Introverted three year old and family get togethers
July 6, 2014 12:36 PM   Subscribe

My introverted three year old refuses to engage at family gatherings. But how do I teach her to be polite? And what exactly is going on in her head?

I like to believe that I am fairly attuned to what is going on in my child's feelings and thoughts. But this is a bit baffling, so please share your insights! Also, how I should react if I want to get her to behave like a polite human being? Thank you!

My three year old is an introvert, child of introverts. No question about it. I'm used to her hanging back when meeting strange people, or too many people, or hiding behind me when she is in the spotlight (when asked a question and then everyone stares at her expectantly, for instance.). Whatever. She's doing great in kindergarten, and to my surprise even enjoyed her birthday party there (cake and singing).

But I am baffled why she acts up so much when we have family get togethers. We're talking about grandpa and grandma, grandma2, great aunt and uncle. And us. We see them every two weeks as a group! My kid spends the day with grandma and grandpa twice a week and sees grandma2 once a week, and she loves them individually.

But as soon as we are in a group, she hides her face in my lap, clings to me and squrims and moans instead of saying hello. No hellos, no thank yous, no direct responses, only unhappy snarling. Eventually she opens up, but prefers to snag one grown up from the group and go away with that person to play in private. She absolutely hates sitting at the table with everyone and prefers to eat no cake at all (!) rather than eat it with everyone. She even hated it when we all sang happy birthday for grandpa!
She did all this today, despite spending the whole morning talking about grandpa's birthday, and drawing him a lovely birthday card.

Contributing factors:
- she hates being the center of attention, which she is when her family is around her.
- she may be a little jealous as well, though, because her seven month old sister is of course snagging a lot of attention herself and seems to utterly enjoy it. The behaviour predates baby sister, but may have gotten worse. Maybe.
- she doesn't like great aunt for incomprehensible toddler reasons. Great aunt is the most discrete person I know, and pretty much lets her be, while making low key overtures and giving presents once in a while.
- I get the impression she's hamming it up a little. Like, she found something that works, she's getting something out of this, but what? More attention?

Given all this, what's my best strategy? I don't need her to be sociable, or eat cake with us or whatever, but I do want her to observe basic manners. This whole "Arrrrgh don't look at me don't talk with me" thing is getting old. And I think three years old is a point where I can expect a bit more.
posted by Omnomnom to Human Relations (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Given that you know she hates being the center of attention, you think she's jealous of baby sister for... Being the center of attention? Even though this predates baby sister?

Big groups of giant people bombarding their emotions down at you all at once can be overwhelming and it sounds like she doesn't know how to deal with it yet.

I think you need to step back and remember that even if she's walking and talking and seems like a little person she's still a baby, who doesn't have the ability to be polite and uncomfortable at the same time. (I know you know this, but I also know it can be hard to remember) I think helping her learn how to be comfortable will make it easier for her to learn how to be polite.
posted by bleep at 12:46 PM on July 6, 2014 [13 favorites]

When I was a kid, sitting at the table (or in the living room, or wherever) while the grownups chatted was sheer torture. Can you compromise and maybe ask her to say hello to everyone and then let her go do something else with someone one on one?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 12:56 PM on July 6, 2014 [10 favorites]

Whelp, you mentioned everyone in the family gets 1:1 time with her already, I would just ignore it. If she doesn't want to eat cake (or dinner, or whatever) at the table, that's ok, she knows where the Cheerios are. She needs to sit down to say grace (or whatever) at the beginning of the meal, but then if she just absolutely can't stand it, she can leave. Your family already knows your little person, they should be understanding of her feelings of social insecurity. They can still ask her any questions they want to, but if she doesn't reply, they should move on to another conversation (I realize there might be a bit of a tendency to lovingly tease her just a bit in some families).

I think by stressing the "be polite at family gettogethers", you may achieve the opposite result. So - let her be her Lil' Omnomnom self and worry about this if this trend continues as she gets older.

