The Timid Child

Some parents take pride in their children’s reserved behavior – the blushing, the lowering of the head, the reluctance to talk – especially where strangers are concerned. Other parents become distressed by the very same things, consider them symptoms of mental illness, and rush their children off to psychologists and pediatricians.

Indeed, the Lundbeck Institute has announced that they have come out with CDs specifically tailored to cure this problem step by step. Timidity is a condition that a large percentage of children all over the world suffer from.

It is interesting to note that Abraham Lincoln had an extremely timid disposition. So did Mohandas Gandhi.

Timidity is different from shyness. Shyness as a character trait is something praiseworthy. It causes a person stay aloof from that which is shameful and to refrain from withholding the rights of others.

When a person is faced with something unlawful, shyness becomes obligatory. When that person is faced with something disliked in Islam, shyness is preferred. When the matter is something permitted in Islam, then shyness comes into play according to custom. His is the meaning of the Prophet’s statement: “Shyness never comes except with what is good.” True shyness, for a Muslim, never comes except in accordance with Islam, causing a person to do what is right and to abstain from what is wrong.

As for timidity, it is a brokenness of spirit, a sense of bewilderment. A timid person cannot determine the way out of a situation so he withdraws within himself. This should not be confused with shyness,

`Imrân b. Husayn once related that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Shyness is all good.”

Bashîr b. Ka`b, upon hearing this from `Imrân, said: “In some books we find that some aspects of it include tranquility and dignity of spirit to Allah, but also that some of it is weakness.”

This angered `Imrân who said: “You see me relating to you what Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, and you raise objections to it?” Then `Imrân repeated what he said and Bashîr repeated what he said, and `Imrân became angry again. [Sahîh Muslim]

Ibn Rajab, commenting on this incident, writes: “The matter is as `Imrân had said. The praiseworthy shyness that the Prophet (peace be upon him) spoke of is none other than the disposition of character that encourages good actions and discourages bad ones. As for the weakness and incapacity that bring about insufficiency in honoring the rights of Allah or the rights of His creatures, this has nothing at all to do with shyness. It is nothing other than weakness, inability, and disgrace.”

The difference can be seen in children by contrasting a child who greets house guests readily with one who blushes and withdraws into himself when a house guest so much as asks him his name.

We find in the Sunnah unconditional praise for shyness. It is as aspect of faith. As for weakness and dismay, these have nothing to do with shyness, even though some people might describe those traits by that word.

The symptoms of timidity usually begin to manifest themselves with a child after the first four months. After the first year, a child might start covering his face with his hands, crawl away, or shut his eyes tightly when an unknown person speaks to him.

By the time a child is four years old, timidity can cause the child to sit quietly at his mother’s side or to stay in the same room with his mother and rarely utter a word. He will keep his mother in sight at all times.

If the child remains like this until he reaches ten years of age, then he will be in need of treatment for his condition.

Studies show that about 10 to 15 percent of children are born with a latent tendency for timidity. Other factors like the child’s upbringing, his home, family, and friends, can come into play and reinforce such tendencies.

Some symptoms of timidity are as follows:

1. Silence or general reticence, especially in the presence of strangers.

2. Refusal to make eye contact when speaking with someone, regardless of the length of the conversation.

3. Speech difficulties.

4. Confusion and distress when required to engage in some task or activity, especially one involving others.

5. Running away from unfamiliar people.

6. Avoidance of play with other children and showing a preference to play alone.

7. Breaking out into a sweat.

8. Feigning sickness in order to receive extra attention.

9. Selfishness and an insistence on getting his own way whenever he among people with whom he has acclimated.

10. Rapid heartbeat.

11. Upset stomach.

12. Dry throat and mouth.

13. Shaking and involuntary tremors.

14. A persistent feeling of being picked on.

15. Insecurity and lack of trust.

16. Avoidance of well-lit areas, especially at family functions and public gatherings.

17. Feelings of inferiority.

The following are some of the causes of timidity:

1. Some researchers believe that genetic predisposition plays a part in timorous behavior, though results have been inconclusive.

2. Harsh parental care.

3. Excessive mollycoddling.

4. Absence of fatherly interaction with the child.

5. Seclusion from social interaction.

6. Family arguments can cause a child to withdraw into himself.

7. Physical defects, deformities, and chronic illnesses.

8. Overprotectiveness and excessive attention on the part of the mother.

9. Excessive pressure for the child to excel in everything.

10. Focusing too much attention on the child’s mistakes and exaggerating the importance of those mistakes.

11. Inconsistency and incoherence in the parents’ approach to raising the child.

12. Prejudice and bad treatment on the part of teachers in the early years of a child’s education.

13. Conspicuous poverty that affects the child’s self esteem, for instance, that which is reflected in the child’s dress.

14. The death of one of the parents.

15. Lack of stable residence.

16. Delayed commencement of education. This can cause a child to feel an increased lack of self-confidence.

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah