I find it very hard to believe Riley will be going into first grade in just a matter of weeks. FIRST GRADE! That seems like … I don’t know, such a big kid grade. Like any minute now he’s going to bring home homework involving fractions and shit. And diorama assignments! And all my shoebox-and-math-related failures will sweep over me in a crushing wave of despair as I’m forced to confront every unpleasant elementary school memory I have so carefully repressed all these years!

So first grade, yeah. Meanwhile, I’m not entirely sure what to do about Dylan’s school this year. There’s a fantastically-rated Montessori preschool that’s just down the street and I’d hoped he could go there, but hurrrrrrrrrrngh $650/month for part time. Nearly every other preschool in our general area has a Christian-based curriculum, which I’m not interested in. I found a more affordable, decent-sounding preschool that’s not terribly far away, but it would involve picking Riley up at 2:50 then blasting across town to get Dylan at 3:15 and I guess it would be doable but again, hurrrrrrrrrrrrnnnngh.

My main school-related concern with Dylan is helping him get socialized. For such a bright, expressive, colorful-ass kid, he sure clams up around new people, to the point of coming across as downright rude. New adults, new kids, it doesn’t matter, he shuns them all. And, you know, I get it — I get being shy, and liking familiar routines, and taking a look at a teeming crowd of people and feeling that TILT circuit in my brain light up — but also manners, kid. I’ve been trying to work on that with him, how being shy is fine but you can’t just ignore someone who’s saying hi to you (for instance, the perfectly lovely teacher at the preschool we visited last week, whose every overture to Dylan was met with a sullen, head-shaking refusal to engage).

He was always very self-contained at his old preschool, never really made friends, didn’t actively participate in class very much. My hope is to find a school environment where he can open up a little … although perhaps this stage is similar to Riley’s sensitivities and only time will truly make a difference?

Even with the benefit of hindsight with Riley, though, I’m frustrated all over again by having a Childhood Issue to deal with and not being certain how to handle it. Yes, some kids are shy, but even a socially reluctant four-year-old shouldn’t get away with being an asshole, right? I don’t know, I would never force him to perform on command (“Tell the nice lady how old you are, Dylan! Now sing the ABC song! DANCE, MONKEY, DANCE!”), but I do expect a minimum level of politeness, you know?

And, of course, I’d like him to be able to have fun with other kids. I’ve seen him play with other kids before, but only when Riley was around to act as a sort of middle man.

Anyway, I’d love to hear from you on some of this stuff. Have you dealt with a shy kid before? How did you tackle the rude/unresponsive side of things, if that was a problem? Did preschool help?

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83 Responses to “Michigan J. Frog”

  1. Cass on August 13th, 2012 7:35 am

    My 14 year old still acts like this. He is the nicest, happiest kid in his own environment. But hoo-boy change stuff up and he becomes near mute, which yes, sometimes comes across as arrogant or rude. I struggle with this daily. If an adult asks him a question and he clams up, I have a hard time not answering for him. Which of course does nothing for his socializing and lets him off the hook. But if I don’t answer for him, I worry that people will think he is rude and he really is not. Sorry, I am not much help. I keep hoping something I enrol him in will get that light switch to go on. His older brother was shy too – but more of a sports guy, which seemed to give him the confidence he needed. Good luck!

  2. Jennifer on August 13th, 2012 7:40 am

    Both my kids have gone through/are in Montessori, and when done well, I think it can’t be beat. Boosts confidence, independence, and various practical skills. But what I didn’t realize when I signed mine up is that the no forced sharing/forced participation, the personal space, etc. really helped make the kids secure. Then they wanted to participate and share and chat it up, and it was sincere and because they felt good about it. It was a glorious thing. That said, if it’s too expensive, it’s too expensive, and I’m sure any well-run program will help him feel more comfortable being himself out in the open (even if it’s quietly and unassumingly).

    I am pretty introverted, and I have extroverts for children, and THAT makes me feel so awkward. Like I’m constantly worried they are talking to other people too much. It’s so hard to tell when it’s charming and when it’s relentless, and I spend a lot of effort just trying to gauge people and/or reel the kids in. So I think you really can’t win on this one unless you have a kid with a perfectly middle ground personality.

