NaBloPoMo: Toddler Politics

Emory is going through a strange phase. At least I hope it’s a phase. He’s never been a really outgoing kid, but he’s always been unabashedly joyful. (Remember this post?) But recently, he’s become a great deal more introverted and shy. He’s also easily spooked and/or scared away from a situation. And I think that some of the other kids pick up on this.

Now, I’m going to try really hard to complete this post as unbiasedly as possible. I would hate for it to come off as my suggesting that my son is perfect (he’s not) and sweet and all the other kids are beating up on him. That’s not the case at all. I know firsthand that life throws at us strange relationships and confrontations; it’s natural for folks to not always get along. So I’m going to try and finish this post as neutral as a mother possibly can; I’ll present the facts and hope that someone out there has some answers.

Lately, Emory has been reacting to other more outgoing and vivacious kids’ by cowering. It happens while playing with kids he knows and doesn’t know. For example, he’ll be on top of the slide waiting to come down and another kid will come over and say MINE! (Perfectly normal, even Emory does it!) and instead of waiting or stepping aside, he’ll cower—sometimes he runs away. And more recently he’s begun to burst into tears. If he’s near me, he hides behind my legs. It’s really quite hard on my heart, but I want to teach him to face his fears and embrace confrontation in a healthy manner.

Lately, we’ve been telling him after the fact that when kids are mean to him it’s OK to say, “Please be nice to me.” He’s starting to understand more, so we want him to confront the situation instead of running to me or running away period. And bursting into tears solves nothing. Plus, it breaks my heart.

Just last night when Toby Joe asked him how his day went and he answered by telling him that a kid was mean to him.

A few weeks ago, all three of us were on the playground and one of his friends pushed him away and said, “Emory no! GO away!” And he ran away sobbing, like the kind where no sound comes out and no air gets in. As he walked toward Toby Joe and me he said, “I’m so sad, I’m crying.” It was heartbreaking. I wanted to scoop him up and protect him forever, but life doesn’t allow for that a great deal of the time, so we’re trying to introduce him to a happy medium. Does that make sense?

Naturally, I can’t help but blame myself for taking him out of school. But that can’t be it, can it? He sees and plays with other children, it’s just not always the same group of kids. Plus, he’s just two. I didn’t go to school until I was five. Certainly this can’t be that, right? It’s not like he’s not socialized.

I do hope that this phase goes away. My once joyful kid now reacts to others with wariness. And I don’t know how to help him without changing the world and I’m too busy to take that on. ;]

Has anyone else had a kid go through this? Thoughts? Suggestions?

Maybe he’s just going to be a more apprehensive kid. I’m ok with that. But I’m not ok with this manifesting itself in other ways and he thinking twice before doing something creative and carefree.


  1. Michele,

    I don’t have kids but the thought of Emory crying because someone was mean to him breaks MY heart. It must be so hard to be a parent.


  2. I’m so sorry little Em is going through this. I too was a extremely shy child and still to this day it’s something I have to work on. My siblings are the same way and I am 12 years their senior so I feel like perhaps it’s genetic? We enrolled my little sister in dance class to help her overcome her shyness and it REALLY helped her alot. Maybe there is a karate class or something you could get him into when he’s old enough.


  3. Em loves gymnastics. I was just researching thus today. I will enroll him in that (and/or soccer or dance)

    I just hope this doesn’t inhibit him in any way…. :(


  4. Michelle..Emory sounds just like my Bryce when he was his age! I was a SAHM for his first 3 years and had him at a school for just a few hours a week to socialize with other kids. When we would go to the playground it was the same scenario. He is just a sensitive boy. After fretting about it for several years, worried he would be picked on at school and, shamefully, even embarrassed when strangers would say how adorable he was or compliment him and he would scowl and hide behind my legs. He is just a sensitive boy I’ve come to realize and sensitive to others feelings, which now I think is just a wonderful attribute so I’ve stopped worrying. When he was just more than a toddler he proclaimed he was going to be a vegetarian because he didn’t want any animals to die. I said that was fine, but he should know chicken nuggets are made from chickens and they are animals too. That was very short lived. He cried watching Discovery channel when he saw an alligator eating a snake. And he had to be escorted out of the movie theatre while watching Spirit..the Disney movie about horses because he was bawling so loudly. I’m happy to say once he started kindergarten and met other children, some even like him, he quickly became more open to others and even started standing up for himself when someone would say things to him. I took the same approach as you, I told him to say if someone was being mean that he did not like it and to pretty much stop engaging someone who could not be nice. Now Bryce is 13 years old, a wonderfully loving son who laughs at my goofy jokes and has many friends, is very well adjusted, and like Emory, he LOVES gymnastics! He’s actually on a competitive team. He really has come a long way from that shy little blue eyed towhead I worried so much about. I hope this was quite amazing to read how similar Emory seems as my baby Bryce once was.


  5. Does it say anything about the genetics bit MommaA brought up earlier when I tell you that your comment just made me weep? Thank you, Christa.

    I guess I’ll wait it out and hope that this doesn’t stifle his creativity or keep him from doing things he wants to do. We’ll just keep giving him positive feedback and hope that he learns how to cope with his sensitive nature.