I think much like a shy puppy you may find that she will come back and participate in a limited way as long as she has a place to retreat to. But definitely no cake or other special party stuff if she's hiding. :)

And cut yourself (and her!) some slack. I'm an introvert, as a kid I was extraordinarily gregarious and made friends with every single person I met. My sister was shy and CRIED when people talked to her. As an adult, she makes her living through her social skills - she is friendly, extroverted, and friends with everyone. Who knows what little Omnomnom will grow into? I'd just say she's being a kid right now.
posted by arnicae at 12:59 PM on July 6, 2014 [15 favorites]

Could it be a sensory issue? When she's with a bunch of awesome grownups, there are tons of people vying for her attention and she can't figure out who to focus on and it's all very overwhelming and difficult to process? I find groups kind of tough for this reason, and I remember it being much worse as a kid. Parties with lots of people talking at the same time and loud singing and the like were especially bad.

If that's it, then I think your best bet is to teach her to remove herself politely. She's three, so she's a little young for this, but at some point I realized that I could pretend to go to the bathroom and that was an ok way to get away when I was feeling overwhelmed.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:01 PM on July 6, 2014 [13 favorites]

Sure, she doesn't have to sit at the table. It's the "hello" part we're having difficulties with, and the generally not replying to anything except for angry noises.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:01 PM on July 6, 2014

Three seems a little young to be forcing this issue. I bristled at being forced to socialize when I was much older than her and much better equipped to understand why it was important. As an adult, I still don't like to be at the center of attention, and I still would rather talk to people one-on-one.

I totally get wanting to teach her manners, but maybe come back to this when she's a little older?
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:02 PM on July 6, 2014 [17 favorites]

Can you give her a place to retreat ?

So for example, beforehand, ask her to say hi to everyone. If she needs to or wants to, then she can sit outside and look at the tree, or play in a back room, whatever.

You could try to remind her what she liked about her birthday (ie, everyone sang) or smiled at her, or whatever. Then ask if she could try to do the same for her grandfather, just say the words happy birthday. Then, permission to retreat.

Speaking as a former introverted child, who did not have the words to ask for or articulate this many, many years ago: permission to retreat after the brief introductions and interactions.
posted by Wolfster at 1:09 PM on July 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Alternatively: permission to acclimate to the situation somewhere quiet and not-overwhelming, and then when she's feeling comfortable, she can come in and say hi.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:12 PM on July 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

If someone's three year old did this at a get together where I was, I would put it down to "she's three" and move on. Toddlers are still working on integrating a lot of sensory input and learning how to handle a bunch of different things at once, and that can lead to getting overwhelmed, which a three-year-old doesn't really have the tools to handle. If she were struggling elsewhere it might be a thing to look into, but if she's not then I'd try to scale back expectations until you hit something she's comfortable with and able to be non-snarly about, then work up from there.
posted by Sequence at 1:13 PM on July 6, 2014 [20 favorites]

You're forcing her into a situation you know makes her uncomfortable - she's a bit young to be told to just suck it up. Maybe she could play in her room by herself and see her relatives one at a time.
posted by missmagenta at 1:14 PM on July 6, 2014 [14 favorites]

Honestly just reading the part about being the center of attention with all those older relatives looking on skeeved me out, and I'm 31! I don't mind being the center of attention on my terms, but at that age NOTHING is on her terms and all those people fawning over her is probably really uncomfortable. Even if she sees them all the time, there's something intimidating about a bunch of giants looming over you and wanting you to sit on them/hug them/kiss whatever. Yikes. I agree with the others who say give it some time and she's still a baby, and I'd even add that this might never be a situation in which she acts ideally.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 1:18 PM on July 6, 2014 [18 favorites]

I'm an introverted adult, and was once a deeply introverted, sometimes shy, child. So I really feel for your daughter here.

But I am baffled why she acts up so much when we have family get soon as we are in a group, she hides her face in my lap, clings to me and squrims and moans instead of saying hello. No hellos, no thank yous, no direct responses, only unhappy snarling. Eventually she opens up, but prefers to snag one grown up from the group and go away with that person to play in private.

I think your best solution here is no forced/mandatory greetings or group conversation. Obviously do ask her to say please and thank you so that she doesn't grow up w/o manners, but requiring a hello or a chat of a child who is obviously uncomfortable with that is a bit much in my view. On Friday I visited with my extended family, including my three-year-old (second?) cousin. She is pretty reserved, and no one makes her greet new people when we come in the door; she usually comes up to us individually of her own volition once she's sussed things out a bit.