  3. AnotherErin on August 13th, 2012 7:47 am

    I think the issue of manners and the issue of socialization are separate. But I agree about the Christian preschools (we do Montessori ourselves and love it, but I know folks who do Christian preschools and Jewish preschool and most of the kids are not really Christian or Jewish and the curriculum is not religious, unless it’s like Baptist or something). A home day care might be better for you. In the town where I am, there’s a Waldorf-montessori hybrid home day care/pre school. The group is smaller than a typical preschool and is more, I don’t know, homey. It might be cheaper and a warmer environment for Dylan.

    I also wouldn’t worry too much about the shyness/manners issue. I agree with the people above about introverts and forcing kids even to say “hi” or “bye” is unpleasant and frequently results in a power struggle. A friend of mine insists that her 4 y.o. say “thank you” to me every time he leaves my house and he always refuses and I never care and it always turns into a nightmare power struggle between the two of them. they say that teaching them manners by example works, and I believe it. I’ve also found books about manners really helpful. My 4 y.o. loves the Richard Scarry Please and Thank You book (old school!) and also there’s a Berenstein Bears Forget Their Manners book. I like the Richard Scarry one better, but my son loves both, and he does absorb. (Montessori also has a ‘Grace and manners’ part of its practical life curriculum, so there’s that, too.)

    I have friends in Eugene and I’d be happy to ask around re: home day care, if you’re interested at all.

  4. Shannon C. on August 13th, 2012 9:38 am

    As others already mentioned, it sounds to me like Dylan might be a classic introvert. Might I suggest this book that changed my life, “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World” by Marti Olsen Laney. There’s a chapter in it about being a parent to an introvert child. It’s a quick read, very engaging, and very eye-opening! It may help you reframe his seemingly shy or socially indifferent behavior.

  5. Jenny on August 13th, 2012 9:50 am

    Just to chime in with others — my kids went to a nominally Christian preschool, and they never got any Bible curriculum at all. (I’m a Christian, but I would have cared a lot what KIND of Christian message they were getting, you know?) The limit of the Christianity there was “we treat each other with love and respect,” which, great. I’m sure a lot of other parents are in your position.

  6. MEP on August 13th, 2012 11:00 am

    I’m another one whose daughter went to a preschool at a Christian church that had basically zero faith-based lessons or activities (which is how I wanted it). They had one “preschool day” church service a year and even that was totally optional and more like a concert or “OMG look how cute” exercise. I think it’s definitely worth getting recommendations on and visiting to see what’s up.

    Not sure how traffic is in your town, but if I pick up my daughter at 2PM I can’t even get out of the school parking lot in ten minutes, so I wouldn’t sign up for the pressure of getting across town in 25 minutes unless Dylan’s school is lenient on pick-up times.

  7. Corinne on August 13th, 2012 11:31 am

    My son (just turned 4) is very reserved around non-family. It breaks my heart when I ask who he played with at daycare and he says “No one, I played myself.” But I think he’s fine, it just bothers ME. I don’t like to think of him being lonely all day…but he’s not actually lonely. He likes to watch the other kids and follows what’s going on, he just doesn’t want to participate.
    Understand, I can write this here and intellectually understand the concept, but when I pick up up this afternoon I’ll still feel the same way. Maybe I should stop asking.

  8. Olivia on August 13th, 2012 11:42 am

    I’m sending my daughter to a program like what Liz described. It’s thru the public school system. Half her class is special needs and the other is “community buddies”, only $60 for part time.

    As for the shyness, don’t push it. Continue to encourage him to say hello, but don’t sweat it just yet. I didn’t really come out of my shyness until I was a teenager and starting working with the public.

  9. Fidi on August 13th, 2012 12:17 pm

    Preschool won’t help with the shyness and initial aeh, rudeness… but he may make some friends over time which helps with self esteem and later in Kindergarden.
    Shy kids are very rude at that age. Be gentle when you teach hime and cut him a lot of slack. Ask other adults/kids to do the same. He will mostly grow out of the rudeness.
    Sometimes we interpret too much into this behavior because we are shy ourselves (and don’t want our kids to be) or we are not (and can’t relate).
    Btw, in our family it’s the 6 year old brother who actually helps my shy 4 year old the most…

  10. Very Bloggy Beth on August 13th, 2012 8:11 pm

    My 4 year old is a lot like that too. He doesn’t even like to ask other kids at the park to use their sand toys. Painfully shy. And I get it, I was a super shy kid too. It’s embarrassing when an adult says hi or asks him for a high five or whatever, and he stares at the wall behind them, deadpan. But, I’ve gotten over it. If people don’t get that he’s just being a shy kid, screw ’em. Most people do get it and really don’t care. Preschool helped a bit, I suppose, in that he was able to trust adults other than me and my husband. But, like I said he’s still shy around other people we see outside the context of school.

