 17 months old she started to act shy around strangers. We travel by public transport a lot and if people smiled at her on the train she would hide her face, and not look at them.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with being cautious around strangers, and our children should be free to connect with whoever they want to connect with. But I started to feel a bit worried. I’d been really shy as a child and life at school had been difficult. I didn’t want Ruby to have to go through bad experiences such as being bullied, or struggling to make friends.
Is it just that some children are natural introverted? There are lots of introverts in our family! Was this just something Ruby had inherited? According to Parenting by Connection this is not the case. There’s really no such thing as ‘natural introverts.’ Shyness comes when children have a backlog of emotions to work through such as fear and anxiety, which can make it hard to connect with others.
I’ve co-slept with my daughter since birth and I always stay with her while she’s falling asleep. I started to wonder if she still had some separation fears that she could release if I helped her to learn to fall asleep on her own. I began to experiment with putting her down to sleep and then leaving the room. I gradually moved away from her. She seemed perfectly content. Then I left the room, and shut the door. I was surprised she wasn’t bothered in the slightest and I opened the door. She started laughing. I shut the door again, then opened it, and again she started laughing. We repeated this a few times I would put the covers over her, go out and shut the door, then act surprised when I opened it again, and she was sitting up in bed with no covers on. This is what Parenting by Connection calls ‘Playistening’ where we notice what makes our child laughs and repeat it to get them really giggling. Often this is play where the child takes on the more powerful role. Laughing together helps us to connect with our children. Giving them the chance to be powerful helps them to build confidence.
I was playing the befuddled adult, who was always surprised that Ruby sat back up again after I had put her to sleep. We played this game for almost an hour, by which time I was exhausted!
The next day, she ‘asked’ to play it again, by pulling her cover over her near bedtime, and pointing to the door for me to go.
A few days later we were on the train and I noticed a man smiling at Ruby. To my surprise she looked him right in the eye and smiled back! Since then the shyness has disappeared, and she’s back to the confidence and openness she had as a baby. That’s not to say that she’s not cautious around strangers, it’s just that she’s not afraid to connect with people when she feels safe.
I haven’t pursued my ‘project’ of getting Ruby to sleep in her own bed. Co-sleeping works for now. I see the benefits of just adding more laughter into our lives. I try to take advantage of that ‘giggle hour’ before bed, where the laughs come more easily. I will tell Ruby it’s bedtime, then let her ‘escape’ and chase her around the house, or we’ll play lots with opening and shutting doors.
Often sleep advice centers around getting children relaxed, with a bath, books, dim lights, and soft music. It may seem counter-intuitive, but laughter is a great relaxer and helps children (and adults!) to release the stress of the day. Ruby falls asleep a lot more easily, if she gets the chance to play first. Sometimes playlistening is the last thing I want to do in the evening, but I often find if I push myself over the initial hurdle of exhaustion, then I’ll soon find myself laughing along with her and feeling better and more connected too.
Playing with our children in the evening isn’t just great fun. A regular dose of play in our child’s life helps them to stay confident and adventurous, open to trying new things, and making the most out of life.