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Don't write me off

Now you see me, now you don’t?

But I’m here all right, just a tiny bit invisible.

I like being this way. I know you don’t.

Why blame you, most parents of kids like me feel the way you do.

I’m the shy child.

It used to be okay to be me. Not today though. Shyness is the new social bad. Like some delinquency. An inadequacy that must be addressed, treated, cured. Never a trait that was top of the pops, it’s become a painful problem, a force to be feared. Welcome to my world which has no room for quiet. It’s timidity versus temerity.

At a birthday party last evening the shiny jacketed organiser screamed, “Louder, louder, I can’t hear you”. In a room already full of noisy classmates. I didn’t want to shriek. So he kept pointing a finger and yelling, “What kind of boy are you yaar, shout if you want to win a prize!”

Of course I wanted a prize. Still, there was his condition. I couldn’t do it. Shout is out for me. It’s not as if I don’t feel like raising my voice. I simply can’t.

May I share what I can do?

I could speak my mind — if they’d let me. I’m sure of what I say, even mildly.

I could greet people — if they’d hear me. I’m interested even if it doesn’t seem so.

Funny thing is that my tomboy sister has it easier. Way to go girl, she’s told.

Stop being such a girl, I’m told. He cheers sis for shooting her school football team goals. He’s after me for refusing to give up piano and painting. “You’re meant to be a man,” he taunts. Yesterday he added, “Call yourself a brother — one more Raksha Bandhan day passes but can’t think of you ever protecting your sister!”

They once dragged me to a clinic. To be studied. With something called the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), a psychometric test of preferences. It checks personality on four counts. One is the Introvert/Extrovert Score. Every child’s innately one or the other, the counsellor said. The damage is done when parents or teachers force a move over to the other side, usually from introvert to extrovert.

She was great, the therapist lady. Told them things like shy children are attentive without saying a word. That many of us have an inner peace. Slow to warm to strangers, once comfortable we’re wonderful. We take time to form a friendship but then it’s for life. We are born listeners too, she added. Steady arbitrators in a dispute. Our calming influence shows a peer group good ways to manage conflict.

The parents piped down a notch after that. My mother had even showed my father what Mehmet Oz, the author and host of The Dr Oz Show has to say: “All children have their own lens through which they view the world. If that lens refracts things in the softer focus of the introvert, parents must accept that. The occasional social nudge is fine for a withdrawn child. A full, unreserved embrace is better still.”

Don’t look at me without seeing me. Don’t hear me without listening to me.

Don’t, whatever else you do, say “Don’t be shy.” It’s what I am.

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens. Reach her at: mehermarfatia@gmail.com

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