  11. yaya on August 13th, 2012 10:51 pm

    Been there, doing that. You describe my kiddo to a perfect T…Rude, grunchy, surly, aloof…he is the funniest, sweetest, snuggliest dude with us but to strangers, teachers, friends, grandparents etc…the list goes on & on, he can be downright Surly. So hard for us parents to deal with :-( My dude is 5.5 and went to preschool for 2 yrs, it helped a bit & he is much more social and has warmed to most kids his age (oddly all the kids want to be his friend because he is funny and somehow naturall ‘cool’) but is still (Rude, Shy, Sensitive, whatever you want to name it) to every one else under the sun & even his buddies on certain days.

    Here’s to hoping kindergarten goes ok in a week…booyah! No answers, just know you are SO not alone in this type of kiddo description category :-)

  12. Maggie on August 14th, 2012 6:00 am

    My daughter is very shy too and it used to bother me so much that she wouldn’t say hi to someone. However, we have discovered that it was so incredibly difficult for her and caused so much anxiety that we just let it go. She is now going into second grade and time has helped, she will say thank you or hi, albeit in a very quiet voice.

    I hope you figure out the preschool situation!

  13. Jenny H. on August 14th, 2012 7:17 am

    My oldest son was like that, and to some extent stil is. He has never had a problem talking to adults, just kids his own age. Unless he has grown up with them. He had a great prek teacher and she helped with some of his shyness, but he was never really one to participate with the whole class. And now we know why. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome this Spring. He has Social and Anxiety Issues. It’s been an experience for all of us. And it explains SO much about him. He is crazy smart, he just lacks social skills. Not all of them, but some. I’m not telling you this to freak you out. And I am in no way implying I think he is Autistic. I’m simply sharing my story. Well, part of it anyway. I understand the frustration, believe me. I feel like maybe it’s harder for me as a parent when my children don’t behave a certain way because I love them and I don’t want to be “that” parent who has a rotten little brat that all the other adults talk about and don’t want their children to play with. Sigh…being a mama is hard work. You do it very well!

  14. Jenny H. on August 14th, 2012 7:17 am


  15. kristin on August 14th, 2012 8:28 am

    I have a VERY shy nephew. This doesn’t exactly apply to your sitch right now, but perhaps it will next year? His bday is in Sept so his mom kept him back a year, so he did an extra year or preschool and started kindergarten a year “late.” That second year of preschool helped him come out of his shell like WHOA. As I said, he is VERY shy, painfully shy… but he also had latent leadership skills. Being around younger kids that didn’t know the routines yet bolstered his self-confidence, I guess. He became a total leader/teacher’s helper-type in school and that translated to the rest of his life.

  16. cara on August 14th, 2012 8:32 am

    So, I’m not anyone with any sort of experience to speak from and no children to even have to worry about any of this with. So there’s my possibly-totally-idiot disclaimer. I also want to say that I totally get being disinterested in a ‘christian-based curriculum’. Heck, I probably would be too. But! Since it’s preschool, I’m wondering if there might be any, yes, ‘christian’ based places that you could look into? I’m thinking they might not all be JESUS EAT JESUS, you know? A lot of times there are places run by churches (affiliated or even AT churches) that aren’t exactly…. churchy? Plus, it’s not like he’s learning evolution as a four year old, you know? I went to a preschool that was at a church because it was one of the ONLY preschools in the area, and I don’t remember ever doing anything church-related there (not that I remember much, I’m just sayin’… it seemed sort of separate from the church, and was attended by all sorts of kids from the area). Just a thought is all… I just sort of seriously doubt that every single christian-oriented place is actually spending all their time teaching jesus to four year olds. If it means anything to you, I don’t attend church and don’t consider myself to really be ‘religious’ of any particular flavor…I don’t want to sound like I’m secretly pushing god on you… I’m totally not at all! I just think *some* of those places *could potentially* be options, and there might be nothing wrong with a lot of what they might teach (you know… discipline… socialization… play time…. colors….). Tha’s all. –best of luck!

