We have a shy child. She is the product of two parents who were both chronically shy as children and who are also both on the far end of the introvert scale. (Not that being an introvert automatically means you are shy, nor does being an extrovert make you immune to being shy.) But there she is, your fairly typical shy child, doing her best to make her way in the world.
Parenting a shy child is not always easy. From the outside, having a child who seems perfectly content to sit quietly by your side in social situations may seem ideal. There is no need to be keeping an eye on where she has got to, no need to be playing the mediator when play goes wrong and highly unlikely that she will speak up voluntarily and embarrass you in front of your friends.
What can’t be seen though is the child who wants to join in, but doesn’t know how to ask. The child who likes to talk (quite a lot I might add) but who sometimes can’t think up questions on the spot to keep a conversation flowing. The child who knows the answer but isn’t confident enough to put her hand up. Or the child who is perfectly happy in the company of one or two familiar friends but who is overwhelmed in larger group situations.
Is being shy normal?
Some level of shyness in children is perfectly normal. All children will at times be unsure about talking to unfamiliar people, standing in front of a group to speak, raising their hand to answer questions, have difficulties making new friends or will just prefer to sit back and observe for a while before joining in with others.
If, however, their shy behaviour is contributing to anxiety in social settings, or is limiting the social interactions that they or you as a family partake in, then you may need to seek some additional support from a professional such as a counsellor or psychologist.
What can I do to help my shy child?
- Don’t call them shy! Thankfully I got this tip long before I needed to use it. Don’t label your child as shy and don’t let others do it either. Instead, be ready to say something like ‘Johnny sometimes take a little time to warm up, he’ll come over when he’s ready to play’.
- Give your child time to warm up to new social situations and stay close by until you see they are comfortable with the situation.
- Don’t be overly comforting as this gives the message that there is indeed something to be scared of, and may inadvertently reinforce shyness.
- Be specific when praising your child for using their social skills – for example, “Did you see how Mrs Smith smiled when you said good morning to her?”.
- Encourage playdates with just one other child at a time. Spending time together helps build a connection that can carry over into larger group situations.
- Be your child’s coach – think ahead about social situations and coach your child in ways to interact with others like making eye contact, smiling and having a few questions ready to start a conversation.
- Talk through upcoming social situations and give your child a chance to come up with ideas about how they may approach these. Come back later and talk about how these ideas worked or did not work.
- Stand back and resist joining in the conversation when you see your child doing well when talking to other children or adults. Equally, be ready to give a little prompt or interpret a question if your child looks lost in the conversation.
- Try to model confident social behaviour yourself, so your child can watch and learn from you – a big challenge if you are shy, but also a great teaching moment for your child.
What strategies have you used to help your child to overcome their shyness?