Don’t let shyness get in the way of your child’s socialisation. With a few gentle strategies, you will be able to ease your child into being more comfortable in new and different situations.
The shyness factor
We all want our children to be happy, outgoing little people at whatever age they happen to be. But some children are just naturally shy. They have difficulty making and keeping friends, and they are reluctant to try new things. When it comes to explaining the shyness factor, there are two camps in the child psychology world – one side that says that shyness is genetic and the other claims that it is learned behaviour. For parents, it’s more than a little confusing since many of us with more than one child often have one who is gregarious and exuberant, and another who is timid and almost painfully shy. We don’t love the shy one any less, but we’d really like them to break out of their cocoon a little more.
Monkey see monkey do
Some children’s shyness may also be connected to underlying fears and anxieties. Some worry, even at a very young age, about what others may care or say about them. As parents, we can try and reassure them that there is little to fear, but they may need more attention in order to provide them with a sense of security and safety as they venture out into the world. One of the best things we can do is to model our own positive behaviours in trying out new things or participating in different activities. If we show them that the fun is in the doing and not the result, it may also give them more confidence to try new things.
A very good strategy to help younger children who are shy is to organise play dates with one or two other children who they may already feel comfortable with. As their confidence grows, you can introduce additional, new play partners. Helping your young child see the importance of building and maintaining friendships is another useful technique, and if you have taught them good manners that will help smooth their way. Remember, too, that they are paying close attention to how you react to situations as well, so even if things don’t go well at first when you are doing something, if you remain calm and try it again, then they may too.
Reward children for overcoming their fears
You can help older children who are shy by utilising positive behaviour management techniques that can reward them for trying new things or overcoming their fears. These can be as simple as an extra hour a week of watching TV or playing their video games if they agree to work outside their comfort zone. They can then decide for themselves whether or not they want the extra privileges, and they certainly can’t blame you if they don’t follow through. One of the side benefits of such an approach is that they learn they are responsible for their own actions and that they can positively influence their own situation. For shy children, this is very empowering and can really work well to build their confidence to deal with other situations.
Grow at your own pace
Whatever approach you decide to pursue, for children of all ages who are shy or withdrawn, it should be implemented gradually and in stages. You must allow them time to learn how to interact positively with others, and allow them to do so at their own pace. Some children will grow out of their shy stage early in life and others may carry it with them forever.
Give examples of people who have overcome their shyness
It’s also important to never let a child believe that their shyness is a problem. Quite frankly, it isn’t and if they don’t believe you, then you can point to hundreds of successful people who were once what they believed was incurably shy. They include the actress Nicole Kidman who was a shy child and still admits to being terrified sometimes before she is asked to perform. So too were Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, and that didn’t stop them from becoming two of the most brilliant people in history.
Mike is a freelance writer specialising in wellness and motivation