  17. cara on August 14th, 2012 8:52 am

    I probably should have just said “I’m sure there are a lot of options”. LOL.

  18. Jen on August 14th, 2012 9:43 am

    OK. after thinking about the other comments this morning, I had to add my 2 cents….okay everyone analyzing your child as a “classic introvert” needs to chill the hell out. I love all “introvert books,” etc…recommended to you. He’s a “classic child” His shyness, etc…is NOTHING more that that. Most kids, who have not spent 400 hours a week in daycare, have natural shyness around new people. That is normal, AND HEALTHY. After years of teaching school I’ve seen it time and time again, kids start Kdg. shy, and as they grow and mature, they “come into their own. Your son will be more than fine, I wouldn’t stop the instilling manners part for a SECOND. For all of those who said stop and try it later on, do not have kids with manners instilled in them. For it to become second nature to the kids, you have to keep working on it, whether they respond or not. It’s called TEACHING folks. Sorry Linda, the comments over analyzing crap DRIVE ME CRAZY and I get tired of people making a federal case out of a little normal, HEALTHY, shyness. Sorry, my 2 cents.

  19. yaya on August 14th, 2012 11:00 am

    Just had to chime in again to agree with Jen above a little bit (although from this mama’s point of view a ‘little normal healthy shyness’ feels like complete ass for the parent some days when your kid is the one giving the proverbial finger to everyone from grandma to the Pope). I do agree that as I poured thru every website and book for highly sensitive kiddos and people etc, that a BIG part of my kid being more reserved/surly/aloof was MY reactions & feelings to his behavior and how I felt it was a direct reflection of ME as a person/mom. Lately we have taken a more laid-back approach & let him be (and honored him for being) who he is…but I am more firm in my reaction to things that are just not OK in the social aspect of things. As a new mom I was so thrown by his behavior that I tried to soothe him or removed him from the situation but now that he is 5.5yrs, as painful as it is for me (especially in public) we do try and instill basic ground rules for being a human being in society, introverted/shy/quiet/whatever. If he wants to snarl at the kindly old supermarket check-out lady, fine or wants to give the cold shoulder to a buddy at preschool who says “hi, so glad you’re here” and my Dude holds up his hand ‘whatever’…fine BUT we do draw the line at being a total skunk in certain situations because socially it’s just not ok, for a 5 yr old or 40 yr old. Of course it is easier for a 40yr old to be an assh*le and have it be pseudo OK. Yet when it’s your kid, it’s really tough to take as a parent but again I am becoming so much more aware of how my kids behavior is not so much a problem as my reaction (and how I’m being viewed) is.

  20. Dana on August 14th, 2012 3:33 pm

    I have a kid who sometimes borders on rude when she is first spoken to by an adult. While I am in no way shy now, I don’t know how I was when I was her age, as my mom died before I had kids and never thought to ask her, and my dad is useless with these types of situations and what he remembers.

    She eventually opens up and then never shuts up, so I often feel that the problem is not that she’s shy, but that she’s rude, and to someone who is the opposite of rude, I find it mortifying. I try to just shrug it off but it gets to me.

    Finally, I realized that if I don’t make such a big deal about it, and shrug it off with a “She takes some time to open up,” it takes the pressure off of everyone involved.

    I have a neighbor who would punish her kid everytime someone said hello to him and he didn’t respond. That was her way of dealing with the issue. We all have our own way. No one should judge; parenting is so god damn tough.

  21. Leah on August 14th, 2012 8:44 pm

    I don’t have a shy child, but she can be pretty stubborn and intentionally rude – both to family and out and about in the world. I do a lot of parroting for her. I don’t know what to call it, but I basically say the sentence for her “Now we say thank you for inviting us over and it was fun, etc” or when she screams “instead we say no thank you Mom, I don’t want carrots today.” And that’s it. I don’t tell her she has to say these things and I don’t make her through threats or anything. But she’s started just repeating. It’s the only parenting success I’ve ever had. Stop setting up a situation where you’ll be embarrassed when he doesn’t respond, as “Tell the nice lady….” just go “Here is where you would say…”. Worth a try.

