One ‘problem’ that many parents are faced with relates to the shyness of their child. There several tips for overcoming child’s shyness, but you must remember that this is not always necessarily a bad thing. In some cases age-related changes in your child’s personality and interaction will be evident and this has nothing to do with your child’s abilities and neither does it reflect on your parenting styles. Some children are shyer than others. However in cases where it has become a significant problem that interferes with your child’s functioning, you may need to help them work on their shyness.
Understanding Shyness In Children
One thing that you need to remember as a parent is that shyness is often something that a child finds helpful in certain situations. It is a kind of survival mechanism that they use to get through a new or difficult time. Situations that fall into this category may include:
- Your child may simply be a private person, and there is nothing wrong with that. In addition it may simply mean that he or she is an attentive listener interested in paying you the full attention that you deserve.
- Your child may be a cautious person or a very deep thinker who likes to fully assess a situation before becoming actively engaged in it.
- It may be a method that your child uses to protect his or her inner peace.
Although most people equate ‘shyness’ with ‘problem’ this is not always the case. One of the best ways to help your child with his or her shyness is to point out that there is nothing wrong with it.
Although being shy can be a sign of strength in your child, it is important to remember that in certain children shyness can be a manifestation of inner turmoil rather than of inner peace. A well adjusted but shy child will still smile, nod, and make eye-contact while a child suffering from inner problems will not. In this case anger is often the root cause of this reserved manner and requires further exploration in order to determine what sparked that anger off. Determining the reasons for your child’s shyness is an important step in overcoming child’s shyness.
Some children who have low self-esteem and who lack self-confidence will use the ‘shyness’ label as an excuse to avoid social interactions and to avoid developing their social skills and abilities beyond the point that they are currently at. This is, again, a handicap for that child that must be addressed. As a parent you will need to closely examine your child and his or her interactions with others to determine if a lack of self-esteem is the problem. Addressing the self-esteem issue will in run be helpful in helping your child to overcome their shyness.
Often parents are worried when their children go from being bubbly and spontaneous at age two, to being shy and reserved at age three. Although this may seem like a major personality reversal that deserves concern, it is actually a normal developmental process:
- Children at this age begin to develop stranger anxiety as a defense mechanism
- They also become more aware of what other people think about them and begin to worry about making a good impression. Consequently the spontaneity that often characterizes younger toddlers disappears.
It is very important that you show your quiet child a great deal of appreciation. Remember that their reserved nature often reflects a deeply caring personality and so you should hug him or her as often as possible to show that you understand.
Don’t push your child. The more you try to ‘help’ a shy child the more they are likely to recoil. Also avoid using the word ‘shy’ to describe your child as this has negative connotations. The word ‘reserved’ is far more accurate and a much nicer word to use.
If your child has a skill, do not push them to demonstrate their skill without warning as this may be uncomfortable for them and they may recoil from the situation and be wrongly labeled as shy. Gain their permission first.
Last but not least you need to be aware of your own behavior around your child and whether or not you may be creating the shy situation. A mother, for example, who talks a lot and overrides her child when he or she tries to speak are creating an excellent climate for inappropriate shyness.
Overcoming Your Child’s Shyness: Steps
Step 1: Extracurricular Activities
One of the better ways to encourage a shy child to be more outgoing is by involving them in extracurricular activities. However you have to be very careful in this regard. Shy children dislike being forced into social situations that they did not ask for. Do not spring an extracurricular activity on your child. This will simply make them recoil against and the activity will become a source of misery for your child. It is far better to discuss with your child what they would like to do. If they are unsure, let them try out a few activities in settings where new social situations are not part of the process. Let your child decide. Also, if your child requests to do an activity that you have no interest in, do not dissuade him r her, but give your child the encouragement that they need.