To be honest, my adult reaction to group situations, even with people I really like, is not so very different from your daughter's. I hate it at first, do my best with friendly greetings and how-are-yous and small talk, then chat one-on-one or in small groups for the rest of the event. I'm old enough now to not snarl unhappily, but for me these gatherings are work, even with people I like.

Cut her some slack.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:21 PM on July 6, 2014 [21 favorites]

Ignore it. Everyone should ignore it as much as possible.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:26 PM on July 6, 2014 [10 favorites]

It's overwhelming. Think of it as the difference between talking to one or two people and public speaking. There are too many reactions for her to read simultaneously.

I wouldn't worry about it at all. Rather than respond I would ignore the situation. Responding reinforces the behavior.
posted by vapidave at 1:29 PM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Politeness is not really the home base of the toddler. I think as long as she's not biting anyone or pushing anyone physically, you've reached the reasonable expectation of a three year old. They don't have to engage with people if they don't want to and you shouldn't force her to. Allow her to set her own boundaries and respect that.
posted by inturnaround at 1:29 PM on July 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

My daughter is 3-1/2. I think age 3 does not get enough attention for how rough it can be. She has been in and out of terrible phases for the last 8 months. Here's some things I started doing with her prior to friendly gatherings, I'd tell her how to act and then we'd role-play. We also introduced the concept of a handshake and saying, "nice to see you!" We also talked a lot about saying 'nice' goodbyes because transitions are hard at this age and I always do enjoy being the mom bodily tearing a screaming child out the door and down to the car.

So, like the morning of or the night before, talk to her about it. Say, "hey, we are getting together with family tomorrow, I'd like for you to practice a nice hello and a nice goodbye. A nice hello is shaking hands and saying 'nice to see you' and you can give a hug to your friends and family too, if you like." Then, in the prescence of these folks you can say, "Little, would you like to practice your nice hello?" This tells the adults that there's a thing going on and to be patient. If your little does the snotty thing (she will) just calmly say, "ok, let me know when you're ready. I'm going to say my nice hellos now." Then model and try to ignore snotty behavior. You can even send her off to play. "I see you're not ready. Go read your book or color until you're ready for hellos."

But, of course, sometimes it'll work, sometimes it won't. Goodbyes are harder if the kid doesn't want to go but it made me feel better in the moment to have a script for both of us. And when it did work, when she pulled herself together, when she took a deep breath and said, "thank you for having me at your house. It was fun" after a play date, I nearly did a victory lap.

Some days all this repetition makes me bonkers but I think it will pay off once the overwhelming phase has passed. We have just been through such a tough phase. Oh, Lordy. 3 is not too young to learn this but it is a tough time to exhibit it.

Godspeed. :)
posted by amanda at 1:33 PM on July 6, 2014 [43 favorites]

Lifelong introvert: my parents made it clear that if I could just keep it together to say hi to everyone I could then run off and cocoon myself. She's 3; she doesn't need to be forced to answer everyone's cutesy questions or to sit at the table while the adults are being boring. Make it a system: you say hi, then you get to go.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:10 PM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wrote about my slow-to-warm three-year-old in this comment. Looking back on that time now, I remember really struggling with wanting both of us to be "good" at performative social politeness, but feeling very strongly that it was more important to be her advocate—her voice if she was too shy/overwhelmed to speak, her gentle defender to grown-ups who took offense, her encouraging coach in challenging situations. It was a hard line to walk, as I neither wanted to baby her nor stress her out more/push her beyond her limits. So it was a constant gauging and checking in. But by far the most important thing for us was the pre-event prep time—telling her about what was coming up, preparing her for what it would be like, going over acceptable options, planning for down time, etc.—and a recap afterwards, like a bedtime kind of chat about the day/situation to process things and have some reminders/recognition of surviving/having a good time/whatever ("thing X was uncomfortable but you did great, you thought thing Y would be scary but it turned out to be a lot of fun, wasn't it a good idea to take a break for a few minutes and then jump back into thing Z" etc.).

