There isn’t a shy gene—though you’d think there was one by how many kids are called this.
In fact, it’s quite common for parents and relatives and teachers to tell everyone (within earshot of the child) that Tommy or Tiffany or Jake is just shy whenever the child doesn’t want to say hello, play with other kids, or try something new. And since being shy is generally accepted as a plausible explanation for withdrawal, the label is not challenged.
But what registers in the child’s brain if he’s excused from interacting because “he’s shy”?
First, he learns that he doesn’t have to respond if he feels uncomfortable. Second, he doesn’t engage in opportunities to practice social skills (e.g. how to greet people). Third, he becomes less and less confident with how to interact with others each time that he withdraws.
And then, how does that brain map serve the child when he becomes older? Not well. In fact, one might argue that such a brain map makes it more probable that such kids become teens or adults who rely on alcohol or drugs to “fit in.”
So why does the shy myth perpetuate? Well, it’s possible that some (or most) of these kids have an underdeveloped pons. In such case, this primitive part of the brain is still wired to go into “flight” the second it feels threatened—even if such perception is distorted.
But since most parents aren’t aware of this connection, the child’s first withdrawal is merely noted as “he’s just being a little shy.” After that, such thinking becomes entrenched in the brain every time the child, once again, demonstrates “shyness” so that it has now become a learned response.
Such behavior is often further reinforced when parents allow the child to hide behind them, speak for them, and find other ways that, in truth, only further create the perception that the child is not capable of responding.
So, if we’ve been inadvertently encouraging shyness, how can we turn this around?
1) We tell our child we have been selling him short by thinking and telling others he was shy, that we’ve now learned ways we can help his brain feel more comfortable in situations—without retreating.
2) We quit speaking for our child, and we no longer become a safe haven (where they hide behind or cling to us in social situations).
3) We role-play situations at home so the brain is already familiar with what’s expected in social interactions. For example, if we know we are going to a family gathering, we practice saying hi to Aunt Evie and Uncle John (with stuffed animals or other willing participants) lots of times before we actually attend the event.
4) We start to incorporate phrases such as “Let’s give it a whirl” for new opportunities.
5) We actively seek opportunities for our child to share what he’s naturally adept at when he’s with others in order to help regain confidence and more likely experience positive interactions.
6) We praise and honor the child when doing any of the above, saying we’re glad he’s creating a brain map that allows him to trust us (e.g. why would we introduce him to someone we don’t want him to meet?) and share who he is with others.
Doesn’t that sound like something we’d want to happen for every child?
Here is a recap of all the wonderful, creative ideas parents submitted in the July 2011 Fresh Floor Time Ideas contest.
Kathy Akehurst Reed
We set up a domino chain reaction. Nate gets to set up a couple of dominoes during each break and when the creeping is done, he can set off the chain reaction. (It is also a visual for not having connections in the brain at first because the vertical dominoes don’t touch each other, but a highway is built in the end.)
Bridget Smith Witt
Reece and Spencer’s favorite creeping game is “Creeping For Berries.” We set up tiny plates used for wasabi, and instead I place a blueberry, raspberry, grape, etc. on them, as a surprise while creeping. They never know where they may end up, so they need to creep all over the downstairs looking. SOMETIMES there may be a mini-marshmallow, the signal that 30 minutes is up! This game usually gets two sessions of 30 minutes out of them!
A fun activity we do while creeping is getting the Nerf gun and making a target, and then trying to hit it after two laps. She also loves me to read her fairy tales and then we put new endings on the stories.
Jason Alan Robinson
We love to take Junior to the gym with us to creep. There are a ton of great surfaces for creeping and he loves to be like mommy and daddy and workout, so after he gets tired of creeping, we let him SAFELY use a piece of equipment under our supervision!
We used different types of plastic/rubber animals from the dollar store and put them in a bowl. We had the boys close their eyes and pick an animal, then tell us what they thought they had picked.
We are also going to pick Lego mini figures and put them in a bowl or put them together and then take one away and have them figure out which mini figure is missing. This is a take-off of the game we saw Sunday with Littlest Pet Shop. Our creeping/crawling game is iPad for Brain Highways using educational and fun games. We play the apps checkers, Stack the States, math apps, Angry Birds. It’s fun and it helps pass the time:) You could also use apps on your Droid phone or iPhone.
Cindy MacDonald Piggott
Our favorite creeping motivator is to make it a treasure hunt — each hidden clue found leads to today’s idea for our next vacation. A coin attached is the reward to put into our family vacation fund jar. Killing two birds with one stone and it gets sisters involved and excited about it, too!
I’ve stopped clocking floor time. I timed a lap and that’s the daily goal. In our case, 100 times around the coffee table. Kids choose how many laps in between activities, and no adding time to make sure 45 minutes is done. Just get your laps in. And, it’s visual: for each lap, a penny goes in the glass, so you see progress LOL! It takes less time to get the same 45 minute floor time, and there is real excitement as more pennies are in the jar.