Step 2: Discussions
Usually your child will avoid social situations because they feel anxious for some reasons, and this anxiety can manifest itself in the form of what we know as ‘shyness’. If your child has a shyness ‘problem’ you should discuss the causes of their anxiety with them. Common causes are:
- Being afraid that the other children won’t like them
- Being afraid that they will be rejected by other children
- Being afraid that they won’t share a common interest with the other children
Often this process will require that you question your child, but do not grill them endlessly on the topic. Ask a few gentle questions and then let it be: if you create an atmosphere of acceptance and one in which your child feel that he or she can speak to you about their worries, they will come to you on their own with an explanation. Difficulty interacting with peers is something that is more common than you think, but it can be helped if your child is able to identify why he or she feel s that way as this will help them to begin addressing the problems that are causing their shyness in the first place.
Step 3: Encouragement
Encouragement is the cornerstone of a good parent-child relationship. You may feel that you need to encourage your child to be more outgoing in a social situation, but if your child is simply a quiet person who prefers to observe rather than interact, and who likes to fully assess situations and people before investing attention in them, you need to encourage them on that course of action as well. Unconditional acceptance is a necessity as a parent and this implies that, if your child is naturally reserved, you will not pathologise their personality by labeling them as why and insisting that they change who they are. If your child comes to you and actually asks for help in changing their personality in this regard, that is a different story. However you must be careful to indicate at all times that you love him or her just the way they are, and that you personally do into see any reason why they should change. Before helping them you should also sit down and explore the reasons why they want to be less shy and more outgoing. Clearly there are reasons that are ‘better’ than others in this regard.
Overcoming Child’s Shyness In The Classroom
So far we have discussed how to deal with shy children as a parent, but this is a problem that is also often faced by teachers in the classroom. There are a number of tips to keep in mind if you are the teacher of a shy child or two:
- You need to speak to the shy child frequently. Children who are shy often do not have the courage to speak up in class if they have a problem or if they need to ask a question. It will be your responsibility as the teacher to speak with the child alone in order to determine if he or she needs any extra help. Do not give them the idea that there is anything wrong with their reserved manner.
- If the shy child completes a math problem particularly well or quickly, or if he or she completes a particularly special drawing, point this out to the rest of the class. Use him or her as an example of excellence. Do not do this too frequently, and do not do it unless it is true. Also, do not ask the child to comment or help another child with the problem. Rather let him or her be quietly proud. That way they will come to understand that being quiet an being successful are not mutually exclusive.
- A good classroom procedure is to rearrange the seating arrangement frequently. This will give any children in the class who are shy the opportunity to become comfortable around different children in the class. Often shy children just take a little longer than others to form friendships. Do this about three or four times a year so that the child has enough time to become comfortable in the new environment.
- It is a good idea to give shy students a special job to do, although you should be careful about marking the student out as a ‘teacher’s pet’ because this will not help his or her chances of developing friendships with classmates. The ‘job’ can be something very simple, such as going around the class to hand out or pick up assignments to the other children. This should be a task that it rotated, but do not forget to include the shy child in this rotation simply because you think that they will not feel comfortable. On the contrary this can make them feel better equipped to cope approach other children in more social settings, such as at recess.
- If you think that a shy child in your class is uncomfortable performing tasks in front of the entire class, you should occasionally split the class up into smaller groups and have the child perform her task to a smaller audience. This is often enough to decrease a shy child’s nerves remarkably. Such activities could be oral presentations or reading aloud.
- Make sure that you keep the parents informed. Tell them what you are doing to help their child to participate more actively in a classroom situation. Ask them to also engage in activities and to speak to the child form their side to see if he or she has any problems that they would not necessarily share with a teacher.
- Children are often the target of teasing. Monitor your classroom carefully and stop teasing in its tracks when possible. Explain to the child who is doing the teasing how hurtful it can be and ask them to imagine a situation in which they are the one being teased. This is an old and cliché method (“Do unto other what you would have them do unto you”) but it is more effective than you may think.
There are a number of issues faced by parents and, in many ways, overcoming child’s shyness is one of the least important. When looking into this aspect of parenting you need to decide whether or not your child’s shyness is a serious problem for your child. Many outgoing parents are more concerned about how their child’s shyness affects them rather than how their child is really feeling. Consequently you need to keep you child at the top of your priority list in this regard.