Why I'm Not Urging My Quiet Child to Speak Up

Why I'm Not Urging My Quiet Child to Speak Up

How learning what to listen for helped me hear my quiet daughter’s voice

When you’re raising a quiet child, you may often hear questions and comments from other adults in your child’s life about how it’s just a phase or they’d like to get to know your child more if she’d just speak up. What they (and you) might not realize is being a quiet child may set your little one up for future success. Read on to learn how a Brooklyn mom figured this out, and how she’s supporting her quiet child at home and in school.

I braced myself for our third-grade parent-teacher interview. By this time, I had come to expect the usual comments from teachers and other adults who came into contact with my daughter. “We wish she would speak up more,” or the slightly accusatory, “We’re wondering if there’s a reason she’s so quiet?” or the cheerier, “We want to get to know your daughter better!” Sometimes well-meaning people try to connect with her, (and use the word I’ve come to strongly dislike), “I was shy like you too, when I was young.”

Since my daughter has been very little, I’ve been perplexed by the assessment made by many of the (again, well-intentioned) adults she encounters. Though in my gut I’ve always known she was fine just the way she is, there was something about her entering school—her first large group setting—that started making me second-guess everything.

My 3am spiral went something like this: Would she actually “grow” out of this? (There was usually an implication that she would, that she should, mature beyond this, that it was at worst some sort of inadequacy, and at best just a phase of growing up.) Maybe she wasn’t comfortable at her current school? Maybe she should be in another environment where the classes were smaller and she received more individual attention, which in turn would make her feel more at ease, which in turn would make her speak out more, which in turn would make her more accepted by her teachers and peers, which in turn would make her life easier? Obviously, this got me nowhere.

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Then I picked up Susan Cain’s brilliant book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Although I thought I knew a lot of what the author wrote about already, the way she broke everything down was a revelation for me. The gist of the book is so-called quiet people (those with introverted tendencies) have calmly gotten down to the business of accomplishing a lot of the real work done in the world: inventions, scientific breakthroughs, brilliant novels, etc. In other words, introversion isn’t a shortcoming that needs to be overcome; it’s simply a type of personality that lends itself to different pursuits—some really useful ones as it happens. The problem is not with people who fall into that category, but with the world we live in that seems to reward and most value the loudest voices in the room.

Now when I’m met with the usual comments about how quiet my daughter is, I try to honor her character without being defensive. I try to emphasize her strengths: She flourishes in very small group settings and loves individual work. I also try to check in now and then to make sure her environment isn’t causing her to withhold at all.

Beyond that, I try not to stress. Now that she and I both have the language and tools to better frame her character, we can do our best to ignore any expectations about how outspoken she needs to be. I can get out of her way, and she can get on with whatever contribution she chooses to make to the world.

It’s the most important lesson I’ve learned as a parent (and one I evidently need to learn over and over): Following your child’s lead is usually the smoothest and happiest way toward growth and development. Obviously, that doesn’t mean feeding her chocolate cake for breakfast when she asks for it or buying her every random can of slime she wants. For me it means learning to stay quiet for a moment, take a beat, and let my kid not do the talking.