‘You’re not shy. You just like who you like’
(Christina Baker Kline, an American novelist)
No one knows why, but some children are naturally shy, inhibited in unfamiliar situations, anxious in interaction with other children and (or) people, especially unknown ones, and feel uncomfortable in social situations. If your child is one of them and feels much more comfortable to follow what happens from the background rather than join in, don’t worry. Most kids are shy from time to time.
You as a parent can help your little one to overcome mild shyness. Just find a way which suits your kid best to show her how to act in social situations and try to encourage her braver social behavior. In rare circumstances, shyness can severely affect a child’s life, and she can stay shy as an adult. If you think that your child is too shy, you should consider asking for professional help.
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Every child is born with an individual temperament which means that she (he) uniquely interacts with the world. Generally speaking, it is OK being shy as long as it doesn’t affect the quality of the child’s life. Sometimes a child is not shy; she just needs more time to know someone better.
Some recent studies show that there is a possibility that a child gets a ‘shy gene’ from her parents. But don’t worry! Most kids who inherit this trait get over their ‘shy phase’ by the age of seven. Just because your child is a little bit shy, it doesn’t mean she will always be like that. Some children naturally ‘blossom’ after a certain age.
What Causes Shyness in Kids
According to official estimates, between 20% and 50% of people in the world have a shy personality. Kids can be shy from birth, but sometimes they can become shy after a while. For example, it is well-known that toddlers all of a sudden become shy around the second birthday without a particular reason. There is also a possibility that a child becomes shy after some negative experience ‘pulls the trigger’.
I will list you here some of the most common causes of shyness in kids. Keep in mind that some of these causes often go together.
Genetics – I have already mentioned a ‘shy gene’ which a child can inherit from her parents. Like everything else, your kid will inherit a combination of both your partner’s and your genes, and you can’t do anything about it. If parents are shy and introvert, it is very likely that their child will be the shy as well.
Personality – If your baby is emotionally sensitive, there is a significant chance that she will grow up to a shy child.
Family relationships – The child is a ‘live image’ of her family. If your child doesn’t feel protected and secure in her family, she can be introvert, shy, and anxious.
Overprotective parent – Be careful if you are prone to be an overprotective parent. Such behavior can make your child afraid and reserved particularly with unknown people and situations.
Learned behavior – You have already known that the most common way of kid’s learning is by imitating their parents. If the shy parent is a role model for a child, it is likely that she will also become shy.
Severe criticism and violence against children – If people who are a significant part of child’s life (parent(s), siblings, friends, and (or) close family members) harshly criticize, tease, and (or) physically hurt the child, she will probably tend to be shy.
Insufficient social interaction – A kid, who has been isolated from other children as a toddler, usually doesn’t have appropriate social skills which could help her interact with unfamiliar people.
Fear of failure – If a child has a demanding parent(s) who require(s) more than child’s capability, she may feel less valuable and consequently become shy. Don’t mix up child’s fear of failure with shyness.
Different Types of Shyness
It is pretty tricky to determinate if you should be concerned about excessive calmness and shyness of your child. There are a few types of shy kids.
1 – A shy but secure and prosperous kid – Very often, a shy child is thriving and fundamentally confident but doesn’t like to be exposed. She usually doesn’t have a vast circle of friends, but she is not a ‘lone wolf’ and actually has a few good friends. Sometimes a shy temperament means that a child is quiet-natured.
2 – A shy child with problems – Some kids are too cautious in various situations. They watch the other kids on the playground but don’t participate in playing. From time to time, these kids can mention that they would like to have more friends and that they are lonely, but can’t find a way to join in. They are insecure, with lacks of social skills, and can feel like a ‘loser’. If the parents can’t understand that the shyness is a part of their child’s temperament, don’t make an effort to understand her, or even punish her for shyness, that kid can think that she has failed to meet her parent’s expectations.
3 – A child with a social anxiety disorder (Social Phobia) – Sometimes a child is just a little bit shy, but she is an excellent student with a lot of friends. All of a sudden, some ‘trigger’ appears, and that child entirely changes her behavior. The trigger can be any public appearance for example. It may sound a little bit extreme to you, but you would be surprised how common this type of reaction is. It is not rare that your child quits some activity she is pretty good at and in which she enjoys because of fear of performing in front of the audience.
Moderate form – Sometimes a kid can be shy all her life. Even though her parents are supportive, there is always a strong history of depression and anxiety in the family which affects a child. This kid is often average intelligence but gets lower grades in school because rarely asks any questions, sits behind, and misses the vital meaning of the lectures her teachers make. Moreover, this child can feel physical symptoms of her anxiety (wildly beats of her heart, inability to speak, and (or) issues with concentration).
Severe form – This type of social anxiety disorder occurs when symptoms progress. In this situation, a child can’t speak in public (selective mutism), feel depressed, or even refuse to go to school because of severe anxiety. All these symptoms lead to loneliness, isolation, hopeless, and even substance abuse.
You may understand how serious the problem of social anxiety disorder is if I tell you that approximately 15 million American adults suffer from this disorder every single year. In most cases, social anxiety disorder appears at an early age (50% of children who suffer from this disorder develop it by the age of eleven and 80% by age twenty).
5 – Asperger’s Syndrome – It is a specific disorder when a child is unable to connect with peers, to understand social rules, has extreme preoccupations, or expresses a tendency to adherence to strange rituals and (or) repetitive movements.
6 – Autism – A disorder when a child refuses to meet people including her parents and can’t use language to make contact with other people.
