I define the "very quiet shelter child" as one living at the shelter or attending groups who doesn't talk much to adults or children. Often his affect is stunted, his facial expression dull. His voice is very low, his words unclear. He watches others' reactions to people or events before he reacts (if he reacts at all). Occasionally, a small smile may erupt, but it's fleeting and may never be seen again.
"Dani" is one of these children. He seems to have an invisible shield around himself. He sits in a chair, looks at his lap. Joins snack time at the table, looks at his plate. Goes outside and sits alone on the swing or watches the other kids play. His peers don't seem to dislike him, but they quickly stop trying to engage him in conversation or play.
This type of "shyness" isn't necessarily a serious problem. I've known many shy kids whose eye contact is poor, speech quiet, and decision to relate to me and others a cautious process. But in a couple weeks, they warm up and feel comfortable enough to take part like everyone else.
But if a child like "Dani" comes to group at the shelter, even sporadically, for two or three years and still isolates himself from others and hides his feelings, I am concerned. I wonder why it is so dangerous to be real. So frightening to share himself.
Sometimes I talk with the mother of a child like Dani. Often I don't. If she is attending the woman's group, she is where she needs to be. She is where I hope she will learn how to stop being a victim trapped in a dangerous life. Constantly afraid, constantly in pain.
Until she gets away from her batterer and becomes herself, however, her children may continue to be locked inside their shields. What they need most is to see Mom break out of hers. When she does, they will show me themselves. Become real, trust others.
Come on, Dani. I've seen it before and I'm waiting to see it again.