Most of us have shy moments. Just as with adults, shyness can leave a child feeling awkward and embarrassed. When it’s severe enough it can be painful and debilitating.
Sadly, shy children leave many of their thoughts bottled up—thoughts that could help them connect with others if only they were brought out. Instead, many shy people are left feeling lonely and afraid.
Some children have a naturally reserved temperament. Often, however, shy children are hesitant to speak because they’re insecure and scared, afraid they will say the wrong thing. They may analyze and overanalyze their situations and their thoughts. Their quietness may be interpreted as aloofness or being uninterested.
My daughter is a very social person. But when she was much younger she was quite shy and would sometimes want to be held or look away when someone she didn’t know tried to say hello or ask her a question. I eventually met with my daughter’s 3rd grade teacher (Asset #5: Caring School Climate) to discuss ways to help her interpret and experience her school as a fun and safe environment (Asset #10: Safety). Since then, theater, singing, sports, and great teachers have all helped my daughter become more confident (Assets #17: Creative Activities, Asset #18: Youth Programs and Asset #19: Religious Community).
In my years working as a child and family therapist and school social worker I’ve helped many parents of kids who struggle to speak and socialize freely. Here are some practical steps I’ve found valuable in helping children break out of their shyness.
- Ask your child what they are experiencing through their senses. When they feel shyness, what are they seeing, hearing, and feeling? What do they think is being demanded from them in the situations they encounter and the people they meet?
- Have your child make observations rather than assumptions. What does he or she see around them when they feel shy? Do they feel the need to be perfect? Where did they get that assumption?
- Take some time to discuss when shyness may be a problem. For instance, does shyness:
- Prevent them from meeting new people?
- Keep them from sharing their thoughts with others?
- Prevent them from spending time with friends or peers?
- Cause them to be self-critical or critical of others?
- Provide challenges and celebrations. Challenges could include having your child simply ask themselves, “Is there another way to look at this?”
Other kids can be very hurtful, and hurtful experiences train us to be a bit shy. It’s important to help your child understand that the mean behavior of others isn’t your child’s fault. Many times kids say and do unkind things because of what’s going on in their own lives. Helping your child understand and have sensitivity and empathy for others will grow their Interpersonal Competence (Asset #33).
Another question to ask your child is “Who gets to vote on whether you’re good enough, or whether you’re a worthwhile person?” Urge them to challenge their own thoughts while helping them become more confident and growing their Self-Esteem (Asset #38).
Encourage your child to write their thoughts in a journal. Then celebrate as your child reshapes her thoughts and gains a more realistic perspective of herself.
My daughter still has shy moments, but she’s learning more about herself and what pushes her toward shyness. As you work to help your own child break free from shyness, remember this will take patience, time, and intentionality.