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Helping Your Child Conquer Shyness

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image You and your child are very excited about attending a birthday party. However, when you arrive there, he will not talk to anyone, looks at the floor and clings to your leg. He acts like he does not want to be there at all. Does this scenario sound familiar?

All children can experience shyness at some point. Shyness, or feelings of discomfort or inhibition in social situations, is a common issue with young children. As a parent, you want to see your child grow socially and developmentally. You may be worried that shyness will cause your child to miss out on activities and friendships. While, researchers suspect that there may be a genetic component to shyness, past experiences may also play an important role.

Parents and others who work with children frequently attempt to involve shy children in activities because they know that shy kids are missing out on social and developmental experiences. However, it is also important to help these children overcome shyness, because some of them will not outgrow it. Some become shy teens and adults.

When Should You Be Concerned About Shyness?

There are no precise guidelines for when you should seek professional help for your shy child. If shyness is particularly troublesome or if the shyness causes significant social impairment, like refusing to speak at school, or refusing to join groups, a professional evaluation may be needed.

Ordinarily, shyness should not interfere with your child's ability to grow and develop socially. Social anxiety disorder is generally overlooked in childhood and thought to be extreme shyness, or even depression. More often than not, social anxiety disorder develops at an early age, not during adolesence as is commonly thought.

How Can You Help?

There are a number of techniques that you can use to help your child overcome shyness. Here are just a few important ways that you can help:

Try Not to Be Judgmental

Try to find a balance that allows a supportive environment. Parents can sometimes be overprotective, which may make your child feel like you are being judgemental. Judgemental behavior from parents can often reinforce the child's perception that they are being judged by everyone else and increase the shyness. It's possible that your child may like to play alone, read, or just listen. Support your child's many other strengths and slowly work on buiding confidence to overcome shy behaviors.

Set Reasonable Goals

Set reasonable goals for children to overcome shyness and help them to achieve these goals. Children can make gradual progress toward becoming more comfortable in social situations with encouragement.

An important first step is for parents to anticipate when a child will exhibit shyness. Try tackling shyness in small steps by setting a goal that your child can attain, or by practicing social situations that may be encountered. For example, if your child has trouble meeting people, start small by practicing introductions. The next time you go out, allow your child to make an introduction to a friend or neighbor. Positive responses help build confidence, and will allow you to move to the next step.

Offering a reward in exchange for meeting the goal is one of the best motivators for helping your child to change behavior. However, if the goal isn't met and no reward was earned, feedback is still very important. Taking time to praise any small progress and effort toward overcoming shyness is very helpful.

Do Not Push

Overcoming shyness is a balance between not being overly protective and not being overly pushy. Although it is important for parents to help children to make small social accomplishments, it is also important not push your child into uncomfortable situations. Parents may run into more resistance if they push their children too hard. The key is to expect gradual improvement.

Do Not Use the Shy Label

When describing your child, refrain from using the shy label. Using the word shy as a description may encourage your child to think and act that way.. Of course, family, friends and others may still innocently make remarks in front of your child about his shyness. You can downplay the shyness by stating that your child isn't shy, but takes some time to get warm up to others.

Empathize and Identify With Your Child

It is helpful to empathize with your child's feelings of shyness. If you were shy as a child and overcame this behavior, share your story with your child. It is also important for parents to reassure children that feeling comfortable in various social situations takes practice. Reading children's books about shyness to children is another way parents can talk about shyness.

Work Together for the Best Results

Enlisting the help of caregivers and teachers will give your efforts the most impact. Share which techniques are working and which are not to help your child overcome shyness, and work together toward gradually decreasing his shyness.

  • American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

    http://www.aacap.org

  • Mental Health America

    http://www.nmha.org

  • Canadian Mental Health Association

    http://www.ontario.cmha.ca

  • Canadian Psychological Association

    http://www.cpa.ca

  • Dowshen S. Questions & answers. Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/question/emotions/shyness%5Fstrategies.html. Updated October 2012. Accessed October 22, 2013.

  • FAQ: How can I help a shy child? Illinois Early Learning Project website. Available at: http://illinoisearlylearning.org/faqs/shy.htm. Updated May 2009. Accessed October 22, 2013.

  • Idleman J. Helping children with shyness. Hand In Hand website. Available at: http://www.handinhandparenting.org/news/48/64/Helping-Children-with-Shyness. Accessed October 22, 2013.

  • Miller SR, Tserakhava V, et al. "My child is shy and has no friends: what does parenting have to do with it?". J Youth Adolesc. 2011;40(4):442-452.

  • Rosenthal J, Jacobs L, et al. Beyond shy: When to suspect social anxiety disorder. J Fam Pract. 2007;56(5):369-374.

  • Shyness in children. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available: http://www.handinhandparenting.org/news/48/64/Helping-Children-with-Shyness. Updaed July 9, 2013. Accessed October 22, 2013.