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If you were shy in the first grade, will you always be shy?

A new study indicates that the people we were in the first grade are basically the people we stay into adulthood. If so, how can some "undesirable" traits be overcome?

You've probably seen the results of this study-it's been all over the web: personality traits observed in children as young as first graders are a strong predictor of adult behavior.

The study author, Christopher Nave, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Riverside, says, "We remain recognizably the same person. This speaks to the importance of understanding personality because it does follow us wherever we go across time and contexts."

When I first saw this I said to myself, "Hey, that's why I still want to take a nap in the afternoons!" But, of course, that doesn't hold water since napping isn't a personality trait as much as it is a behavior that is drilled into us by rote and then cruelly stripped away when we need it most. But I'm not bitter.

This prompted me to get out one of my first-grade report cards to see what was written in the teacher's comment section to see how this theory holds up in my case. It said:

"Toni is very smart but too bashful for her own good."

(First of all, don't wear yourself out on the details, Mrs. Carningan.) Using the logic of the study, I would picture me now as a scientist holed up in a lonely lab with a few beakers and singularly unattractive assistant with a posture problem. It's pretty ironic that I'm actually now in the business of communications. But here's where it gets complicated. I believe that deep down I am still shy, but I've learned to overcome the outward manifestations of it. Part of that came from conscious efforts but part came from life events that made me grow up quickly and sort of be forced to let go of the luxury, if you will, of staying within myself. So there we go into the whole nature vs. nurture thing.

If my email is any indication, shyness is a personality trait that is very common among the TechRepublic audience. It's what I hear most when I recommend networking as the best tool in a job search. It's simply not easy to do for a good number of people.

But my adult self can attest to the fact that learning to network and communicate effectively are skills that can be learned. It won't feel natural, and it can be downright unpleasant for some, but think of it as any skill you train for and it might be easier.

Here are some quick tips by Roger Elliott, author of a Confidence Course that might prove useful:

  • Practice becoming fascinated by other people. Ask them about themselves, and concentrate when they answer you. Remember what they tell you about themselves so you can talk about it later, or on another occasion.
  • Great socializers make other people feel comfortable and interesting. How do they do that? By being really, genuinely interested in other people. If you are talking to someone and you feel boring or inferior, ask why that is. Is it really all your fault?
  • Practice using fewer "personal pronouns" when you talk about things. Sentences beginning with "I" are not only a turn-off for the listener, they also keep the focus of attention on you, which increases shyness. (Note: Of course, part of friendship is giving away things about yourself, but only when you feel it is appropriate to do so.)
  • Remember that the way to overcome shyness is to focus elsewhere. Like on imagining what it will be like to really enjoy the social event, on how it will feel to be full of energy, or to be having a great conversation with someone.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

60 comments
JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

As intelligent, rational adults, we should be able to overcome any irrational childhood fears. Although I wasn't shy, I was very introverted (and a total nerd) and never knew what to say around girls until my junior year in High School. Today I am a successful IT Consultant, I lead a Young Adult Bible study, and speak occasionally at local Retirement Centers.

Regina55
Regina55

Some of us are just introverts. I found this website with good insight to being introverted, and that it is okay! Some of us are just like that. livingintroverted@wordpress.com

Thumper09
Thumper09

I was notably shy through most of my school years until HS. We moved a lot so it didn't help, but it was definitely part of my natural personality to be wary of people. When I got older I just realized that we are all in the same boat, and generally feel the same insecurities to some extent. It helped me to see people and talk to them as just people and if they approved or liked who I was and what I had to say, great. If not, I could survive. It doesn't mean it's always easy, but sometimes you fake it 'til you make it.

aandruli
aandruli

Yes, I was painfully shy in 1st grade and not shy at all now. In 1st grade I was entering a new world surrounded by strangers who knew each other -- I had never experienced that before. Now I am fine to walk into a room of strangers, take command, deliver a talk to the group, etc etc. More baloney by a charlatan trying to peddle a book

vdarlington
vdarlington

Not me, not even close! I was really shy all the way thru school, as soon as i left got into radio and DJing and never looked back. What gets me is that they pay lots of money to people to do these studies. I want to do one on whether a mans left nut is bigger than his right depending on if he is left or right handed!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But I just had no idea how to interact with other people, so I didn't. I still have no idea how to interact with other people, but I no longer let it stop me from doing so. B-)

AV .
AV .

