Beautiful Reluctance

An Open Letter to Those Who Are Quick to Label:

Our daughter Katie is the most observant person I’ve ever known.  As a newborn, we were amazed by just how alert she was and how she would track anything that was going on around her.  As she has grown, she has only continued to surprise with us with all that she catches on to.  Honestly, we can slip very little by her.  Her sparkling hazel eyes take everything in.  She picks up on nuances and subtleties that many adults miss.   

She is also rather reserved.  This is her personality. She watches and tries to figure everything out before she will participate in most activities.  Once she understands how things work, she joins in and giggles and acts silly like all kids. 

Until then?  You have to earn her trust.  Let her get to know you and give her room to figure you out.  When she decides that you are someone she is comfortable around, her heart opens up and she is generous with her smiles, her laughter, and her affection.

In the meantime, please don’t refer to her as shy. 

Don’t label her shy. 

Don’t ask us in front of her if she is shy. 

Please, don’t even use the word shy around her.

Here’s why:

The labels that we place on children impact how they come to see themselves. If we tell her that she is shy, she will soon tell herself that she is shy, and that won’t do. If she believes herself shy, she might possibly hide behind that label, rather than continuing to observe until comfortable and then participate.

Being reserved is not a character flaw.  She is not defective. 

So instead of calling her shy, perhaps you could say that she is discerning?  Or observant? Or reserved?  Or reluctant.  You may even call her hesitant. 

But, I would prefer that you just call her Katie. 

She is lovely and she is our daughter.


  1. I really like this post. I think you make an excellent point. I am an introvert – which means only that I need alone time to "recharge" and that being in the presence of others will wear me out – and while introverts are a minority, we're not defective. I've heard many extroverts talk about introverts as if there is something wrong with us. There is not. I'm good with people, I am not shy, but I need to be away from people at times.

    Besides, kids should be a little discerning. It helps keep them out of trouble…kinda. My son is also like this.

  2. Nichole

    Being the parent of a more reserved child actually has its perks…I don't have to worry about her being a follower, or misbehaving because she sees other kids doing so.

    I'm hoping that as she gets older and is surrounded by peer pressure, her reluctance will serve her well.

    She is such an amazing child that when people diminish her, I want to either cry or strangle them, depending on the day. ;)

  3. andrea

    love this! thank you for writing this. the way you describe your daughter reminds me of my 3yr old. she is cautious & thoughtful, but also social, outgoing & wildly funny. and not shy :)

  4. LOVE this post! I had never thought of labels that way, but you are 100% correct. By telling someone they are shy, perky, dorky, cool – whatever – they become that trait. When everyone is so much more than one single label. I'm going to remember this with my own daughter. Thanks!

  5. Lyndsey Bustos

    Katie is anything but "shy". She is beautiful, contagious, wonderfully old fashioned, silly, funny and everything in between. Yes she can be analytical in new situations but she will shine with the best of her peers once she has warmed up.
    Thanks for the reminders on labels Nichole. I will make sure to always be mindful with the families I work with and with my own little Max. He's been very silly lately and I think he is living up to the label!!! Yikes!

  6. Rebecca

    Love love love this post. Our children pick up on the things people say, and its very important to remember that. Thank you so much for the gentle reminder.

  7. ksluiter

    this is a great post! And so true. People love to label things and then that is just how they are. katie is shy. there. labeled. but that is not true! maybe it is at first, but she is not JUST shy. she is a lot of other adjectives too. Labels are scary and almost never completely right. This is a great lesson to teach our children!

  8. J.C

    wonderful post! my almost 2yr old is just like this and I get so frustrated with people labeling her shy, clingy, stand offish – she's young, and she likes to get a feel for situations and people before involving herself. Nothing wrong with that. It's a good quality. Once she feels comfortable she is all smiles and giggles!

    Thank you for sharing :-)

  9. Marian

    Bravo! Yes! Labels drive me crazy and you are right, the little ones pay attention. I cannot stand people saying our daughter is a "pretty girl." She is a million other things! She talked about "pretty" for a while, what was pretty, isn't that pretty, am I pretty? Ugh. Think of something REAL and ORIGINAL to say, please, or just keep it to yourself, people.

  10. theresa

    Good for you! You're daughter is so cute! My 3 year old is super out going and has yet to grow a verbal filter. I get the Hyper comment all the time. Actually, she's not hyper, she's out going. 90% of the time I have no issues with her sitting still. ARGH!

    Again, good for you.

  11. So true and said so very well.

  12. Lori

    I often call myself an "unwilling extrovert."

    People who meet me don't realize how much effort it takes to be so animated and outgoing.

    And she…is amazing. And will be the strong woman she is meant to be, whether loud and outgoing or quiet and deep.

  13. Susie

    Beautiful and so very true.

    Without realizing it we so often label and judge.

  14. Bravo! labels are just too easy and all to often pretty much untrue. we have layers and if we're slapped with one big label, how will we ever find all those lovely layers?

  15. kris

    People love labels.

    Both of my daughters have been called shy at some point, my older daughter Maj more often than my younger daughter. Maj is reserved and cautious and particular about those with whom she shares herself.

    And I love that about her.

    I told her once that if she ever got really annoyed about being called shy? She could just tap me on the shoulder and I would explain to the judging labeling person that SHY?

    In our house?

    Is short for SHYING . . . away from people she doesn't like.

    She has tapped my shoulder once or twice.

  16. Nichole – Thank you for saying this so much more eloquently than I can and for sending me the link!!!!

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