How To Help Your Shy Child

Shy child closing eyes

Being shy can be extremely difficult for children and adults alike.  Luckily adults learn how to build their lives around their shyness, while children still need to learn how to cope with this debilitating fear.  Most shy adults will be quick to admit that they feel that they are not living a fulfilled life – they feel as if they are missing out on life.  Following this reasoning, we should try to teach our children to overcome shyness as far as possible.

What is shyness?

Having experienced shyness first hand, I can tell you that being shy is a very uncomfortable fear of new situations, people and environments.  When you are shy you are constantly afraid of being judged negatively by other people and you tend to be oversensitive to criticism – sometimes interpreting harmless statements as stabs directed at you. This fear prevents you from making friends and joining in the activities you really want to be part of. It is heartbreaking to think that a little body and heart has to deal with such grown up (negative) emotions…

How does shyness come about?

There are various factors that can contribute to being shy:

  • Some children have a genetic predisposition to becoming shy, in other words it forms part of their temperament.
  • Poor bonding between a parent and an infant can lead to a child with low self-esteem and poor social skills. These factors increase the likelihood that your child may turn out to be shy.
  • Parents who are shy are inadvertently teaching their child to interact with their environment in the same way. They are modeling shy behavior to their child.
  • Overprotective parents teach their children to be wary of new situations and people.
  • Constant teasing by brothers, sisters, parents or any other significant person in the child’s life can lead to low self-esteem and shyness.

It is difficult to believe that shyness is not all bad.  Shy children are generally more obedient than outgoing children, they listen more attentively in class and tend to try harder to achieve a desired level of work. 

Fear of negative judgment is the driving force.

The negative consequences of shyness are that your child gets less practice in social interaction, has a fear of making new friends and finds it difficult to maintain friendships. Shy children avoid potential beneficial activities like sport, dancing and debate, because of a fear of embarrassing themselves. These children often feel lonely and left out, just adding to their low self-esteem and confidence.  Assertiveness is not a skill that these children possess.

How can we help our child to overcome shyness?

Several strategies have been brought to the table to help parents help their children. No method is fool proof. This is a matter of persevering until you find what works for you and your child.

  • It is sometimes helpful to tell your child about times you felt shy and how you overcame those feelings of shyness. Emphasize how much better you felt after conquering your shyness and the benefits derived from it.
  • Describe the benefits of being more outgoing. These include having more friends, being able to make new friends, having more fun and being confident enough to participate in group-activities.
  • A parent must show empathy with your child when they are afraid to interact. Show that you understand that they are afraid and it is ok to feel afraid. Inform her that a lot of kids to feel the same way. Guide her to find ways to interact that would be easier.
  • Prevent other people from labeling your child as shy. Never refer to your child as being shy, rather say she is very out going with people she feels comfortable with. Labeling can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Always praise your child for her efforts even if they are small. Boost her self-esteem and confidence will follow.
  • Set goals for her and measure her progress. Make it visible to her on a chart.
  • Be a model for her. Show her how you can comfortably interact with others, from adults to children. Nudge her to do the same, but never push.
  • Role playing with your child before entering new environments can be beneficial and take the edge of her fear, seeing that she already mastered it in a safe place.
  • Eliminate all teasing that breaks down her self-esteem. Something that you perceive as good-natured teasing can lead to deep-seated, negative beliefs.
  • Never make an issue of her shy behavior, acknowledge fear but constantly praise progress.

If you feel your child’s shyness is becoming a problem of such magnitude that she seems depressed or starts to isolate herself completely from her peers, it might be the right time to take her to a professional.  Rather be safe than sorry.