  22. sharon on August 15th, 2012 5:56 am

    My older son was totally like that at 4. He was shy at school, would ignore people when they said hello, he would hang on my leg instead of playing with the neighborhood kids and he would never say thank you when someone gave him something or said something nice. But it totally passed. By the time he went to kindergarten he was making friends and would chat with anyone who wanted to have a conversation. He’s almost 11 now and I can’t believe the difference. He just grew out of the shyness.

  23. Jane Ann on August 15th, 2012 9:13 am

    I have the same problem with my nine year old. She seems fine at school, has a few friends, gets along well with the teachers but if someone she doesn’t know says “hi” or asks her a question, she clams up. I try to explain to her that it’s rude not to answer someone, but I’m not sure it’s getting through. She’s kind of like my cat – she won’t talk to the person, but she will stay in the room and observe them. I guess it’s like a vetting process or something. If she deems them worthy, she will eventually open up. I’m kind of at a loss and just hoping that she’ll grow out of it but I’ve stopped trying to “parrot” her – I don’t want her to get used to me answering questions for her.

    I know I offered no advice, but I feel your pain. I wouldn’t worry too much about him. He’s four and has a lot of time to grow out of that. I will say that one thing I try and do is if we are at a restaurant, I have my daughter order for herself. If she wants a refill, I have her ask for it. If she wants to pet a dog at the park, I have her go ask the dog owner…anything that can get her to talk to adults.

  24. Marna on August 15th, 2012 4:16 pm

    Linda do you think that Dylan might be truly introverted? I learned that being shy and being introverted are not the same thing. And raising an introverted kid sometimes can be a challenge.

    I know that I thought Nick was just shy because he too didn’t want to socialize like the other kids. He would have rather spent time alone reading, or doing stuff that was independent. He didn’t like strangers at all.

    So I had to learn about introverted kids which was hard for me because well I am not, I am outgoing and extroverted. And then I had to understand what it meant to be introverted. I got a huge education.

    Nick for instance would talk to family members but forget it when it came to strangers.

    He did way more listening than talking and he only has a few close friends. Nick loves to read or play games with a few, he loves to go into his own room with the door closed, he is creative, had imaginary friends, and always watched games first or really any other activity before he joined it, and then he’d have to be coaxed.

    We had to work really hard with him to have him understand it was okay to make a mistake. If he made one in public, holy shit, he would become deeply and I mean deeply humiliated. What else – oh yeah he gets crabby “assholic” if he spends a lot of time with a lot of other people and he does not to this day share his feelings easily.

    I would think Dylan is probably behaving normally for a four year old kid who’s perhaps introverted.

  25. Anne on August 15th, 2012 7:33 pm

    We compromised on having her wave at people who said hello to her. This showed that she was aware of them, and was a friendly gesture.

  26. Meg on August 16th, 2012 1:23 am

    Re shyness, this is total assvice, I’m just saying what I do, I don’t expect this to necessarily be right for you or to work for you.

    I am VERY big on basic manners, especially please and thank you. But at the same time I’m also very big on letting kids hide if they need to. On making allowances for different personalities and preferences. So I tend to be absolutely immovable about some minimum of manners but what that might be will depend on the kid and the situation.

    For example, my sister brought little presents for all my kids the other day. My mildly autistic 7 y.o. is at the stage with my sister where she’ll warm up to her eventually, each time she sees her, but it does take time. She took the present, happily enough. I told her to say thank you, she didn’t, wanted to run off to her room, was mad at me. I made her say thank you but then let her run off again. (She came out again of her own accord not long afterwards and was friendly to my sister, but that’s not the point, blah blah blah!)

    So, in your situation, I’d find some minimum of manners that the kid was able to handle with *some* pushing, then I’d let the kid continue to be shy. I like suggestions above about things like a wave or a smile, if talking’s too hard.

    (I’d never push the kid to the point of MASSIVELY UPSETTING them or me; if saying thank you was really beyond my 7 y.o., I’d find something else that she was capable of doing with a little pushing. I wouldn’t force her to say thank you if it was that hard for her. I’d find something else then would enforce that every time.)