Shyness Can Help Your Child
You should understand that shyness is not a fault. Don’t mix it with a behavior disorders. If your child is shy, don’t be ashamed of your child or resent her because something she can’t influence. Shy kids are usually kind and attentive listeners and have their own inner peace. If you have a shy child with healthy self-worth, be sure that she is happy and satisfied just as she is.
Sometimes a kid is not shy but cautious and deep-thinker. She takes her time when meets new people while decides if that person is worth the effort.
Some kids hid behind the ‘shy veil’, and it is easier for them to hide behind the ‘shy label’. Inside their ‘protective shell’, they can have a rich inner world of imagination. This ‘shell’ can be the protection of people and situations the child doesn’t like. In extreme cases, this ‘shy label’ becomes an excuse for avoiding common social skills.
A line that divides the silence of the visionary from an unmotivated kid, who uses her ‘shyness’ as a defense against an effort to try harder, is very thin. Anyway, both of them need caring parents they can trust.
Be prepared that your child goes through the phase of ‘stranger anxiety’ between two and four years of age. In this period, children suddenly become afraid of everyone and everything new and unknown. Don’t pay attention. It is a transitional phase, and almost all kids pass through it.
In rare cases, shyness can be a handicap when it is not a sign of inner peace but a manifestation of the hidden problem. In this case, a child withdraws, has behavioral issues, and avoids eye-to-eye contacts. Behind the ‘shy mask’ are fear and anger. This condition is always a sign of an alarm. Unfortunately, this child certainly has a lot of serious reasons for such behavior.
Shyness – Pros vs. Cons
1 – Positive aspects of shyness
- A shy child usually does well at school
- A shy child rarely gets into trouble
- A shy child is a good listener
- A shy child is easy to take care of
2 – Negative aspects of shyness
- Shyness can reduce child’s opportunities to practice and develop her social skills
- A shy child usually has fewer friends
- Shyness can reduce participation in exciting and fun activities (dance, music, sport) which require interaction with other kids
- Shyness can lead to reduced self-esteem and loneliness
- Shyness can reduce child’s ability to reach her full potential
- A shy child is prone to anxiety
- A shy child often experiences embarrassing physical effects like trembling or blushing
How to Help Kids Overcome Shyness
Remember, your attitude as a parent is crucial and you are the one who can help your kid with shyness on the best way.
- Don’t label your child and make her feel different and less valuable
- Don’t let others label your little one
- Be empathic, supportive, and encouraging, and don’t criticize and judge your child because of her shyness
- Talk to your kid about the reasons of feeling fear and shy
- Tell your kid about your former shyness and the ways you overcame it
- Be a good role model as an outgoing person
- Tell your kid about all the advantages of being extrovert, but don’t be pushy. You can help your little one but can’t change her personality
- Praise your kid when she handles an unfamiliar situation
- Help your kid to build up self-confidence gradually and to make small changes in her behavior
- Encourage and support your kid at all costs
- Repeat your kid over and over again why she is the best kid for you
- Help your kid uncover her strength and build her own identity
- Praise your kid for skills she has mastered
- Try with an ‘entry strategy’ helping your kid approach a group of her peers. She can take her time allowing herself and other children get used to one another.
- Teach your kid how to join chatting
- Work on your kid’s social skills giving her a chance to practice in every possible situation (she can order a meal in a restaurant, answer the phone, pay a bill in the store, call a friend to make a play date, play with peers in the park, and so on)
- Encourage your kid to say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Please’ to people you know but who are unfamiliar with her
- Keep your child far away from verbal abuse, arguing, and fights
- If your kid experienced a major trauma (sexual abuse, bullying, traumatic parent’s divorce, peer violence), she might need a help of a professional
- Don’t pull too hard because your shy kid can retreat. You can’t make her ‘nor shy’ overnight
- Try to create a relaxed, safe, and comfortable environment which will help your shy child gradually develop her social personality
- Above all, love and don’t judge your shy little one. Being shy is OK
If your child is overly shy, you should consider asking for the professional help of a psychologist or a counselor. They will help your little one using various treatments such as relaxation strategies, social skills training, stress management, and counseling sessions.
Shyness Activities for Kids
You can organize some activities for your kid to help her overcomes her shyness. Let’s play.
‘Not-to-worry’ doll – Make a doll of pieces of material and sponge and tell your kid that doll’s name is ‘Not-to-worry’. Encourage your little one to share all her worries to her little doll, and it should remove all the stress. While talking with the doll, your kid will verbalize the issue she has before going to sleep.
Family Journal – Make your own fun family journal with photos, tickets from the cinema or ZOO, flowers from the granny’s garden, and other memories. Sharing time will show your little one that you love her unconditionally. Also, the journal will be a proof to her how important she is for her family.
A shadow puppet theatre – Use a cardboard box and make a shadow puppet theatre for your child. Encourage her to organize her own puppet show. While inventing a story, your little one will discover her unique talents and qualities.
Dream-catcher – Use shells, feathers, paper, and decorative strips to help your child to make her own dream-catcher. Explain to her how important is having dreams. Maybe this fun homemade dream-catcher will help your little one to achieve her goals. Who knows?
Friendship bracelet – Help your kid to use her motor skills while making a friendship bracelet. You can make the other one. When you finish, exchange them while you have a little talk about the beauty and importance of friendships.
The same kid can be ‘quiet’ and ‘shy’ or very communicative depending on circumstances. Put her in a different environment, and her shyness will disappear in a moment. If your child is healthy and intelligent, you just need to find adequate activities which are fascinating for her, and you will see the remarkable transformation. Don’t underestimate your little one. Support her and let her blossom.