Back in the 50's when I was in the first grade, I do remember the air raid drills when we had to take cover under the desks. I was a skinny kid with buck teeth and the other kids used to make fun of me (thank god for braces). My mother used to make me wear saddle shoes, too, and I hated them. Once I became a teenager, I grew out of most of my shyness, but to this day, I still have "shy" days once and awhile. As a teen, sometimes I would be obnoxious (kind of normal, right?), but as an adult, I found a happy medium between the two. The lesson from my childhood was to be kind and tolerant to others that are different or have less than you. Oh, and never make your kid wear shoes they hate. AV :^0

NexS
NexS

Shyness comes from the experiences of that time. Now I remember all my teachers, and so a small part of every year, because my mother's partner is a teacher from that school (edit: I might add that I still see some of those teacher because of this). But my self esteem back then (and probably up until my second-last year at high school) was fairly low, I was unfit, etc, and I was picked on for it. So if I were shy back then, it would have been because of that, but it's a different story now - I have plenty of confidence.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

well into my twenties. I started tending bar. Can't make money at that as a shy bit. I sucked it up, came out of myself. I'm still shy - but it's overcome by a strong desire to meet new people, learn new things, and good grief have some fun in life.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Because I lived in the country and there weren't many kindergarten spaces and no bussing, I didn't got to kindergarten, but went to Grade 1 as my first school experience. In the first few minbtes, a kid in the desk in the next row asked to borrow my comb. After a few minutes I asked for it back. He ignored me. I asked more insistently, he said something stupid and I raised my voice. And thats how I ended up meeting the principle before the first class really started. And he was a big guy, 6' 2" at least. I learned a lesson, and I never saw him for discipline after that, although he did confiscate some firecrackers I bought from a fellow student once. Was I shy? Not about crowds. I sang a solo in front of my church at age 5, played the bongos in front of a thousand people at age 7. I was shy about girls, but I got over that eventually. I never went through the girl hating period many boys went through. James

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

As of what I remember, I was very shy. I am still somewhat shy, and have always been quiet and reserved. However, I took at job in sales at 19 and this brought me out of my shell somewhat. Obviously it was a fair amount as I started singing in bands at the age of 22. Although I still don't like being a 'front man'. :p

Slayer_
Slayer_

However, grade school feels like an old hellish nightmare. I do not wish to recall it further.

roninido
roninido

I absolutely agree that shyness can be overcome. All throughout school and into my mid-twenties I was extremely shy. I had a very small circle of friends, never went to any school social events (no prom for Johnny, boo-hoo), and I always felt like a complete outsider. Then, at some point I realized all the things I was missing out on by being so shy and decided to try to change. Now people are amazed that I ever had a shy bone in my body. My only hope is that I can instill enough confidence in my two daughters (and baby on the way) that they are able to experience things that I didn't because I was too shy.

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

I've always been a little "out there" .... yeah, I know. That's a real shocker to those of you who have met me in real life. :D

Shellbot
Shellbot

I agree with you Toni. I was terribly shy untill my early twenties.. but I got tired of hiding away while everyone else was having fun. So now I just suck it up, put a smile on my face and go for it. If we were meant to stay the same as we were in childhood, I'd be living in an igloo with only seals for friends at this stage i think!

dawgit
dawgit

I sure can't remember much of it. It was the 50's, we were supposed to get Nuked by the bad Commies, the only drugs were at the Doc's office, and the war was over. I'm sure I was a trouble maker, I refused to drink their Kool-Aid. So I guess nothing has changed. ]:) I do remember getting in an argument with my teacher... She was wrong. (and hard headed about it) Oh-well.

Paymeister
Paymeister

I think the single event which helped my "I'm-outside-and-they're-inside" problem was when I happened to be in the rest room at the same time as one of the most respected and 'together' guys in the school. He was brushing off the front of his pants, trying to cover up/remove/disguise where he had dribbled on himself. It was the most freeing thing in the world to me: he was human and worried about the opinions of others, too (not to mention that his aim wasn't perfect, either). I took the stage with far greater confidence after that episode. Can't see it would be of use to find him and thank him. Oh, well: if you were 'together' in high school, maybe it was you (if you dribbled occasionally, that is).

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

white knee socks. They were [b]the[/b] mark of dork. All mom ever bought us were white knee socks. Today, I tuck my pants legs into white, knee-high tube socks when I'm working in the yard. :^0

NexS
NexS

That's the joys of parenthood, isn't it (or so I've heard)? The kids keep you up all night screaming, s.hitting, spewing, so you have to have your fun sometimes... right? :p

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I was the class klutz until my junior year, when I finally grew into my feet and hands, so I was always the last pick for anything requiring physical prowess. In college, I discovered that I was better at math-based technologies?electronics?than most other people I knew. During advanced training in the USAF, I finished my self-paced electronics training in half the allotted time, with an average grade of almost 98. Got a letter of commendation for that; to my knowledge, only one other person went through that particular course that fast with those grades. :-bd In its wisdom, the USAF sent me to work for him. :0

DelbertPGH
DelbertPGH

Not sure why it happened. Kids started to dump on me around third grade. I must have been too scrawny, too sensitive, or something. I was skinny and uncoordinated, and after every little craphead in school discovered he could put me down and beat me up, I began to get very cautious and doubted myself a lot. I was left hiding in open view for the next ten years; after college and the Air Force, I had a lot less to hold against myself. Still, I was left with an abiding sense of self-dislike, and a tendency to get boiling mad whenever I sensed an injustice against me. It took me decades to figure out what to do about the rage. I can still remember how amazed I was when it started to happen. It was like, "What the hell is going on here? Why won't it stop?"

