My friend Mia has two beautiful children but they are both two poles apart; one is a social butterfly while the other enjoys his own company and hates being in a crowd. She never thought much of it until her child’s teachers started pointing out to her that your son freezes up when asked to speak in front of class and spends his break time alone. Mia was pretty worried so she started looking more into it and discovered that shyness can have several causes and could be ongoing or just temporary. More importantly, it is not something that you should change forcibly.
Just remember, all children are unique and have their own special way of dealing with the world around them. So, how do parents support a child that is demonstrating shyness? How can we support them and help them thrive without forcing them to change?
Shyness is not a flaw
Parents hardly ever worry if their children have lots of friends or if they’re getting invited to lots of birthday parties. But, it is quite worrisome for them when their children are on the quiet side and have a smaller social circle. Shyness is not a weakness and in fact, it could be a benefit for your child by making them think before they act and be more selective in who they befriend. Embrace this and let your child know it is in fact a super power. Shy people are often very observant and sensitive and this can be something that you can turn around to a wonderful trait, instead of one that causes any concern.
When you label a child as good, naughty or shy, it makes them think that the personality trait or behavior defines them and it makes it difficult for them to move beyond the label. They might even think that something is wrong with them when you repeatedly label them as a shy child. This includes labeling them when you describe them to teachers or friends and family. The language of this label is what will define that personality trait.
Offer your support
Always try to support your child by empathizing with them and by not pushing them into social situations too quickly which they might find uncomfortable. Start off small – maybe a playdate with just one child and move to smaller group of friends which they feel comfortable with. It helps to roleplay and rehearse what to say before any social situations that might trigger shyness. It’s a great idea to teach them words to interact with their peers so they feel confident when dealing with others such as “Can I play too?” or “Would you be able to help me?”
Giving them tools to support them when they feel overwhelmed is something that will help them feel safe with their shyness – if they know what to do if they are feeling like it’s too much, then this teaches them coping skills and also self soothing.
Build up their confidence
Remember that being shy might be a part of your child’s personality and there’s nothing wrong with it. You have to believe that as a parent to pass the same feeling onto your child and you can also model confident behavior in front of them by being relaxed and calm when socially interacting with others. Look for opportunities to encourage them because children who feel good about themselves tend to be more confident. Remember it’s a super power!
Although it might seem easy to coddle your shy child and protect them from all challenging social situations by saying, “Oh, it’s okay. You don’t ever have to go to social gatherings etc.”, it won’t be in their best interest to do so. Doing this will send a message that social situations really are something to be terrified of and it also denies them the chance to develop the skills he or she needs to overcome their fears. So in small doses, and ease them into it, just gently help them build their resilience up to coping in social situations.