P.S. I'm happy to say now that she is a warm and friendly 15-year-old (who just got a metafilter account for her birthday!) who is confident and competent in social situations, has a great sense of humor, and is just generally awesome. :)
posted by mothershock at 2:11 PM on July 6, 2014 [25 favorites]

It sounds like her great aunt and great uncle are the ones she doesn't spend any one-on-one time with, and you say she dislikes her great aunt. Could she be acting up just because of the presence of one or both of them? It might be worthwhile to talk to her about them, to let her know it's ok not to like people, and to work on (non boundary-violating/-suppressing ways) she can interact with people she doesn't like (maybe just through roleplay or brainstorming ways to ignore them and concentrate on talking to people she does like).
posted by jaguar at 2:42 PM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I still hate being part of a group, sitting to a table to endure a meal with people, making eye contact, meeting relatives, etc, and I'm a lot older than your daughter. I do it now because I've learned coping mechanisms, but I'm as sure as sure can be that some people think I'm rude or surly or whatever.

Instead of making this about what your child, maybe make it about what your relatives can do to not stress her out quite so much. When you get to the party, don't make her say hello to everyone simultaneously. Take her round with you one on one when you're chatting to people, and let her say her hello's then.

Consider that she may have highly sensitive traits. I don't know whether or not I'm an HSP, but I do know that I can have difficulty processing the HUGE amount of information I get from meeting with someone.

My parents engaged in a huge amount of fuss and guilt tripping when I would behave as your daughter did. All that did was make me more resentful of them placing these ridiculous demands on me to do things that I obviously hated doing. I couldn't understand why they were shoving me into the spotlight and making me handle all of the sensory input I was getting. And it was all just to make someone else feel better, it didn't seem to benefit me at all. The world seemed to carry on spinning whether or not I spoke to people. It still does. I've managed to get through life just fine without being the worlds biggest social butterfly.

At three, she's just learning that she's actually an individual and what to actually do with that information. You're no longer able to completely control her, and maybe she's just being wilful. Yeah, she's able to act on her own now, but she's also able to make her own choices. Few of us adults want to be put in situations that make us uncomfortable, and we have the knowledge that it will eventually lead to good things. Your daughter (if she's anything like I was at that age) thinks of these gatherings as pointless wastes of time that lead to stress and uncomfortableness and have no value whatsoever.

This morning, when she was talking about her grandfather's birthday and drawing him a lovely card, she wasn't put into a very different situation, like she was later on in the day. The fact that she enjoys doing one thing doesn't mean she'll like doing another, even though those two things are related. Expecting her to enjoy being in groups when she quite clearly doesn't is fighting against who your child is. Right now, she doesn't like groups. You can't force her to like them. The fact that she would rather not eat cake than be around people speaks volumes - I remember doing the same thing once. In my own childish way, I was trying to show my parents how strongly I hated being in groups.
posted by Solomon at 2:45 PM on July 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

We taught our little one to give a tiny wave hello, if she didn't want to talk. I felt that met the intention of teaching politeness (it's polite to respond to someone) without getting us into uncomfortable territory of trying to force something on her that she really didn't want to do (talk to people she didn't know well). A little wave seemed do-able for her, and as a bonus, most adults found it charming.
posted by msbubbaclees at 2:53 PM on July 6, 2014 [10 favorites]

Having been an introvert myself, and having had an introverted child, I will give you a basic piece of advice my mother gave me:

The goal is not to have a well-behaved child. The goal is to raise a well-behaved adult.

Be the person you want her to be.

When you discuss the great aunt with your husband in your daughter's earshot, make sure you say positive things. Be kind not only TO your relatives, but when discussing your relatives. Be friendly and outgoing yourself.

Don't expect her to "behave." But do know she is observing everything. Know that if she talked about the birthday party, it mattered to her. She was working it out in her head. Don't make her unhappy that she didn't meet your expectations. Just make it clear what those expectations are.
posted by clarkstonian at 4:20 PM on July 6, 2014 [16 favorites]

As others have said, she's too young to comprehend or articulate her comfort level.

There is a difference between being taught to be polite and being taught that others' comfort is more important than your own boundaries.

Be her strongest ally in enforcing her boundaries so she can trust that you have her back when it's time to perform politeness.
posted by Schielisque at 4:53 PM on July 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Presenting: a true story, from when my niece was about two and a half. We were having Thanksgiving dinner at my brothers' house that year, and through some fluke the whole extended family all arrived at about the same time. We were all in the kitchen saying our hellos and such to each other; then my mother saw my niece hiding behind her mom's legs and said something to her like, "Oh, niece, I get it, it's kind of overwhelming with all these people showing up at the same time, isn't it?...You know, your Aunt EC was just like that when she was two also!"

