Too Shy? One Child’s Journey from Wallflower to Winner

Jessie when she was a shy child

Shy Children Breaking Out of Their Shells

Dr. Robyn Silverman

I’ve received an interesting question from a concerned father after I posted an article about 10 tips for working or parenting shy children. “Have you ever really seen a shy child who came out of her shell?” Yes I have.  It’s a true story that I tell when I present on working with all different kinds of students at national conferences. And today, I’d love to share it with you.

I know parents have been a little alarmed about what might happen to their shyer children as they grow up.  DO they grow “out of it?” This concern has grown since the news came out this July about babies who were born too prematurely are more likely to grow up to be timid and less likely to get married and have children.

Eight year old Jessie was the quintessential wallflower. Short with straight brown hair, she always stood in the back line, last person on the right. If she didn’t have a wall to stand behind, her body language seemed to create one.

Her teacher, Guro Jason, made sure to start noticing her. Slowly at first, he made eye contact. He provided an encouraging word. He nodded at her from across the room.

Overtime, Jesse showed that her focus was sharp and her skills were clean. Her instructor began to spotlight her during class. “Great execution, Jessie. Great finesse!” He turned the class’s attention towards her as an example, even where she stood, in the back line near the wall. She would tell us later, no teacher ever really noticed her before.

Jessie’s hard work earned her a spot in the Black Belt Club. Her new uniform seemed to make her stand taller than she did before.

One week, Guro Jason asked to talk to Jessie after class. “I’ve been impressed with your consistent good work in class. If I called on you, would you be open to being my demo partner for one of the skills we’re learning in class? Jessie looked nervous, but, as she would months later, “he made me believe in me.” So Jessie quietly said “yes, sir.

Jessie doing a demonstration of some stretching

Before class, Jason pre-framed Jessie. At first, he asked her to show an easy stretch that he knew she felt comfortable executing. But later, he would ask her to show some of her stick work, which, while new, she seemed to catch onto quickly.

After a few weeks of having Jessie demonstrate the same drills over and over, Guro Jason had a special request. “Would you be open to leading the entire intermediate level (across classes) in this stick drill during graduation? Graduation was performed in front of hundreds of people. She looked petrified. Still, she said a little more loudly that before, “yes sir.

Jessie practicing for graduation

Jessie practiced everyday.  She was focused.  She was ready.

At graduation, Jessie stood in front of 125 other students. Set” Guro Jason yelled. And something in this little girl clicked. She reached within herself and called out, loudly enough to fill the middle school gym, “Yes, Sir!” Her counts were loud, her eyes, focused, and her movements, flawless. People clapped and cheered. Her parents cried. OK, I cried.

After graduation, people remarked how martial arts transformed Jessie into a different kid. But I had to correct them. By allowing her to take on a leadership position that fit her skill set, in her own time, we were allowing her to transform herself from wallflower to winner.

Thanks for visiting! Please give us your tips for working and parenting children who seem shy, nervous, or timid.  And if you have a child who may seem a bit shy, please contact me and I would be happy to give you a list of Powerful Words member schools by you.  It’s a great opportunity for children to realize their own potential in their own time.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

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