Thursday, May 17, 2007

Shrinking Violets

The towering stranger, her voice dripping with sweetness, pokes them under the chin. "Well, aren't you adorable? What's your name?"

The duckling, thus accosted, looks about with a dazed expression.

Then, turning to me, she says, "Are they shy?"

And now what do I say? To me toddler behavior doesn't rate as shy unless they spend all their times with their heads buried in my skirts. Which the ducklings are far too filled with curiosity to do.

Naturally it's a big, strange world out there, and they have not yet mastered all the niceties of social conventions. But then, seldom does the person accosting them follow social conventions very well. If a stranger accosted me like that, I would probably feel a bit dazed, too.

Even if they were problematically shy, it seems like announcing it to the populace every time they met someone new would hardly be a helpful way to deal with the problem. Announcing children's flaws in front of them seems like the best possible way to simultaneously encourage the bad behavior and engender serious resentment.

So I'm not quite sure what to say. I don't want to pretend that a blank stare is the social equivalent of a firm handshake, yet expecting a two-year-old to have completely mastered a complex speech and perform it on the spot in front of a stranger seems a bit unreasonable. I have to say something. I usually settle on a vague, "Oh, he's just thinking," which I figure must certainly be true.

Correcting the children right then and there seems ill-advised, and correcting the manners of the stranger would, of course, be rude. But I would suggest this to adults meeting adorable toddlers: Greet them like an adult. Offer a hand for a handshake. Say, "Hello, how are you today?" in a normal tone of voice.

They might surprise you by actually knowing what to do under such a circumstance. If not, you will have shown them how to act, and you can try again next time. And don't comment on their personality unless you want them critiquing yours.


Meredith said...

Mine did the same thing until our politician neighbor took a moment to teach him how to "give 'em seven--five fingers and two eyes."

Somehow that gave him enough confidence to greet anyone. "Give 'em seven" has become our secret code for "make nice to the approaching stranger, please."

Devona said...

I often say, "Olivia sometimes feels shy around people she doesn't know well, but otherwise she's very outgoing." It's all true, and I hope that it doesn't scar her. If "shy" is labeled as a feeling instead of as a personality I think it is less damaging.

le Duc said...

Just shrug and say, "no, not really," acting as though it's an unusual question. Seems to diffuse it entirely. Sometimes, I'll just interact with the little one myself, and they usually respond (with relief) to civilized behavior.

New Mommy said...

Now, if we could just get all of those weird (though possibly well-meaning?) people to read your blog before our children learn how to ask, "Are they nosey?", we would really be doing well!

Great post.

Rebecca said...

Excellent post! I love Meredith's advice, too, many older children would benefit from it.

Still, I think two is just a bit young to expect a child to shake hands. Children should be allowed to maintain their healthy reserve at that age.

I don't know why you couldn't just answer, "not really", and let it go.