When she said this, I was sitting clear across the room, a bit removed from everyone; I heard my mother say this and I thought, "yeah, and Aunt EC is STILL just like that today, at age 40!"

You say she's introverted. With introverts, whether they're family or not, it doesn't matter - it's still overwhelming to have all that attention suddenly thrust at you, especially if it's coming all at once. It's kind of like tropical fish - you don't get them home from the petstore and immediately throw them into a new tank; it's a totally different environment, and it's too much of a shock to the system. Instead, they need to gradually acclimate. Your child is probably the same way; she just needs some time and space to warm up to all the people suddenly being there. Even if they ARE family she's seen again and again and again; they weren't there five minutes ago and now suddenly they are. It's a change.

(My niece and I are still on the shy-and-reserved side; whenever I visit, she still needs a half hour or so of just hanging back and staring at me before she says anything. And I totally get that, so it's all good.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:22 PM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel you on the "hamming it up" thing. Adults IME accidentally encourage and reinforce weird behaviour in kids and also pigeonhole them in weird ways, and that can lead confused kids to start playing a role rather than behaving naturally.

I was once advised, when meeting kids, to wave at / greet them, and then ignore them. The theory was that if you ignore them they'll engage on their own terms, once they've observed you for a while and gotten comfortable. You might try advising your family to do something similar -- to treat your daughter like just another member of the gathering rather than making her the centre of attention, and to give her some space without making a big deal out of it. Not because your daughter needs ultra-special handling, but just because what she wants is probably not unreasonable.
posted by Susan PG at 7:09 PM on July 6, 2014 [10 favorites]

Three year olds are like this. I don't even think "introverted" has anything to do with it, and much less that she has introverted parents. Introversion is not a genetic condition. My best guess is that these sorts of behaviors are about the kid learning about boundaries, group dynamics, and the difference between their own impulses and concepts like "politeness", others' wishes, etc. A lot of being three is learning how to be a member of a group, and rebelling against that is part of it.

That said, the fact that this question is so filled with the I-word, and that you guys both identify strongly as introverts, makes me feel like it's possible that she's picking up something from you. Like maybe after family leaves she overhears you guys talking about not enjoying spending social time with family? Or maybe you're stressed out beforehand? Or maybe there's some subtle cue you're giving her that this particular type of social situation is scary and bad?

I also think that three is way, way young to expect "polite" or "appropriate" social behaviors in a large group of adults, in the way you seem to. Even something like not hiding behind you, saying please and thank you, etc. is really really a lot for a toddler that age.

I think you also buried the lede a bit re the new baby sister. You're lucky she's not throwing straight up tantrums, clothes are staying on, there doesn't seem to be any gross property destruction, etc. New babies can be a HUGE inspiration to act out, and can especially cause toddlers to regress behaviorally.
posted by Sara C. at 7:14 PM on July 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think a key to this is in your original post - she is overwhelmed, snarly, and trying to hide when you first get there, but eventually opens up, especially on a one-to-one level. I can see how the initial greetings phase would be totally overwhelming to a kid - it's louder than general conversation, people are generally standing up so she's not able to see their faces as easily, they might be cooing and making a big fuss over baby. What if you changed tactics for a few visits, and head right to a smaller private room (maybe even entering through a side door?) so that she can acclimate to being in a new place on her own? Or everyone can ignore her until she decides to come in on her own, or people can go see her on a one-on-one basis to say hello.

I think this will serve you in two ways: one, if she's truly overwhelmed, this will be a welcome respite for her. Two, if she's just hamming it up, she won't like this option either, and then you can use some of the other suggestions of practicing behavior to show her better ways to get attention. But yeah, she's three, and it doesn't sound like she's "acting up" so much as expressing some serious discomfort with a situation - good for you for noticing and wanting to help!
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:14 PM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ignore the behaviors that you do not like (that don't harm anyone) and give attention when she does something that you like. Her behavior sounds perfectly normal for her age and, since she does fine in kindergarden and one on one, nothing at all to worry about. Let her be herself. You can practice manners at home and she will use them when she is able.
posted by myselfasme at 7:32 PM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I got married, my inlaws got me a series of child development books written decades ago. There's one for each age, and this one is entitled "Your 3-year-old: Friend or Enemy."

