5 y.o. With Public and Private Persona??

Updated on November 18, 2008
A.L. asks from Milton, VT
9 answers

Hi moms. I am perplexed by my 5 year old son. I would characterize him as an incredibly fun, loud, outgoing, confident, boisterous, imaginative, bright, sometimes obnoxious, hilarious, fun-loving, outspoken (you get the idea) person at home, and always has been. But when I see him occasionally in a group (main examples: his public preschool program--3 hours a day, 4 days a week which began this fall; his 2 day a week daycare center setting up until this fall; a two week swimming class) he is soft-spoken, shy, perhaps lacking confidence, doesn't answer questions (say, from a teacher) on a topic that he's waxed poetic on before to me so I know he understands and has information or feelings about. He just seems more withdrawn and shy in those public/group settings. And, it's importnat to say, that he's totally excited about and positive about these group/school settings when he speaks about them--he can't wait to go to school each day, tells me joyfully about what goes on there, all the kids' names, every detail of the day's events, has no problem riding the bus to school, etc. So ... I just don't get it! Should I be concerned that he seems so under-expressed in those settings, relieved that he's not a trouble-maker (which might be what you'd expect given how boisterous he is at home)....or what? Anyone with experience on this sort of thing? Is it common to be so different in different settings? Thanks!

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answers from Hartford on

Hi A.,

I think this is totally normal. They are always much more expressive at home. He will find his friends and they will benefit from his fun-loving behavior. Sounds like a great boy and so much fun!

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answers from Boston on

Hi A., That is my son to a 'T'. He's now 11 and has always been the noisy, wild one at home, but is so quiet and reserved at school, sports etc. I actually thought his teacher was talking about another kid way back in 1st grade. I had to say, 'No I'm so and so's mom' and she said 'I know'... From what I have seen, it is a confidence thing. The more comfortable my son gets with people, the more he is himself (although never to the point that he is at home, which is probably a good thing!)

We have just come to accept that this is who he is....I'm not really sure if it is common or not, so I don't really have any advice for you. As long as he's happy and healthy....



answers from Boston on

You just described my daughter. She's 3.5, but has been like this since birth, pretty much. I sometimes feel badly that she's not her "home person" when she's out and about because I think that she would have so much more fun. But, she is who she is and my pushing her only ever backfires. It's a temperament called "slow-to-warm-up" and is really innate. I bet he'll grow out of it a little as he gets older and more comfortable in different surroundings. As long as he's happy being in the group (my daughter is too, even though she'll sometimes go a long time each day without talking to her teachers at daycare) I think this is perfectly normal.



answers from Providence on

As a teacher, I can say you just described most kids! There is a different level of comfort and safety at home. Kids are extremely different at home. I have had it go both ways in conferences -- I describe a quiet, shy child and the parents think it can't be their kid because their kid is so loud at home, or I describe a bit of a "troublemaker" and parents are shocked because their child is so well-behaved at home. Better to act up at home than school though so you've got the best way!



answers from Boston on

You are describing me as a child. You couldn't shut me up at home, and I was incredibly shy in public. It means that he's totally comfortable around you, and can be himself, but he's much more reserved in other settings. I think it's pretty common. My daughter, even at age 18 months, is very different at home compared to at daycare, where she's much more cautious.

I wouldn't worry about it too much. He will grow out of it, like I did. It always took me a lot of time to warm up to people and make friends, but once I did I was myself. Maybe find ways for him to interact with people in smaller groups, like invite one or two of his classmates for a playdate so they can get to know each other. Give him opportunities to make friends in situations he's more comfortable with.

For now, it's great that he can be himself and express himself at home!



answers from Hartford on

My older daughter will be turning 5 in February and she has ALWAYS been like this. Everyone I come into contact with says that it is completely normal. So, from one Mommy to another in this same situation--I know what you're going through and I'm sure that it will balance out.



answers from Barnstable on

I think most kids are like this. My 5 year old daughter is an absolute angel at school, but needs frequent reminders about staying calm and quiet at home. Her teachers are always amazed by how I describe her at conferences. It's like we're talking about 2 different kids. (She actually had a speech goal of working on the volume of her voice and I said, "Yes, she needs to learn how to not scream," but what they meant was trying to get her to speak up!). My older daughter was the same way - barely spoke in school. Now she is one of the most outgoing girls in her class in third grade - it's all a matter of her comfort level. She'll start out the year quiet, but as she learns the routine and grows more comfortable with the teacher, she speaks up with no problem. I think it's a good thing to be able to exert some self control and know that they should respect the teacher and not behave the same they would at home.



answers from New London on

While it's true that school does repress the libido to some extend, I'd be concerned about social anxiety. My son was like yours until 2nd grade, when he became completely mute in school, a condition called selective mutism. Now he's 12, still loves school and is a very happy, energetic kid outside of school, still can't express himself in school.

Arrange frequently play dates to help him get comfortable with his school peers. Make sure his school teachers understand him (many just don't get the inhibited kids) and doesn't put undue pressure on him. You might want to contact the school psychologist and SLP.

Good luck. Most kids due grow out of their kindergarten shyness; I don't want to alarm you.




answers from Boston on

It's perfectly normal! Not to worry. Think about it - you, yourself, have a different persona at work, church, home, a party. He's kind of smart in knowing that different places call for different behaviors, and it's fine that he is shy. My youngest was this to an extreme - at home- funny, boisterous, etc., etc.. For 2 entire years she did not even speak one single word at preschool! Not one word, she was so shy. Now, in kindergarten, her teacher tells me she is coming out of her shell more and more each day. Will talk out loud in class. Approach a group of kids, etc.. And, like your son, she always enjoyed going - even if she was shy. Now - if HE is bothered by his behavior - them help him to work through it. If HE is not bothered - then just support him and let him be who he is. No worries.

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