    (I’m not clarifying because I think you’re an idiot and would go scream at your kid to do an elaborate mime wearing a top hat and a pheasant costume to indicate just how very pleased he is on this fine morn to meet yonder new person! I’m clarifying in case it looks like I’m a horror to my poor kids.)

  27. Marie Green on August 16th, 2012 6:58 am

    My twins have historically been EXTREMELY shy. They went to preschool though, and after they adjust to the setting, they would warm up and talk to the other kids and even the teachers. They were still painfully (and rudely, like you said) shy when they started elementary school. Again, though, once they warmed up, they spoke to their teachers and classmates just fine. HOWEVER, if we saw a teacher anyplace but school? They would totally hide behind me and refuse to engage.

    This also goes for other adults in our lives: we see the same people every week for dinner, have close friends that are practically the girls’ AUNTS and UNCLES, that the girls talk to and interact with nearly daily THEIR ENTIRE LIVES. But if we’d run into them at Target? NOPE. No talking, not even to say hi.

    It IS embarrassing. They would also refuse to say thank you when necessary in certain settings, which made me mad. I ended up just saying “She says thank you” FOR HER, so they would see me modeling manners. To them, even being asked to say thank you was being asked to “preform.”

    Anyway, they are 9 now and much MUCH less shy. They are still reserved in some settings, but the painful shyness is gone. They will even strike up a conversation with adults they know, even in different settings!

    So yes, I’d say give it time.

  28. Holly on August 16th, 2012 6:04 pm

    Socialization is one of the best reasons to send a kid to a daycare. It could just be his temperament, it could be he has some skills to learn. But that’s what those trained teachers are there to help with. It’s a win-win! :)

  29. Jill on August 17th, 2012 9:17 am

    I was a nanny for a shy kid. He did get WAAAAY over it after starting preschool. But I get the good manners thing.

    I used to tell him that he didn’t have to speak directly to the person talking to him, but he had to tell ME his answers to their questions/greetings. That way, he was learning appropriate conversation skills, but didn’t have the pressure of talking to someone he wasn’t comfortable with.

    Like I said, after a few months of preschool, he was a totally different kid, though he would still get bashful when put on the spot.

  30. Jen on August 17th, 2012 12:51 pm

    Holly- THAT IS ridiculous….”socialization is the best reason to send a kid to daycare?” You’ve got to be kidding me!!!!!!!!!! Yeah, waaaaaaaaaaay better to have a bunch of immature peers “socialize” him than his own mother/father….keep trying to make yourself feel better, because that’a load of b.s!!!!

  31. Randy on August 17th, 2012 2:44 pm

    We did the co-op preschool thing with one of ours. Total waste of time and money, and mostly time… and money, of course.

    Is homeschooling not an option for you? Public school sucks ass anymore. Teach fractions? Yeah they teach them about 10 ways each one confusing your kid more than the last.

  32. Andrea on August 18th, 2012 4:57 pm

    Little harsh on the socialization being one of the best reasons for preschool, I think.
    Socialization is a huge part of preschool. More important than learning ABC’s and 123’s. And this is coming from a preschool teacher. I work with a group of 3.5 year olds, with different temperaments. Some very outgoing, flexible, fiesty, and some very cautious, slow to warm up. Frequently the outgoing kids need reminders that the more cautious kids need space and time before they’re ready to greet other people, or play. Sometimes they need time to observe what’s going on before making a choice about what they wish to get involved with.

    I liked my daughter’s preschool, which was a ministry of the Methodist Church it was located in. There was not a heavy Christian influence on the daily activities. The excellent staff and super environment both indoors and outdoors far outweighed my concerns, and I’m Jewish.

  33. Clover on September 24th, 2012 8:00 pm

    I’m very late to the party here, but thought I’d throw in my .02
    My daughter is literally days younger than Dylan and behaves very similarly. A year ago we enrolled her in a daycare in Puyallup (not a chain) for 2x a week and it has done WONDERS.
    She’s now in the pre-K daycare class and the teacher is an actual, certified teacher. We pay $28/day, so about $252/month for 2 full days per week. They work on letters and numbers, work on social interactions, and go on field trips even though it’s considered a daycare.
    My point being, maybe check into local daycares. Some may offer similar pre-K programs and be more affordable.

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