  6. I wonder if it’s the age. My daughter’s in full-time preschool now (not ideal but all we could find around here) and though she is usually pretty adaptable she has just learned the concept of “scared” and now rolls it out quite a bit. The other day one of her classmates and their family was standing in front of our house when we came out and I said, “Oh, Ellie, look it’s so-and-so” and she said, “I scared, Mommy. I scared! Scared!” and clung to the back of my legs so tightly that I couldn’t move forward (and this kid is no bully. She’s a sweet girl who barely speaks!).

    Her shyness with strangers has also seemed to increase–particularly after we went to see the ENT. I now find myself telling her, “Ellie, so-and-so is not a doctor. They are not going to look into your ears” (even though the ENT is kind and gentle and has never once hurt her), and then she’s OK again. Just sharing b/c I was wondering if maybe there was a trigger–however mild–recently?


  7. oh and I said kindergarten but truly it was much sooner than that. I put him in a Montessori school when I went back to work..I think he was 3 1/2.
    Montessori let him learn and adjust at his own pace..I’m wondering now if that had anything to do with him feeling more confident. hmm..who knows!
    And I agree! It must be genetic because although I wasn’t an extremely shy kid I was quite emotional. The movie E.T. had me in TEARS for ages! If E.T. stayed he would die, if he left then Elliott was alone ..nooooooo!!


  8. My son often let other kids “Push him around” but only if they are older. With younger kids, he can be a bit of a bully himself.

    I find that in a 1 on 1 situation he has better social interaction. When the room is full of children he seems more overwhelmed and less likely to enjoy himself.

    I think this is just part of Emory’s personality, a good part. Don’t I wish my son was so gentle! I think talking to him, assuring him that his emotions are okay and accepted, is best. And then reasurring him that it will be okay and a more positive path he can take next time. It sounds like you are doing both those things. With time, I’m sure he’ll learn to be less apprehensive.


  9. As moms, it is our job to worry. But, I’ll chime in and guess that it is a phase as well. My daughter (about the same age) doesn’t take well to loud noises (blenders, airplanes, loud people, etc.) and as everyone knows, toddlers can be loud!

    Recently when playing, another toddler came up to her and started commenting loudly in toddler-talk about the toy she was holding. From across the room I saw the look on her face. You know the one… the lower lip starts to tremble, the eyes grow sad, and here we go again folks, a sad little lady. She was probably afraid…afraid of the noise, afraid of someone in her face (who wasn’t being mean, just loud).

    It breaks my heart too, but we had a nice little talk once the hysterics calmed down. I’m sure we’ll go through this again and again. And I’m hoping it is a phase. I feel bad for her… I’m sure it IS really scary for her.


  10. One of the reasons why school is so great for early socialization is because it is a controlled environment with the same kids/adults every time. Social situations can be scary when they are unpredictable and the predictability of being with the same peer group helps kids to understand social nuances. They learn to predict how others react and that is comforting.

    The same effect can be had outside of school if the peer group is kept consistent. The problem with the playground (as you describe it) might be that Emory doesn’t have time to learn how each kid will react to him, so he doesn’t know what to do. Cowering or running to you or crying gets him comfort every time–you are predictable and safe.

    Creating experiences in which he is able to interact with (only) familiar peers on a regular basis will help with his confidence. Also, giving him words to use is a great response. Teach him to say, “It’s my turn” or “I was here first” might get the other kid to back down.

    Developmentally, Emory sounds like he is right where he should be with peers and with you. He is playing independently and coming to you when he needs reassurance–that is the sign of a well adjusted two year old with good attachment to his primary caregiver. :-)


  11. I am glad that you wrote about this. My son will be two in a couple of weeks and is going through something similar lately. Even when kids he doesn’t know are just trying to play with him or hug him it freaks him out and he’ll often burst into tears or get very upset. I have found that it’s definitely better or worse depending on his general mood. If he’s tired or cranky or not feeling well, he’s much more likely to have a meltdown if something happens like someone pushes him out of the way at the top of the slide. Sometimes even when he’s waiting for someone who’s taking an extra long time at the top of the slide (which is a different issue but he’s having a similar reaction) I guess in the grand scheme of things, I’m glad he’s not the one who is doing the pushing. But I do wish there was a happy medium in there somewhere. I am assuming it’s a phase that will eventually work itself out. In the meantime we’re just doing our best to talk to him about it.

    So no words of wisdom from me… just some words of commiseration.


  12. Aiman is only 10 months old right now, so he doesn’t quite have the same social anxiety it seems Emory is having.

    But! I partly raised my youngest sister, who is more than a decade younger than myself and have some experience of when she went through this phase.

    Like Em, she was SO very shy, anxious, and easily discouraged. And honestly, she was like that for about two years, so until she was around 6 or so. Not that Em will necessarily be 6 when he overcomes this or anything, but I was consistent with showing support and talking things through with her.

    Now about three years later,I see a totally different little girl. She’s confident and even the life of the party, I would say.

    So in a long winded way, I’m saying to continue with what you’re doing, which is exactly what he needs. This phase will pass and he’ll be back better than ever! =)

    I hope all is otherwise well!

    Keep us updated


  13. I think gymnastics would be great for him! Plus look at his personality in a postive light… he will be a great friend / husband etc. one day; sensitive too others feelings and kind hearted :) I do think consistancy is comforting to those of us with shy personality, but I also think it’s good to involve him (as you have) in free social play with new kids. Because in life you don’t always just socialize within your comfort zone so you are giving him much needed skills early on.


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