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But I bet you can't make me believe it. ;) :D

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've always found you to be a demure flower of Southern femininity, quietly retreating behind your fan and parasol. :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D

Tink!
Tink!

I was shy in first grade and still very much am today. In certain situations, however, (such as a job interview) I can push it aside and appear to be a confident, outgoing individual. So we can learn some skills to help us overcome shyness when necessary, but it will never make the inner bashfulness go away.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

If we take off the surface layer of behaviour; isn't there still the same lump sitting somewhere? I mean, I used to be shy, and now I'm the dominant loud-mouth. But isn't that just overcompensating? If shyness is a symptom of X, and behaviour Y then replaces shyness... can't we then see behaviour Y as the new symptom of X? In that way, nothing really got "fixed", only the way we adapt to our limitation (X) has evolved (from "hide away from social interactions, they're dangerous" to "stay on top of social interactions, they're dangerous"). If that's what the doc means, then there could be something to it.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

The earliest thing I remember is my 4th year birthday party.

Willie11
Willie11

This article was written for me. I was always shy. I am so much more comfortable by myself than talking with others. I would rather stand up before a crowd and give a speech than talk one on one with another person. I've read that Johnny Carson was shy. He was good when he was on his show because he was in control. In person he was very shy. That's me in a nutshell.

amkrap
amkrap

I can relate to that.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

I remember getting 2 pieces of cake when I was supposed to only get 1. That was the first time I got swats. LOL

maecuff
maecuff

I was shy in the first grade (1969). I was the teacher's pet, which is awesome. I got to run the film projector for the sixth graders which made me the freaking queen. I did become very shy over the years, though. By the time I got to highschool, it was painful to talk to anyone. I didn't like to make phone calls and I lived in terror of getting called on in class. My Junior year of highschool I decided to take Drama. My reasoning was that if I was FORCED to stand in front of people and perform, it would help with the shyness. And it did. I'm not shy at all now. I am rarely intimidated. However, I still have fleeting moments where I want to run away and hide, but when they happen, I force myself to do the opposite.

halremawa
halremawa

Or at least I get the impression some of you think its a bad thing. I enjoy simple things as much as others enjoy going to parties etc. Public boo-hoo he is so lonely does not make too much sense to me. I don't bother no one, none bother me. Actually, I help a lot, and so do they.

JamesRL
JamesRL

and I know I am older than some here. I started Grade 1 in 1967. I remember my teacher Mrs. Patterson very fondly. I had a bit of a speech impediment, I used an ff sound instead of th. I think she had some training in speach therapy, and she spent much of her free time with me. The school board had a mass choir concert every year, and because of my speech problem I was selected, but by grade two I was the first one picked. Even today, I don't think I'd be where I am musically without her above and beyond help. James

Tink!
Tink!

are usually bookmarked by injuries and embarrassing moments. Kindergarten (1st week even) tripped over a desk leg and split my head open. Got 4 stitches. 1st grade. During the annual music concert where all the grades take turns singing, I was specifically moved from the center bleacher down to the front - in the middle of our performance! We were doing a Winnie the Pooh theme and half of us were wearing Rabbit ears which apparently meant I couldn't be seen behind the 1st row of ears. LOL! I'm quite certain my mother made it a point to have me moved. She was that kind of lady [i](god bless her soul) [/i] :)

DelbertPGH
DelbertPGH

I recall the nuclear attack drills in first grade, 1956, all of us crouching under our desks, smiling at each other. And I remember The Little White House, our reading primer, which featured Dick and Jane and Sally and Spot. There was a very small girl who liked me and would tackle me from behind while I was standing on the school lawn. That about exhausts my first grade school memories.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I did suffer from a lack of self confidence as a wee boy, as a wee man, not so much. Lots of factors involved, but my ego is pretty much undentable now. Course whether this is a good thing, is open to interpretation. :p

jsexton9
jsexton9

My earliest memories are of my father returning from the War (WWII)--we went to meet him at the train station; and of a train trip to Little Rock, during which I saw the remnants of a freight train wreck on the banks of the Mississippi. I struck up a conversation with a soldier on the train, and I still strike up conversations with people I don't know--usually in supermarkets. Those early memories? They happened when I was about 2 1/2. If you want first grade memories, you'll have to wait for the book.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I have three or four memories of kindergarten, none of first grade, and one of second.

AV .
AV .

