4 Year Old Daughter Very Passive and Quiet

Updated on November 13, 2008
M.P. asks from Irvine, CA
11 answers

My daughter is 4 and in pre-school. In class, she is very passive and lets things happen to her without defending herself (kids take her chairs away, etc.) She happens to be in a class with a lot of the difficult boys because 1 of her teachers is good with discipline. She is a very good girl in school and at home. She is very 'popular' at school meaning that all the kids and teachers really like her. She has always been hyper-aware and hyper-sensitive (yes, since birth.) She used to be better at telling us her feelings and has now shut-down somewhat. DH and I are looking for ways to help her learn to express her feelings to us and to others as well as defend herself as warranted. Background: She has been through a lot with us as DH and I were separated and lived apart for quite awhile. We have been back together for the past year. We currently have no plans to have another baby at this time so she is an only. Thanks for any help!

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answers from Honolulu on

Yes, it's a child's "confidence" as well. But, it's not the only thing.
It's also a child's "coping" abilities...being she has gone through so much with your separation, and now being back together, and now her being in a class with unruly boys...that is a LOT for a child to have to adjust to in one whole swoop.

My girl is like that (well=liked, hyper-aware,hyper-sensitive,very perceptive since a baby)...except that she is not passive and she is very expressive at home and with us. In her class, it's full of unruly boys AND girls...but her Teacher is a 20 year "veteran" and so all the "punk"kids are in her class. I don't think it's fair to my girl and all the other "good" kids...but. BUT, I MAKE SURE that I speak to the Teacher and make sure that my daughter's learning/happiness/and interactions are not "abused" by these kids. AND, my girl is not afraid of them.

Has your girl ever been bullied, or victimized, or picked on, or teased, or yelled at, or anything else "cruel"???? By anyone??? This can also DRASTICALLY change a child and make them "shut down." Usually, if a child regresses and shuts-down, and fears speaking or expressing themselves... It is usually a GREAT indication that something is really wrong...not just a confidence issue. I would really really really explore other issues she may have, or other problems that may have happened but which you know nothing about, because she does not communicate with you.

AND, I would suggest counseling for her... she is obviously, still affected by your separation and now back-together status. A child does not know it will last... they often will feel un-nerved by it... and perhaps that it could happen again...thus their "future" is not stable. It's unstable. For a child, any kind of "divorce/separation" is like a MAJOR trauma and "grieving" even. She must feel like a yo-yo.

AND, what are HER TEACHERS saying?????? You also need to start there. Any problems that they notice??? Just because a child is quiet, it does not mean they are happy. Your girl is obviously not "happy" now. It's good there is no upcoming "baby" or another child right now... your daughter NEEDS more of you and Hubby right now.

**Also, can you try and get your daughter into another class? If her current classroom and those unruly boys are affecting her negatively and "damaging" her psychological "health"...I'm sure you could use some persuasive "Parent" tactics and tell her Teachers/Principal that it is "damaging" your daughter and therefore you want her out of that class. There is a fine line.... and I for one, if this classroom atmosphere was causing my child psychological trauma and difficulty... I would advocate for my child and make appeals to the school/Teacher. There is no reason, that a bunch of trouble-maker children should take precedent over other children, and therefore "bully" the other kids or make them alienated. This is not education... this is catering to the trouble-makers.

Take care,

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

My girl is almost two, similar temperament. She is extremely verbal (not bragging, she's just crazy verbal) and I've taught her to say "I don't like that." Or, if its too much I've taught her she has the choice to walk away from a situation that is uncomfortable. I also REALLY praise her when she tells me what she needs and it seems to be translating away from home. She was able (in a small, sweet voice) to say "I don't like that" when another little one was throwing sand. Of course, at this age intervention was needed, but I praised the heck out of her for speaking up! She also is holding on to toys instead of letting them go when another little one grabs for it. I praise her for the nonverbal cue of hanging on to what she wants.

That said about what I've done... I think you know why she's shutting down a bit. She's coming to that age of narcissism where everything is about her, meaning, if you and hubby were to split again, she would think it were her fault. If she stays quiet, not imposing her will on the situation, she believe there is a good chance you'll stay together.

BTW: My husband and I are in the process of splitting right now and I really wonder how it will affect my girl now and in the next several years.

I would recommend play therapy. I didn't see where you are but if you are interested I know of several wonderful play therapists all over So CA.

Best to you and your family!




answers from Los Angeles on

Hi M.,
This might be something your daughter just has to outgrow but you should definitely talk to the teacher and get her to help. If there is a problem in class, the teachers in preschool will talk to the whole class about good manners and not taking things, etc. That might be all you need to fix this. You might also want to enroll your daughter in Karate classes. My son started when he was 3 in his preschool but now goes to regular classes at Team Karate Center. It has definitely help build his confidence.

