Whenever my daughter is in a new environment, meeting other kids, going to a party, going back to school after the weekend, she becomes very clingy and shy. My usually talkative 6 year old becomes reserved, holding my legs and hiding behind me. “Go and say hello”, I’ll say, gently pushing her towards the other kids. When she doesn’t budge, I get more active, structuring an introduction with the other kids. I’ll ask their names, prompting my daughter “tell them your name.” This goes on for a while, me becoming more insistent, her refusing and looking away. Eventually, with enough pressure from me, she will very quietly whisper her name before quickly reverting to looking at her feet uncomfortably.
Later when we leave, we’re both frustrated. I always make a point of talking about it further. “It’s rude not to say hello when we meet new people”, and “It’s important to make new friends”. She cries, I get mad. It doesn’t go well.
With some help to reflect on these interactions, my behavior is driven by Shark Music. I’ve had social anxiety throughout my life, and when I see this similar struggle in her, I get worried that she will have this lifelong issue with friendships and confidence. I start to see a lonely future paved before her. I also hear the voice of my own parents, “don’t be rude!” and fear she will be seen as poorly socialized. Hello Shark Music! In my anxiety to “get her out there”, I get pushy and lose any capacity to attune to her needs. Instead of Welcoming her in on the Bottom of the Circle when she’s feeling uncomfortable or nervous, I’m desperately pushing her out on the Top. Instead of Organizing Feelings, I try to Help her on the Top, teaching her “how” to be with new people. What I now know is that this leaves her flooded with anxiety and unable to feel soothed and relaxed enough to genuinely explore her world.
My new focus is on Being With her on the bottom of the Circle, providing comfort and Organizing Feelings as she enters these scary situations. I stay with her while she watches on and we might talk about what the other kids are doing. I don’t put pressure on her to “go and play” and we just watch from afar for a while. It takes her a while for her to settle and she approaches slowly and cautiously, but she often ends up playing with the other kids. I have to do a lot of self-talk to keep my anxiety in check, but I’m beginning to trust that having access to me for comfort and organizing is the only way she will begin to more confidently explore.
I invite you to share with me your comments, reflections, Circle stories and experiences with Circle of Security Parenting. Your submissions may be used in future blog posts, with all identifying information excluded, unless you specifically request to be identified. Contact me at brooke[at]circleofsecurityinternational[dot]com