Thank you for the many, many comments pouring in on this subject. It is always good to hear from parents who’ve struggled with the same issue, both to borrow your techniques and to hear how dramatically your kids have improved as time’s gone on. In fact, there are some people I’m stunned to hear were shy as children (i.e., one of Heights High’s shining stars of stage).
I agree that this is a phase and that he will improve as he gets older. And indeed, he already has: his second year at preschool was much more successful than his first. And this definitely seems to be a mommy-problem because he is much more likely to interact with kids and adults when I’m not around. But when I’m an option, it’s all me, all the time, which is perhaps why I find it so frustrating. I almost feel like I’m a bad influence on him because my presence allows him to revert back to his babyish, withdrawn self!
I do need to remember to gently encourage interaction without pushing him too hard. I like the idea of just having him wave at people or look at them when they greet him, even if he doesn’t respond verbally. And I also agree with the observation some of you made that it must be hard for him to speak up when Braedan is so verbose. Braedan befriends anyone, chatting with our waitress or telling our life story (or his version of it — yikes!) to the cashier at the grocery store. He answers for his little brother (“Oh, he’s four and a half,”) before Austin could ever have the chance to open his mouth. I find myself saying to Braedan, “He can talk, honey” and Braedan looks at me like I haven’t been paying attention and says, “Yeah, but he doesn’t like to, Mom. Du-uh.”
And, of course, I have to remember that Austin’s behavior isn’t about me (another of parenthood’s most difficult things: laying aside the Mommy Ego). It’s not about me showing off to the world what a special and bright child I have. It’s about letting him grow up in a way that he feels safe and supported. It’s also about pushing and helping him grow and expand beyond the boundaries he’d choose for himself, but still in a way that he feels safe and supported.
So, we move forward, one day at a time, one word, one friend, one wave at a time.