Wyatt’s creep/crawl activity is singing — he changes the words of songs to fit Brain Highways, and they are never the same. For example, the James Brown song, “I feel good, like I knew that I would, if I creeped.” Or Ke$ha, “Wake up in the morning crawl, around the floor, I got the Brain Highways.” Raskall Flatts works: “Life is a Brain Highway, I gotta crawl all night long.” And of course, a lot of Elvis songs will work: “I ain’t nothing but a crawl dog, little bit more creeping . . .” He does sound effects too!
Jordan’s creep/crawl is down the red carpet. From US or other magazines, we get photos of different people wearing the same dress. There are multiple levels of play. Level 1 – what are the differences? See how many you can spot in between laps. Level 2 – look, store it in your mind’s eye, and then answer questions without looking. Everything is fair game – background, hair, jewelry. Level 3 – open discussion, for example, why do you think she got more votes than her? Do you agree?
Creep & Crawl Game: First time, creep to card with picture side & one word. Put it in mind’s eye and think of rhyming words. For every rhyming word you give on a lap back, you get a penny. Then read out loud the rhyming words and do another lap. See how many more you get on the next lap. Go to the next card when you’re ready to give it a whirl. Jordan says this is funnier than it looks in print — trust me!
Kaitlyn and Nolan like musical I Spy. They have an I Spy puzzle that has cards for what you find. We spread the cards around and they creep. Once the music stops, they flip a card to see what they have to find and creep to the I Spy puzzle and find what is on the cards.
Lynette Staples Helmer
Seth’s favorite activity is listening to a Goosebumps audiobook on his iPod while creeping. I also make him a scrumptious berry protein shake that I move around the floor to help cool him down.
An original activity that Nate came up with is, he spins and while he’s spinning, I bounce a raquet ball to him. He has to stop, track the ball, and try to catch it. And I will vary the location of the bounced ball. He likes this one a lot!
Nate likes me to read to him while he’s creeping. We’ve read several books about baseball already. About every 4 or 5 minutes, he’ll take a short break and we will do something vestibular or proprioceptive during the break. For example, pulling at silly putty, standing on the balance board, or digging into raw pinto beans to find a ring. Sometimes we will incorporate eye tracking exercises, or math problems. Dice are good for random simple math problems. Either add the sum of the dice or multiply the numbers that come up.
Madison’s idea: Creep outside doing a crazy 8, while your parents shoot a water gun at you.
Creative ideas: Before beginning, get eye contact and thank your child for their participation. Spice it up with — music, block towers to knock down, balloons, bubbles, stamps, stickers, friends, obstacle courses, change of scenery or route, story telling, wall charts, short poems, hidden, unexpected treats, a secret surprise when all done, a special privilege, massage, and a place to jot down improvements along the way.
Simple creeping game: All you need is some dice and something to keep score with. Roll the dice (you can use one or two) and add up your points. You get to roll as many times as you want, to get a higher number, but if you get a “one,” you lose all your points for that turn. Depending on time, you can play up to 100 or turn by turn. Of course it’s always funner when the parent doesn’t win and has to take a lap!
As the days get hotter, reward your child with squirt guns or spray bottles of water. On a hot day we “spritz” Sam regularly as he creeps, and he loves it!
Put your creeping lane outside for a change of pace. I duct taped two 6×8 pieces of vinyl from Home Depot together to make a 16-foot creeping lane. I put it at the top of my driveway so it’s fairly level (not like I have shown it in the photo–finally wised up about this!), and shaded by the garage in the afternoon.
P.S. Disclaimer: I made this sign myself without permission from BH. We are in a very well-traveled part of the neighborhood and I thought it would be a good way to share what we are doing.
Hire teenagers to help with floor time. I have a fleet of them since Sam doesn’t do the floor work on his own. They are creative and fun, and it is a great way to build self-esteem in the teens, too.
Rebecca Woodland Christensen
Bubble Pop! Evie’s original creeping idea: Mom blows bubbles and she creeps/crawls to them. If she gets there in time, she gets to catch and pop the ones that are left! This has helped us immensly with stalling on the floor! : )
Cook, Creep, Crawl – The kids love to bake or cook with me, so they take laps around the kitchen in between adding ingredients or following directions for making something. For example: measure the flour, take a lap. Pour flour in the bowl, take a lap. Crack an egg…you get the picture Hope some of you find this activity as enjoyable as we do.
Kiley Green is my guest blogger this week. She is the director of the Brain Highways Center in Denver, the facilitator of the international Brain Highways online program . . . and she’s also my daughter.
Hunter was having a hard time listening. He was acting out of control around his peers and clearly showing defiance.
But that changed as soon as I adopted a calm, assertive demeanor, held him accountable, and built into the structure to make it easier for him to comply.
Is Hunter a six- or seven- or eight-year-old boy? Nope. Turns out that Hunter is not even a kid. He’s an eighty-five pound Weimaraner/Doberman rescue dog that I take on runs.
So why is this of interest to parents? Well, if it’s possible to use Brain Highways techniques to get compliance from a dog (who is nonverbal and has a less-developed cortex than humans), then it’s more than possible with kids.
What did I do?
1) I built into the structure. I knew Hunter had a hard time with small critters, so why was I running him first thing in the morning . . . when every rabbit and squirrel was out? (This was a “duh” moment for me.) So I changed our running time until later in the morning. I also couldn’t expect Hunter to suddenly understand that he wasn’t supposed to drag me into the bushes every time he saw a squirrel. So I used a different leash that enabled me to keep him close to my side.
2) I made it clear who was in charge the second I picked him up from the kennel. I didn’t let him jump from the back seat into the front, and yes, I even did a running dialogue with him all the way to the trail that I was the boss, not him.
3) I was consistent. As soon as Hunter started to cross my path on the trail, I used some old soccer skills, and pushed him back into place. I told myself that I was not mean, since ultimately it was in Hunter’s best interest to run at my side. The less afraid I was to run him, the more times he would get out, and the more likely another runner would take him home for good.
4) I adopted a new demeanor. Instead of a presence that conveyed I was petrified of being dragged across the trail if we saw a small animal, I was ready to silently sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” if one appeared. I knew that if I wasn’t calm and in control at all times, how could I expect Hunter to be that way? In contrast, if my demeanor stayed calm, I was sending the message to Hunter that he could still control himself, even with innate hunting instincts. Guess what? It’s definitely hard to give off nervous vibes while singing about cows, and pigs . . .
5) I viewed Hunter’s potential, rather than focused on his limitations. As soon as he even slightly tugged on the leash, I tugged him back and told Hunter, “You are better than that.” Worked like a charm.
No surprise that we had our best run—ever—and have continued to have more good runs since then.
I wish this was a completely happy-ending story. Is Hunter changing? Yes. But I guess not fast enough. Just found out that he’s only allowed to stay one more week at the kennel since he got in a fight with another dog. Not sure if there is even another temporary place for him to go.
Thank goodness parents can adopt a calm, assertive demeanor, hold kids accountable, build into the structure . . .and give their children the grace of time to show their true potential.
If those three words are part of our child’s arsenal, we want to end that sooner than later. And we can. Here’s how.
1. We don’t take the words personally.
Since it’s been said we lose 50 IQ points when we’re angry, I acknowledge it’s challenging not to take such words to heart—especially when we recall how many diapers we’ve changed, cuts we’ve bandaged, stories we’ve read—and more. But the minute we go there, we’re on the defensive. The minute we’re on the defensive (for anything), we’re no longer on sure footing.
2. We defuse any distorted power those words may have in our home.
To do so, we now respond in a way that’s completely different than before. The idea is to react as though the phrase triggers something positive in us. For example, after hearing our child say, “I hate you!” we can smile and respond, “I’m so in the mood for hearing four-letter words that start with /h/ today. Let’s see . . . what else is there besides hate? There’s hood, hand, hold . . .”
3. We challenge all family members to eradicate the word “hate” from daily conversations.
We sit down with the entire family and explain that there’s already too much hate in the world. We also express this concern: Every time we spew hate, we create a brain map that says this is an okay response whenever we don’t like something.
Then we own up if we’ve ever used hate in reference to something, saying we’ve now decided to end doing so.
Next, we establish a kitty. Family members (including the adults) agree to put a set amount of money (e.g. $1.00) or a chore card (e.g. good for doing someone else’s chore in the house) into the kitty every time they say the word hate. (We can also include other negative words, such stupid and shut-up, as part of this challenge). The family member with the least infractions for the week . . . wins the kitty. If there is nothing in the kitty (i.e. the goal), the whole family celebrates in a way that is appealing to all.
4. We ponder what might improve our overall relationship with our child.
What’s the true emotion behind an “I hate you” statement? Is our child regularly feeling unacknowledged or dismissed? Is our child feeling that he’s often judged or denied something he finds to be justified? In other words, what has previously gone down that our child is now wanting to “hurt” us with such words? We can’t gloss over this piece of reflection if we really want this to end.
5. We teach and role-play alternate cortex ways to respond (to move forward).
We share this with our kids: When we use the word hate, it’s actually like wearing a neon sign on our forehead that says, “I want something to change.” But that’s not even possible if we go straight to the knee-jerk reaction of hating (whatever). So, role-play how to express what we’re actually feeling and needing in a situation. For example, we might say: “I’m feeling really discouraged because I think I cleaned everything as you asked, but you’re still saying I can’t go play with my friends.”
When considering all of the above, we have the opportunity to turn a “hateful” comment into something very positive.