Question: My 4 year old daughter, in classroom situations, clams up and tell everyone she is shy. She just started AWANA, for the second half of the year, she acted the same. I asked the teacher how she was and they say very quiet. Mindy does recite her verses, obey and play the games, but otherwise does not participate like the other kids. She just sits there and listens, but says nothing to the kids or the teachers. This is also the way it is in Sunday school. In normal every day life, she stays at home with her 2 year old sibling, and has play dates with few friends at a time. She is completely fine with them.
Is it OK to tell her she needs to be talkative and that she will get a spank if not? I certainly don’t want to traumatize her or make her something she is not.
Response: That's a great question. I'm sure many teachers wouldn't mind having more kids like yours in the classroom. There are some definite advantages to having a compliant child who is not always trying to get noticed and grab attention.
There is nothing wrong with shyness in and of itself. Some of us are more outgoing (like my wife), and some would be pretty content to live by themselves on a deserted island (like me). If the talker talks way to much, that is not good (Proverbs 10:19 When words are many , sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.) However we can also praise, encourage, teach, and instruct with our words. So it is not good for a shy person to be quiet at the expense of not blessing others.
Talking too much needs to be overcome, as does a fear of talking to others.
In later years, if she is unwilling to overcome her shy tendencies, it may make it harder for her to feel like she fits in, and if she doesn't feel like she fits in to some extent. It may be easy for her to develop a low self-esteem. It is also important to be mindful that one of our chief purposes on the earth is to tell other people the good news of Christ. While talking to someone about spiritual matters is a fearful thing for most people, it is important to be able to overcome those fears. The fears may never go away completely, but we must be able to work through them. So your concern is well founded, although you certainly have a lot of time to help your child in this area.
I'd view this as an opportunity to coach her. I'd give specific instructions as to what you expect, and I'd give pointers as to what to say. Here are a few ideas:
Encourage your child to sit next to the new kids in Sunday school and to be their friends. Help her see that she has a role to play in touching other people's lives. This should help her take her eyes off of herself and to be more concerned about helping others.
Foster relationships with a few other kids. Have some other kids in her classes come over, maybe one at a time, to play together. She may be more comfortable with a more talkative child. I think we all want to have a friend and to feel like we belong in different social settings. Having a few close friends might make her feel safer and more comfortable talking in those group settings.
You may want to give her specific assignments with specific instruction. "I'd like you to go over and meet that little girl. I want you to ask her what her name is, how old she is, and if she has a pet." Or when someone comes to the door you can ask her to say, "Hi." At dinner you could have her ask a guest, "Can I get you something to drink," or "Can I take your plate for you." Each interaction will be a success and will help her gain some confidence.
We probably wouldn't spank unless she was in direct violation of specific instruction. For instance, if we asked one of our kids to say "Hi" to someone and she didn't, we'd probably spank for that. However, if we asked her to be more talkative in class and the teacher said she still wasn't talkative, we wouldn't spank for that.
I’d keep working with her gently. Although she may never be a chatterbox, she’ll come around. With involved and loving parents I sure wouldn’t expect your child to struggle with this her whole life.
I would definitely not allow her to verbally describe herself as shy. Shyness tends to be driven by a self-focus, and I wouldn’t want her to develop her identity around this. You might reword it for her and teach her to say, “Excuse me. I am working on learning to be more comfortable in group settings.” This rewording even sets her up to view herself in a healthy way, with a healthy future.