Shyness is very common among children. It’s not difficult to spot a shy child in a public place. They cling to their mom’s leg, turn away, and bury their face when someone approaches them. If you have a child like this, you’ve probably wondered what you can do to help your child with shyness. Take a look inside the mind of a shy child, and learn how to nudge yours out of the shadows.
To help a shy child, you need to understand more about when and where the shyness happens. Does it happen at large gatherings, or when meeting with one person? Is it just in one location or situation, like in their school classroom or when making a phone call? You can do much more for your shy child if you can pinpoint the triggers of their shy behavior.
If your child’s shyness interferes with nearly every aspect of daily life, you may have a more serious problem. A child with Asperger’s Syndrome has extreme social anxiety. A child with a non-verbal learning disability is unable to read non-verbal cues from other people, resulting in social skill problems. Visit with your child’s doctor if your child’s shyness seems extreme.
Shy behavior is part of a “slow to warm up” temperament. Does your child have a cautious approach to things, a “wait and see” attitude? Children with this “slow to warm” temperament are very sensitive to emotions. Their brains absorb a lot of emotional and social stimulation, so it takes longer for them to sort it all out. Once they do adapt, they can be as extroverted and energetic as any child.
Perhaps your child only seems shy in certain places or situations. They are noisy and talkative at home, but shy when they walk into their classroom. You can’t get them to stop talking with their friends, but they seem tongue-tied when they have to ask an adult a question. These kinds of situations can be troublesome, but may be easier to overcome because they are isolated.
Regardless of what is causing your child’s shyness, there are many things you can do to help them adapt to their social environment. Be an assertive model for them in social situations. Say “Hi” first, smile at others, greet people as you do your errands. Show kindness to others by holding doors, paying compliments, making pleasant small talk. Your child may not follow suit right away, but they can learn a lot just by observing you.
Determine whether your child’s friends are a good “fit” for your child. Did the playmate encourage and affirm your child? Or were they competitive and overbearing? When you find a playmate that seems to be a good match, provide times and places to get together where they won’t easily be overrun by other groups of kids. Find activities your child likes with supportive inclusive leaders. Their interest in the activities can help distract them from their anxious feelings.
Shy children are often overly critical of themselves and others. They don’t take social risks because they see failure as the likely outcome. Avoid criticizing others in public in front of your child. This will reinforce their idea that others really are judging them harshly. Also, keep yourself from saying a lot of self-critical remarks out loud. This habit will confirm their fears, and will keep them in a timid anxious mindset.
Shy children do not always become total wallflowers as adults. Parents who support and provide learning opportunities help their children learn how to adapt. Their shy nature may not totally disappear, but they can learn how to work with it as they mature. You can help your shy child go from a wallflower to an open blossom.