INSIDE: Learn about shyness and its causes, as well as practical ways you can help a shy child.
Let me tell you about my daughter. She’s a wonderful eleven-year-old. At home, she is funny, chatty and full of beans. But in public, even at small family gatherings, she can be a bit shy and withdrawn. While she gets on brilliantly with her closest friends, she’s unlikely to start conversations or race to join in with groups of kids she doesn’t know well. Instead, she tends to hang back and watch for a while, often staying close to a familiar adult.
But she does have an inner peace, a quiet self-confidence that I admire. She knows her mind and rarely seems overly influenced by her peers. For instance, she still loves to play with her dolls and is not worried that some of her friends think they’re childish and are more interested in the latest iPhones.
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It’s important to realise that in many cases, there is nothing wrong with a child being shy. It can be just part of a person’s temperament.
Shyness is often misunderstood. People think shy kids must have a problem and a poor self-image. But most of the time, this label couldn’t be more wrong. Many shy children have an unassuming self-confidence, an inner calm that shines through. Far too often, the extroverts in this world are just not quiet long enough to notice it.
Table of Contents
- But What Makes a Child Shy?
- So, If You Have a Shy Child, What Can You Do to Help?
- Final thoughts
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But What Makes a Child Shy?
I suspect it’s down to a combination of nature and nurture.
I suffered from shyness and social anxiety as a child. Several factors probably contributed to this. My family broke up when I was small, and I was frequently between various countries and schools. Being a shy child at school was certainly challenging.
But I also had a naturally cautious disposition; I’d never dive unthinking into new social situations like other kids seemed able to do. Both my parents are far more socially confident than me, so I doubt I inherited my shyness from them.
On the other hand, my daughter is a replica of her dad, who recounts tales of how, as a kid, he did all he could to avoid the limelight. Thankfully, she has had a very happy childhood, free of the turbulence and pain of my own early years. Her world has been stable and secure. Should this not have resulted in her being a more gregarious character and less of a shy child? Perhaps nature rather than nurture was her biggest influencer.
Naturally, you may still be worried if your shy child is withdrawn at school or barely speaks in public. How do you know if they are just shy or if there is something wrong? Here’s how to tell. A quiet child with healthy self-esteem makes eye contact, is polite, seems generally contented, and is pleasant to be around. They are just quiet.
Some kids are deep-thinkers and a little cautious. There’s nothing wrong with that. They may be slow to warm up in social situations, but once comfortable, they are great company. These kids may be reserved, but they often have many valuable inner qualities, just waiting to be discovered.
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But for other children, shyness can be a sign of inner turmoil rather than inner peace. They may withdraw, avoid eye contact and have behavioural problems. Rather than being calm inside, they often feel angry or fearful.
The word ‘shy’ doesn’t quite sum up the magnitude of the emotions it’s meant to represent for these children. It doesn’t reflect their intense social anxiety, the twisted sense of dread in their stomachs, the cold sweats or the overriding urge they have to run away. For them, the word ‘shy’ is a serious understatement.
Extreme shyness can be a significant problem for these kids. It impacts their emotional wellbeing and limits their ability to make friends and be accepted by their peer group.
Parenting a shy child can be challenging and we can often be left wondering what to do for the best. But there are several things you can do to help:
The most important thing is not to label them as ‘shy’ or ‘nervous’. Rather, remember that the words spoken over a child stick and can affect them for the rest of their lives. If other people comment on your child’s shyness, be sure to minimise their impact by responding with something like, “Lucy likes to watch what’s going on for a while before joining in.”
Empathise with your shy child
Try to empathise and acknowledge what your child is feeling, rather than dismissing their emotions. It doesn’t help a shy child when they’re told ‘not to be silly and to go and join in.’ This only makes them feel ashamed and become more anxious. Instead, show them that you know how they are feeling. Label their emotions to help them better understand themselves. Try saying something like, “I know you’re worried about all these people, and that’s understandable.”
Build them up emotionally
Give them lots of cuddles, and be sure to tell them often how much you love them and how special they are to you. This makes them feel valued and gives them a deep sense of security, essential foundations needed in developing the confidence to interact with others.
Give them an example to follow
Kids learn by watching, so you need to show them how it’s done. So, let them see you introduce yourself to strangers, ask for help, be friendly and chatty in social gatherings, giving compliments or saying thank you.
Avoid the temptation to shield your shy child
When you are with your child in a situation that you know they find difficult, it’s easy to want to shield them and do things for them. But doing that just leads to them becoming more reliant on others. Instead, step back a little. Be there to support and encourage them, but allow them the space to learn through their own interactions.
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Be specific in your praise
Be sure to praise them for their efforts, no matter how successful they are. Rather than just using a generic ‘well done,’ describe the specific things they have done well. For example, “I was so pleased to see you join the others on the bouncy castle even though you were nervous. That was really brave, especially as you didn’t know them.” This will help them recognise and take pride in what they have achieved.
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Get professional help if necessary
If your child is suffering from acute social anxiety, which hinders their ability to live a normal life and their mental health, it’s important to get them some professional help. A visit to your family doctor is the best place to start.
I hope you find these strategies helpful, and I’d love to hear what has worked for you and your child.
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You might also love….
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- 18 Signs of Low Self-Esteem in a Child and How to Help
Thanks for reading,