We went for the PTM this week. The only thing the teacher had to say about the peapod was that she is a shy child. She does not befriend very easily.
A couple of weeks back, as we, me and the kids, lay in bed with the lights switched off we got talking generally. She talked about her teacher and her friends and then she started talking about how her friends don't let her play with them. So she generally sits in class and plays with clay. I ask her about x and y and then z. These are names I hear very often. She tells me that they play with other kids and not with her. I told her maybe you should join them. She tells me I asked them "Can I play with you" and they said "No". Don't ask what that confession does to me. She is a 1-2 friend kind of a girl and engages only where she has been met half way atleast. I haven't yet seen her play in a group, not that there are many opportunities for that either other than her school. We live in a small building complex and there aren't many kids around. Just the 2-3 kids and she is comfortable playing with them.
Now to be fair to the peapod, this could be a trait she has inherited from her father. P is not exactly shy but he isn't very social either. He can be quite charming if he decides to play the part but most times he chooses not to and does not like mindless chatter. He generally kills all my funnies I narrate from office with a look and a question,'So?'. To my mind that is the peapod's basic nature as well. But unlike her dad she does laugh at my funnies, thank God for small mercies. She evaluates too much and can not join a group and start playing. She rarely plays alone though she does write, colour and paint on her own. I remember one time we were visiting a family member and she was asked to sing or recite something and she just couldn't bring herself upto it. She didn't refuse or show discomfort or walk off confidently like many kids do who do not relish being the idea of instant entertainment to adults but she just clamped up. While her cousins her age did do stuff almost non-stop, we couldn't get a word out of her. we did not force her but we tried cajoling her to sing a song. That was probably a good 8-9 months back. Today she does sing or recite the Lord's prayer or recite a poem if she is in a mood in front of the family crowd atleast.
Her teacher told me every child in the class is asked to stand up, face the class and tell a story or re-tell a story they just heard or saw and the peapod never participates.
Two things that come to my mind are Language skills & Ability to respond to situations
We do not talk to the peapod in English everytime we talk to her and that is not saying we do not talk to her in English at all. The primary language around here is Malayalam and I and P also converse in Hindi and English and we switch between languages seamlessly like any other household without even realizing it. Untill she went to school, she had not spoken a whole sentence in Hindi or English and we hoped she will pick up in school. She has picked up both languages and converses in both languages, albeit broken sentences, but conveys the message. She is no match yet to kids who shoot off stuff like "She is not responding", "Don't threaten me" and "The teacher is vacationing in Kerala". She fumbles for the right word and that probably is because she thinks in Malayalam and speaks in Hindi or English. We used to do a lot of reading before Chattambi arrived on the scene. After Chattambi I just haven't been able to keep up with her books along with mine. I realize that is something I need to get back to - reading with the peapod. I guess once she is confident with her language, she might not hesitate as much.
About making friends and playing along, I wonder if we have confused her with our parenting. She is a stickler for rules though not at home but in public places. I remember her teacher last year once told me that if I tell a class full of kids to fold your hands and come back in 5 minutes, the peapod will be the only one with folded hands even if she is running around or going yakety yak but her hands will be folded. She doesn't get into fights but she is the one keeping the score. So she is usually telling the parents about who scratched first and what happened next and I want to just shut her up and pull away. But to her its important. Her reaction to any unkind word or bad behaviour is to withdraw and sulk. Yeah she is the sulking queen. Everytime she sulks I have some parent telling me she is a sensitive child. I don't believe that though. She is not overly sensitive but I think she is just at loss of how to respond.
While I don't want her to get into fights or return an unkind word for another, I would like her to stand her ground, assert herself and get going. Sometimes I wonder if I have confused her too much about how she should respond and is that why she sulks not knowing what is the right way to react while many other kids seem to settle their scores and move on. I do not know yet. But I am listening to her and keep telling her she needs to join kids on the playground and not sit alone in class and play with clay.
A couple of sites I referred to also talked about encouraging kids with various activities and help them excel in something. That builds confidence and in-turn helps overcoming shyness. Story telling is something I am working on with her. Being a set of working parents puts a lot of restrictions on "other" activities that need to be pursued before 7pm outside the building premises. I push myself to be able to take peapod to the few birthday parties she gets invited to. I am trying to get her to a skate class starting today so that she can learn a new skill and meet a few other kids as well. The skate class itself is going to require me to leave office an hour early, twice a week. This is the max we can afford at the moment.
I believe shyness is a painful characteristic to have. And shyness only grows with age and it might become something of a social phobia latter. The earlier we start addressing it, the better. I want her to, at some point in the (near)future be able to make new friends and not wait for them to reach out to her. I want her to join a group and move on at will. I want her to take centre stage confidently without having to fight her shyness everytime she even thought about it. I am not sure how long this might take but I am very committed to ensure she does not turn out a shy teenager.