Many children, and adults alike, are shy. Shyness is a personality trait not a fault. There is nothing inherently wrong with being shy, just like there is nothing inherently wrong with being an extrovert.
The first step is understanding your child’s shyness. Does your child make eye contact, interact with others, and seem polite, happy, and well-liked? Then they may just approach interactions and life from a more cautious, thoughtful, observer stance. The world needs those types of personalities.
Yet, shyness can limit your child taking advantage of various life opportunities. So, how can you validate and except your child’s shyness while still encouraging them to interact more socially?
1. First, understand your child’s shyness in order to target how to help them. Are they withdrawn in large groups, when meeting new people, or when performing in front of others. Different situations may require different strategies to enhance their interactional skills.
2.. Accept your child unconditionally. You want to accept your child for who they are, as this is the first step in encouraging them in their self-acceptance. This does not mean that you do not encourage them to interact more socially. This is an “and” not an “or” situation. And remember this can be more difficult if you are naturally an outgoing person and therefore of a different personality style than your child.
3. Do not talk about your child’s shyness in terms of a fault or a label. If you say, “Jane is shy,” this seems like a statement of fact (and fault) that can not be changed and Jane will likely tend to behave in a way that conforms to this label rather than take a risk with other behavioral choices. Rather say, “Jane can be slow to feel comfortable with others.”
4. Be a good role model. Children do as we do not as we say. Let them see you introducing yourself to others or striking up a conversation with the new kid’s mom at school pick up. And if you are shy yourself, it is alright to let your child know that and to talk about working together on being more inter-actionable.
5. Help your child practice social skills. Opportunities abound every day. Encourage your child to say “hello” to your friends when they visit. Have your child order their own ice cream or tip the person that cuts their hair.
6. Talk to your kids. If you see that they may be hanging back and not interacting with their peers, reflect your observations to them and ask them how they experienced the situation, what they thought, and how they felt.
7. Do not make assumptions. You may believe that your child was uncomfortable and withdrawn at their friend’s party yet they may express that they had an enjoyable time and were just listening to the stories of their peers.
8. Keep in mind realistic expectations. If your child is more quiet and shy, you are not going to change them into the life of the party. You only want to address the shyness when it has a negative impact.
Of course there are times when shyness is a problem. If your child avoids eye-contact, does not engage with others, seems sad, and possibly demonstrates behavioral difficulties, then there may be an issue. The shyness itself (which I would refer to more as withdrawal than shyness) may be a manifestation of underlying fears, anger, sadness, or other difficulties that could be stemming from any number of issues depending on the particular child. In this situation, it may be helpful to talk with others such as teachers about how they view your child. It may also be beneficial to seek the guidance of a child expert, such as a counselor, who can provide an unbiased perspective, explore the reasons for your child’s withdrawal, and provide guidance for strategies to help.
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