Good luck!



answers from Los Angeles on

You might want to think about taking her to a psychologist who specializes in children. She may be have feelings and confusion about what is going on between you and your husband and not know how to express them to you guys. The psychologist may be able to get at the root of the problem in a session or two.



answers from Los Angeles on

get out her dolls and play with them with her, pretend your at school and a bully comes up, by role playing you can help her express her self, praise her for playing , do not over react when she does tell on a kid, a lot of time the kids are just telling you about it, they dont need your help they want to be able to take care of it them selfs. Do role play when she is talking about how a boy took her care, politness works great. If she is being yelles at ... at home, she will be quiet fearing she will be yelled at, not saying you are but consider others..



answers from Los Angeles on

My 3 1/2 year old son was also very passive and quiet until recently. He also was that way from birth. He shys away from the more rambunctious boys at his school, but fortunately hasn't had major problems with children who could be perceived as more difficult. We used to worry that he would be picked on since he never would defend himself. His teachers suggested that it would do him a world of good to have his confidence improved. We have worked hard to give him more support and praise whenever we have the opportunity (we did before, of course, but we're even more concious of it now). We also enrolled him in a soccer program at school that he wanted to take. For whatever reason, his confidence is definitely improving and consequently, he's standing up for himself more. He doesn't openly "fight" with other children, but when another child tries to take a toy from him he'll now just stand his ground and hold on to it. He used to just drop it and then look ready to burst into tears. You mention that your daughter has been through a lot. My son also went through a lot when I had twins when he was only 20 months old. It was an extremely difficult adjustment for him and with 3 children so young, our house was very stressful. I believe that really exacerbated his confidence issues. I guess the point of me telling you this is that maybe your daughter would benefit from having a confidence boost also. There's nothing wrong with being passive and quiet, but she does need the confidence to know that she can stand up for herself.



answers from Los Angeles on

I have to echo what Susan said...

Toddlers are learning every single day of their lives how to be social...talking and communicating are huge parts of that learning process, and they depend on us to guide them through it. When major events like Mom and Dad splitting happens, it's overwhelming and scary.

During these times it's important to keep up an open dialogue with kids so, they don't feel like these things are just happening to them or around them with no control at all. Sometimes we get so caught up in how we feel or trying to protect our kids that we forget that this is happening and includes them too.

Has anyone talked to your daughter about how she felt about the split? Even though she was little at the time, she is bound to be confused and frustrated. In my experience as a teacher, in situations like this, kids stop talking because they feel no one is there to listen. So, they give up and often become passive and shy. I would suggest, as Susan did, that you seek a family therapist that can work with you together to help your daugther re-learn her self-expression, and additionally help you and your husband work together as parents...

My son's Dad and I have not been together since I was pregnant with our son, and so our son has never known us as a couple...but, the way we deal with each other effects our son's mood/tempermant...eg, when we're tense with each other my son is super quiet and less playful. We have begun to go to communication therapy to work on how we deal with each other as parents, and I have learned SO much about myself...it's amazing what can happend when the walls come down.

I hope you can find a way to help your little girl see how important her feelings are to everyone, and open that little mouth up so everyone can hear her!!

Good Luck.


answers from Los Angeles on

I have a now 13 year old daughter that tempermentally shares some things in common with your daughter. At age 4 we started her in a Tae Kwon Do class and it's the best thing we ever did. She is now a second degree black belt and has gotten really good at setting boundries and self advocating. Look for a program that has a lot of experience with kids and is self defense based.

Having said that I would check in with a good child psychologist. It would make sense that she might be having some feelings about the mom and dad stuff going on around her.
You might also want to do some reading etc on sensory integration disorder. Don't freak out when you read all the criterion - they always give you the worst case sceneario. If you think it applies get in touch with Connie Lillas in Alta Dena - she's the "man" in terms of this disorder. You can google her for contact info. Good luck.



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi M.,
Before I even knew she was the oldest/only child, I knew it. Please help yourself understand the qualities of your child by reading about "birth order" and "firstborn/only's". You will be amazed at how similar first-borns are to each other. They are usually very sensitive, smart, careful, organized, aware, deep, introspective people (am I ringing any bells?!). After I read about it, it helped me so much to understand my child's personality and how to best deal with it. The great thing is, these kids are usually very confident with themselves (which is why she has many friends), very easy to deal with (which is why teachers give them responsibilities like going to the office for her), and born leaders. So it's all good, but it's hard when they're litle because they are so cautious. They usually don't participate in anything new unless they have a good chance to stand back and watch. When they feel comfortable and confident, then they can go for it, but not until then. So it's helpful to just understand that. Also, for my son, I used a lot of humor to help him learn to express himself OUT LOUD. Try to keep things really light and funny so she can just laugh and not be so serious. It was really a tool I used all throughout his childhood.



answers from San Diego on

Hi M., My daughter now 19 was the same way, when she was 4 a little boy punched her in the nose knocking her off the tricycle she was on becasue he wanted it, she didn't tell the teacher or anyone, I found out cause when I picked her up from pre school she had dry blood under her nose, when i asked her what happened then she told mebut she whispered it so no one else could hear, I was so angry I could spit, not at her, the teachers for not seeing anything, on a very small playground, for her it was something she had to grow out of and she did that by the influences around her, her two older brother were just the opposite, they didn't let anyone hurt them, what we told our kids was to never start a fight, but never stand there at let someone hurt you or one of your friends, taking chairs from her, tell her to take her chair back, that willteach the boys she's no push over and if they do anything mean to her again to go tell the teacher, have a lot of talks with her, just about anything this will help her be more open and expressive. that's what i did with my daughter


answers from San Diego on

I would arrange for her to have friends over to your house or in other settings where she could interact with them more and play. If she is shy, you can't really overcome that, but you can expose her to other kids more often. Do whatever you can to help her with socialization. Spend 1:1 time with her, etc. Very best of luck to you.

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