Which is to say that 3 is really tough. There's a ton going on cognitively, and big emotions that can be scary, and an intense desire for control. So this behavior might not be about introversion, and just about being three.

My 3-year-old had always been sensitive to being overstimulated, and everything is definitely magnified now. We've responded by empathizing and brainstorming with her ("after we say hi, let's go play with Grandma"), hosting whenever possible, and just refusing invitations that have high potential to end poorly.

I totally understand wanting to teach good manners, but at this age I really think the primary goal is teaching them how to handle their strong emotions in healthy ways, including the desire for attention. If you are consistently polite, they will get the message on the manners front.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:39 PM on July 6, 2014

Personally I'd go with "It takes her time to warm up, I'm sorry. At the moment we're letting it ride, rather than create an expectation that she has to privilege politeness over feeling safe that we'll just have to try and dismantle again when she's 16." I found when my daughter was little and didn't want to talk to / kiss / hug people that saying something like "I hope she's this secure in her boundaries around physical affection when she's 16" got the point across without launching into a dissertation about gender differences in socialization.
posted by KathrynT at 7:39 PM on July 6, 2014 [15 favorites]

Introvert here. I'm only a little shy, sometimes. Only a little awkward, sometimes. My introversion is very much of the sort where I can't spend endless amounts of time in the company of others, and I really need time WITHOUT people in order to be sociable. If you saw me at a meetup, you would probably not ever tag me as an introvert. "Shy" or "awkward" are not at all how my introversion manifest; in general, being shy, awkward, or otherwise anxious in social situations are not what defines introversion: needing to recharge by being away from people is the defining factor. This may help you (in the future, if need be) find strategies.

But as soon as we are in a group,

She's three! She has a limited (or no) grasp of "proper" when it comes to manners and expected, reliable behavior. It's really up to you and the other adults she's encountering to accommodate her ability to "behave" (when the behavior is less than a tantrum). They (you) have way more conscious control over expectations and actions than she does, so please allow them to exercise their cognitive abilities as she does. If, as she gets older, her anxieties cause her troubles in ways that have negative impacts on her life, then by all means seeks strategies to mitigate them. But now? This isn't her being rude or hateful. This is her being her degree of developmentally appropriate.
posted by rtha at 9:38 PM on July 6, 2014

With my (formerly?) slow to warm kiddo, I've found that being his advocate helps a lot. I say things like: "Give him some space." "Looks like he doesn't feel like giving hugs right now." "Kiddo, would you prefer a high five?"

I've also found that giving him a script helps him figure out how to manage his stuff appropriately. I'd say something like: "It can be overwhelming to have all those grownups around all at once! You prefer playing with them one at a time, don't you? What if, when we get to Grandma's, you wave to everyone and go choose someone who might read you a book?" Then on the way over, I'd remind her of the plan and suggest she think about who she wants to play with first. (I'm okay with my kid pulling family members away to play with as long as no one person feels like they're stuck on kid duty.
(Now I have to go finish bedtime, but: empathy, advocacy, helping her plan ahead. And my own kid has started growing out of this at 3.5.)
posted by linettasky at 9:42 PM on July 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

I used to be - and still am, very much - very shy and introverted. These are different things! But anyhow, I remember acting like your daughter until I was six, at least. And I felt bad about it, because I knew my parents and other people expected me to be polite, but I was genuinely freaked out and couldn't handle it. Even now, honestly, when I meet new people I feel very much the same way and, regrettably, sometimes come off as standoffish and rude because in a state of anxiety, all I can do is react to the twin pressures of having to be polite and genuinely hating crowds and attention.

And now that I've decimated all impressions of my emotional maturity... I think it's definitely valid to consider that she may be hamming it up. I know I sometimes do, without very much intention to. But what I think I'm looking for when I act this way despite knowing I should not, and what really soothes me, is for someone to give me space to take my time to warm up and trust the people around me. If you can't help make that space, who will? This applies, I think, regardless of whether she's acting because of the new baby sister or out of inherent shyness.