I forgot about those. Yes, white was definitely not alright. Yeah, today I wear 'em too in the yard. Its easy to see the bugs if they get on you. AV

NexS
NexS

Bahaha :D

AV .
AV .

Who knew I would be traumatized forever by them. That was the style back then, but they were oh so ugly. I'm sure it was payback for something. AV

Tink!
Tink!

I was verbally abused through much of grade school. Partly because I was one of the rare asians in the schools (we always lived in primarily white suburban neighborhoods). Most of the time I'd just take it silently. At least once though, I cried at school. I think my shyness also left me rather naive and totally not "with the times" so I was also kind of a dorky outcast. It wasn't until Jr High when I formed my own group of real friends that I finally started asserting myself. By high school, you didn't mess with me cuz I'd beat you up. :D

toni.bowers
toni.bowers

...if the study is true then this world is in a sorry shape with all those loser sadists running around. Those people probably still pick on others--just on a different scale.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

every year for 7 years in a row. This likely had something to do with my shyness. New kids are always the butt of whatever angst established kids are working out. Add to that, my mom dressed us like total dorks. Gads. On the bright side, both of the above seem to have given me - in later life, mind you - an ability to not give a rats what people think of me.

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

with a hoop skirt, bonnet, scarf, and hand warmer ... but all of the girl Christmas carolers had to wear them. I thought it really fun to sit on the school bus seats on our way to performances, because the hoop skirt would fly way up in the air. Demure, I know....

JamesRL
JamesRL

I remember crawling out of my crib one morning, I must have been a toddler, and reaching the top of the stairs. I was definately crawling not walking. I fell down the stairs end of end, and at the bottom of the stairs was a stack of metal folding chairs. It was morning, my mom was making breakfast, my dad drinking coffee. It was a big shock.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I met a famous politician at a private lunch before he was to give a big speech to a rally of hundreds of people. With a small group and no prepared text, he was shy. In front of a crowd, he was funny, bombastic and a charmer. James

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Gym class. I was the one a team was 'stuck with'. Gods. Humiliation galore for a tall, scrawny, klutzy kid. Year after year after year of never being picked. :_| Then, someone discovered I could spell. They fought over me for spelling bee teams. Too bad that didn't last as long as PE. :^0 (Still kinda tall, scrawny, and klutzy. ;)

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I also remember thinking, in first grade terms, that the PTB's must think we're pretty stupid to have us hide from a nuke under our desks. I had a 'boyfriend' in first grade, maybe, kindergarten. He lost his appeal as soon as he kissed me with jelly all over his face. :-&

santeewelding
santeewelding

First grade? Wee boy? I always thought you were sprung on the world whole-formed, just like you are.

Paymeister
Paymeister

I remember the Boy Scout Handbook said to wear light colored clothing in areas with ticks. I always thought that the ticks didn't like the color; in my early 50s I realized that it was just so you could see 'em. Sigh...

JamesRL
JamesRL

I did years of martial arts which helped me deal with those kind of issues. I won't say I'm perfect, but I am not known now as someone with a flammable temper.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Stick it in the fire. Temper it like steel. The glare of a temperament conflagration, held in perfect check, coming out the eyes of a body has a wonderfully calming effect on even the maddest of the mad.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I had kids who threatened me, I was short and stubby, till high school. I was also brainy and artistic, and not so athletic. But once they discovered I had 4 brothers, one of whom was athletic and loved to fight, I was left alone. I did have someone challenge me to fight in high school. I carried a camera bag as a photographer, and it did kinda look like a purse. Some punk challenged me on it and called me a fag. I didn't back down so he wanted to fight. I smiled. I fought my brothers often enough that I figured I wouldn't be too embarassed. I showed, with a friend in case he brought one, he didn't show at all. I called him on it the next day in the cafeteria and he was suprised I showed, and he laid off. We actually developed a casual friendship. I did get teased a lot. But the best remedy for that was friends. The punks go after loners, and leave those in a pack alone. Because I took pictures of sports for the yearbook, and because after my growth spurt I ended up competing for the school in cross country running, I ended up with more than a couple of jock friends. The only other time I was in danger of a fight was when some dope, who had been a friend at one point, flicked a lighter about an inch in front of my nose while talking stupid smack. I lost my temper and charged. Luckily one of my football player friends grabbed me hard and held me back. He basically told em the punk wasn't worth getting kicked out of school for a week.

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

Things seemed to be a little different for me, at school in England than they would have over here (at least as far as I can surmise). I was always very short, so I was picked on for that. However, numerous years of martial arts helped in grounding me, and for the most part, brought the taunts to a stop. :p :D

dawgit
dawgit

A Jelly Kiss is the best kind :) He must have really liked you, to share his jelly with you. ;)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Zeberdee... Tony displays his nolej of greek old made up stuff.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I recall two such births; Athena and Afrodite. There are probably more, but I do not recall them.

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