Please Don’t Use the ‘S’ Word Around My Children!


I hate it when people use the ‘s’ word around my children.

You know the one. The word that goes S-H…


Yes, shy.  I prefer the term “cautious” or “reserved.”  My kids are both. I’m okay with that.  Or, I’m becoming okay with that.

To be honest, it used to embarrass me.  I secretly hoped my children would be the little ones who, when introduced to someone new, would smile politely, extend a hand to shake (or curtsy) and offer some pleasantry like, “So very pleased to meet you.”

Instead, my children normally stand as close to my legs as possible and avoid eye contact.  My oldest adds a scowl, just to make sure said new person understands the sincerity of his disdain.  As hard as a I may try to prompt them with a, “Can you say hello?” or “Can you tell them your name?”  Most of the time my pushing yields tighter grips.

I could get upset.  I could worry that people will think I’m some sort of ogre who hasn’t taught her children proper manners.  I could wonder if somehow I’ve failed as a parent because my children don’t act like they own the place when they walk into a new situation.

Or, I could do what, sadly, I’ve been known to do on occasion, and I could (out of my own embarrassment) apologize for their behavior.  “Oh, I’m sorry, he has a hard time with new people,”or some variation there of.

But, now I’m taking a different path and adjusting how I handle my children when they encounter the new.  I recently read a great article on shyness and my perspective has changed. Completely.

I’m glad my children are reserved.  It’s good that they have the internal sense to check out a situation or a person before they jump right in or engage.  Their caution could actually be helpful if ever they are approached by a stranger who intends to harm them.

I’ve never had any of my children run away at Target or take off across a parking lot.  Quite the opposite actually.  I’ve had them scream and whine that I was, “getting too far away” when I stepped 5 paces in front of them at the grocery store.  Their proclivity towards caution is probably making my life as a mom a whole lot easier.

What I think is amazing is that in an age where statistically almost 10% of adults are on some sort of anti-anxiety medication and countless others face some level of apprehension when encountering new situations and people, why we expect our children to be brazen and fearless?

Candidly, I get a little nervous when I meet new people.  You could say I’m a shy person in recovery.  My heart rate goes up when I’m in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers.  Why should I expect my children to be comfortable with the unknown when, honestly, I’m not?

So, as a formerly shy person I have a request.  If you insist on using the “s” word, how about not using it as a label?  If you want to say he or she is, “acting shy,” I could almost be okay with that.  But, I think it’s far more damaging for you to make my child wear a big old “I’m shy” tag then it is for you to feel slighted that my 4 year old won’t smile at you.

Let’s be honest, when someone says, “Oh, she’s shy” or, “He must be shy” it doesn’t sound like a good thing.  Kids are smart.  They get the negative tone.  They might not have extensive vocabularies, but they comprehend that “shy” is not code word for wonderful.

Now I’m more observant of just how often we are forced into situations where we have to apologize to strangers (or near strangers) for the fact that our children can’t instantly warm up to them and whatever “fun” they are offering.

Scenario goes something like this. Stranger babbles on about child’s features, behavior or clothing and then, when no response is received, finally says, “Oh, is he shy?” Or, worse yet, continues to try to get the child to talk by chiding, “Are you shy? Come on, don’t be shy…”

Yeah, that’ll work.

Then our little ones are faced with a dilemma.  They have a situation where they are anxious or even scared and uncertain but they are learning that the behavior natural to these feelings is not good or desirable behavior.  What?  Is that really what we want to teach them?

I don’t think so.

So, I’m working on comebacks that will help affirm my children and let them know mommy is on their side and not pushing them to be “insta-friends” with anyone.  But, I also want to be polite and respectful to new people we meet who, oftentimes, are just trying to be friendly.

Anyone have any ideas? What do you think?

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Originally an East Coast native, Heather Creekmore is a pastor’s wife living in Austin, Texas. Heather spent over a decade working in politics and marketing for non-profits before marriage and children. Now, through her own ministry, Heather speaks and writes to encourage Christian women who struggle with body image and comparison. Her first book titled, “Compared to Who?” (Leafwood, 2017) helps people find new freedom from comparison struggles. In her free time, Heather home schools four children, drives the soccer practice shuttle, makes (sometimes edible) freezer meals, competes on Netflix baking shows, and breaks grammar rules. Connect with Heather on Facebook or on her blog at: Compared to Who.


  1. Great great post! So true that is is a good quality for our children to learn how to discern to new people. I hope my kids stay as close to mama bear as yours do! 


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