I had a little wave too - heh, still do - that relieved the pressure of greetings and now function okay when travelling and meeting new people because a) I'm twenty and I can verbalise all these things and soothe myself enough to interact and b) I have friends and family who know that this is how it is and help me deal with it. I'm not saying that you should encourage it, but you can help her deal with it. All the best to you and your family. (:
posted by undue influence at 1:07 AM on July 7, 2014

I agree with the majority here, who says your child is too young to be expected to act politely. You might be interested to take a look at this FPP, OP. Quote:"It starts in childhood and never ends. Parents interrupt girls twice as often and hold them to stricter politeness norms."
posted by travelwithcats at 5:08 AM on July 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Eh, she's three. It's easy to get overwhelmed, and you should give a bit of latitutde and a chance to make choices.

"We're all going to sing happy birthday to Grandpa, do you want to do that with us, or do you want to sing to him privately?"

"We're all going to eat dinner together, would you like to join us, or would you rather have a PBJ in the kitchen?"

She may just be annoyed because she's being told what to do. Politeness is important, but don't demand a lot of it. "What's the magic word," should prompt a please or thank you. Don't expect her to say 'hi' to everyone right off the bat. Perhaps you can prompt her to do it one-on-one with individual people, "Granny is over there by herself, maybe now is a good time to say Hi to her."

Roll with it. We were all weird at that age.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:48 AM on July 7, 2014

Okay, we have a game plan!

I was completely surprised at the consensus that my expectations are too high for a three year old. When I was a kid, the expectations about how I was to behave were made very clear to me. I wasn't happy about it, but it also felt consistent; I knew if I did X and Y I was off the hook, had done my duty and could go play.

Anyway, I marked as best answer the practical suggestions that I feel could work for us.
Also, the suggestion to ignore. The tendency of her grandparents to whisper in a corner, "Oh my God, look at her, she is so upset, something bad must have happened to her" are adding to the drama and are pretty annoying. Maybe that's why my instinct is to be all, "there's nothing wrong with her, she's just being a brat!"
So now I've got a better handle on what actually is going on.

posted by Omnomnom at 12:32 PM on July 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Honestly it can be really hard to gauge what you did when you were a child once you were an adult, and at what age. Also some 3-year-olds are way easier than others! You might have been more tractable.

I don't think your expectations are too high, actually, but this is one of those things that, like potty training and food, you literally have no control over. At some point, if they're not cooperating you sort of have to let it slide lest you get into a totally disproportionate battle of wills.

Good luck! 3-year-olds are hard sometimes.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:36 PM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

>When I was a kid, the expectations about how I was to behave were made very clear to me.

Eh, I do think it's developmentally normal but I also think that it's mostly within the skills of a well-rested 3 year old to behave like a human, not that mine does all the time either. I'm not sure from your questions, but have your expectations been made very clear to her? Clearer than "be polite"? My kid is also 3, and also sometimes responds with posturing grunts as a way of showing shyness, and things go a million times better when I remember to tell him where we're going, the names of everyone who will be there, what's happening in what order, and what is required and optional of him in as much detail as possible. I feel like what happens with him is that he knows what the rules are under some specific circumstances, and if those circumstances shift slightly, he can't generalize. Grandma's house with grandma is different than grandma's house with other people. So we talk about how we act at, say, grandpa's birthday party, and how grandpa enjoys hearing his birthday song and getting a birthday hug, and how everyone at the party should say hello to everyone else, and that it's okay to play in the tv room but it's not okay to growl at people.

I've also found that extra hugs and hand-holding helps a lot during the transition and before any bad behavior starts, so he doesn't feel thrown into an awkward place by himself.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:28 PM on July 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just to report back:
I talked to Nom and told her that when grandma and grandpa come, I want her to wave hello (it is the greeting she is most comfortable with). Then, she can go play. And if she doesn't want to talk she should say, "I would like to be alone." (Instead of GO AWAY or AAAARGH) And then grandma and grandpa would let her alone, and I would make sure they did.

So grandma and grandpa came and Nom yelled I WOULD LIKE TO BE ALONE, like, five times, hehe. I reminded her to wave first and she did. We explained the concept to grandma and grandpa. All is fine.

Yay! Thank you!
posted by Omnomnom at 12:02 PM on July 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

So her new nickname's Greta, and everyone's happy. Yay!
posted by jaguar at 7:26 PM on July 11, 2014

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