Slow to warm up children need a little understanding and gentle guidance. Over the summer break, my daughter Grace told me she figured out that she has a slow-to-warm-up personality.
When I looked up the definition, I kind of differed with her. I don’t see her as shy or bashful —never did. She always seems to be engaging and ready to talk and share. But apparently not.
We get into fights over my zealousness to always ask for directions, or just chat with folks in public about something happening in front of us. Grace gets mad and says, “Why did you do that? It makes me uncomfortable.” In this instance, we were in Chicago and trying to figure out how to get to the Navy Pier. I saw a police officer and went over to him to ask how to get there. Grace walked away.
When I returned she was visibly upset. “Why do you do that? It catches me off guard. I hate when you do that,” she said. I didn’t get it. I was just asking someone in authority how to get somewhere.
Another time we were in an Uber and the driver said he was from Tanzania. She looked at me and whispered, “Don’t.” I did anyway. I told the driver my daughter had just been in Tanzania and he struck up a conversation about it with her. She didn’t like that either.
Slow-to-warm-up children are those who typically have a low activity level, according to the American Psychological Association. They hang back and often aren’t excited about something new, such as a toy. This lack of initial excitement about things can translate into a lack of excitement or sometimes anxiety about social situations.
Grace told me she feels like she is a slow-to-warm-up person because the agony she feels in transitions can be really painful. Over the past four years, she has transitioned through many things, including studying abroad in two different countries and then returning to school in the U.S.
“Even with the little instances, I still need a little bit more grounding than other people. It doesn’t mean that I cannot participate in life-changing and stressful activities, I just get overwhelmed more easily,” she says. “That’s what I realized in a group full of 13 girls on study abroad. I was always the one who would be nervous to speak the language and to immediately step into a new experience, household or opportunity.”
“I always do it because you all raised me to know that I should take every opportunity,” she adds, “but it can really be distressing.”
She reminded me of the morning she left for Tanzania after spending a year preparing for the trip — getting her clothes, vaccinations, packing list and everything together. I could tell she was frustrated as we backed out of the garage at 4 a.m., because as much as she wanted that experience, she was overwhelmed.
For kids like her, Grace says, “the key is to have parents help along the way. Even you helping put things in my bag made me feel less anxious about the transition, because it eased the burden of getting into it. It made my lonesome experience feel shared. When I walk into new experiences, it literally feels like I am jumping off a diving board and there is an equal chance that I could jump into the pool or onto the concrete. I prepare to jump in the pool, but there is always the chance to jump into the concrete.”
As for me walking up to people on the street and asking them questions, Grace says it doesn’t give her time to prepare a reaction. “It flusters me. I feel awkward. But if you simply told me, ‘Hey Grace, I am gonna go and ask this man for directions,’ instead of just doing it, I could mentally prepare myself.”
I guess those of us who have slow-to-warm children need to take a chill pill, listen more, consider our children’s feelings more and be patient. I will try.