Shyness is OK!
Your child’s shyness may manifest itself in many ways, but the thing that most parents become concerned with when one of their children is shy is their inability to make friends or feel comfortable in social situations.
Keep in mind that shyness doesn’t equate social anxiety or social problems, it’s a natural personality trait found in many people, and there’s actually a lot to celebrate about shyness.
Shy people are very observant, very good listeners and tend to be comfortable being by themselves. Though often in our society we celebrate the loud and outgoing personalities, it’s often the shy people who keep us feeling comfortable and heard.
Shyness can be a problem in a few situations. If you believe that your child’s shyness comes from fear or anger, if they’ve suddenly become shy when they were previously outgoing (of course this doesn’t apply to certain stages of development for very young children), or if your child suffers from self-esteem issues, you may want to consider some alternative methods of getting to the root of your child’s shyness.
Otherwise, embrace your child’s shyness while giving them some powerful tools to create meaningful relationships and feel more comfortable in social situations.
1. Give Them Time
Certain stages of childhood development, particularly from birth to age 6, may cause your child to exhibit particularly shy or clingy behaviour. This will be particularly true when your child is exposed to strangers or new friends.
Give your child time to acclimate to the new person at a distance before expecting much from them. Stay close while encouraging them to explore.
These stages come and go, and you’ll find that children most often warm up quite quickly when they are given the time to do so at their own pace.
2. Role Play
If your older child’s shyness seems to be making it difficult to make new friends, you may want to try a role play situation to teach them some simple mechanisms and social cues that will better enable them to engage in that initial conversation and to make them feel more comfortable when it happens.
Role play can include making direct eye contact, learning to ask appropriate questions (like ‘can I play that game with you?’) and modelling other social behaviour and physical cues.
3. Encourage One-On-One Playdates
It can be much easier for your child to engage in a one-on-one social situation as opposed to needing to speak up in a group.
Facilitating one-on-one playdates can help your child build the confidence that they need to exert themselves in a larger social situation.
4. Provide Small, Everyday Opportunities to Engage
Whether it’s at the corner market or walking by the neighbours’, giving your child opportunities which naturally occur and aren’t pressured (like a playdate) can give them the chance to become more confident by becoming used to these small exchanges.
Something as simple as encouraging them to wave hello or goodbye is a great start!
5. Model Confident Behaviour
As with everything, parents are often the best teachers. By modelling confident behaviour in social situations, you will teach your children how to be confident as well.
6. Don’t Call Your Child ‘Shy’
Unfortunately the word ‘shy’ can serve as a label that can make your child feel even more uncomfortable. If necessary, try to use more specific language to explain your child’s behaviour, including gently correcting others if they call your child shy.
Something such as ‘she’s not shy, she just takes a minute to feel comfortable around new people’ works well.
7. Avoid Comparisons
Modelling confident behaviour is a great way to show (not tell) your child what confident social engagement looks like, but comparing them to others, like classmates or siblings, can make them feel lesser and more isolated.
If your child has a new activity or social situation coming up that they are worried or nervous about, take some time to explain what will happen during that time.
It may be modelling a show-and-tell at home or preparing them for their first sleepover, but children who are shy or anxious may benefit from knowing what they can expect.
9. Avoid Overcompensating
Children surprise us every day with their ability to change and adapt. Be sure to give them ample opportunity consistently to practice their social behaviour.
Don’t avoid social situations!
10. Avoid Over-Comforting
If your child is shy and you over-comfort, you may find that they perceive the situation as dangerous or uncomfortable.
11. Praise Appropriately
When you do notice your child engaging in positive confident social behavior, don’t hesitate to discuss it with them after the fact. This may be praising their initiative to talk to another child or making good eye-contact with an adult.
Keep your praise modest, however, to ensure that you don’t put inadvertent pressure on these types of situations.
12. Teach Your Child What Friendship Really Is
At the end of the day, we want our children to be happy and to have meaningful, long-lasting friendships. In other words, it’s important that we teach our children the importance of being fulfilled, not popular.
Our children should feel connected and like they have someone to talk to and enjoy life with. Though each individual is different, it’s important that we have those feelings of connection both in our childhoods and throughout life.