Being shy can be considered a character flaw but for many it’s just a fact of life. In fact, some people are naturally more introverted. Even so, not wanting to socialize with people you don’t know well or feeling anxious or nervous in social situations is not something we wish for our children. If you’re looking for tips to help your child cope and make the best of their shyness you’ve come to the right place. Read on for some suggestions on how you can get rid of shyness in your life!
1. Acknowledge the feeling of shy.
Just like managing other big emotions like mad, sad, and excited, children must first be able to identify the feeling of shy before trying to cope with it.
Try and avoid sweeping the emotion under the rug by saying ‘don’t be shy’ or ‘there’s no need to be shy’ as that shows you are not listening and has them second-guessing their feelings when you want them listening to their instincts. Empathize with your child by sharing common experiences from your own childhood.
Just like other emotions let your child know that it’s okay to be shy but how we deal with shy matters.
2. Get to the bottom of it.
What’s the reason behind the shyness? Are they worried someone will make fun of them? Do they just want to be around you? Are they unsure of new situations? Do they take a while to warm up to others? Are they just naturally introverted and prefer alone time to time with large groups of people? When you ask this question you may also get the answer ‘I don’t know, I just feel that way.’
Whatever the cause reassure your child that this is a normal feeling and there are ways to feel more comfortable in social settings. Knowing the reason for the shyness could help you figure out how to best help them.
3. Try not to label your child.
It’s great to talk about shy as an emotion, something that comes and goes. When possible avoid labeling your child by saying things like ‘Jimmy is so shy.’ Instead try and point out instances when they overcame their shyness instead, as this is a more constructive idea.
4. Give lots of warning and practice before new situations.
If you know you are going to be in a situation that is new for your child where they might be likely to shut down, prepare them for success. If they are going to grandma’s church and they won’t know many people there review how to politely acknowledge someone in the best way.
Once you have discussed the best ideas, you should then practice going through the motions with stuffed animals or dolls. Using Barbie’s or action figures can also help the child ‘try on the situation’ without it actually being them that does it. This can take away some of the intimidation.
5. Take small steps to start.
If your child is uncomfortable around people they don’t know well it could be a culture shock to them to go to a family wedding where great uncle what’s his name wants a hug and a kiss and fourth cousin once removed is sure that a shoulder ride is just what your little one needs.
Start off small by maybe inviting one or two other children over for a play date. Then, if that has gone well, you could consider trying somewhere where there are more people (i.e. a park, the library, a playgroup). It may take a few tries with different people or situations but once they feel comfortable with the first step feel free to move on to the next step.
6. Make time for friendship.
As a parent we may want our child to be the life of the party but sometimes it’s important to remember that it’s not the quantity of friends they have but the quality of the friendships.
Guiding children on the path of friendship, by making friends, keeping friends, and discussing what happen when arguments arise, because they will, can also help them become more confident in their interpersonal skills.
7. Read with them about it.
There are lots of great children’s literature that deals with shyness. Let’s talk about being shy by Joy Berry has lots of information, Little Miss Shy has a character who is obviously shy and The Way I Feel by Janan Cain touches on the subject as well. Find a book that you can both enjoy!
8. Come up with strategies for managing their feelings.
You, as an adult and a parent, can’t make the feelings go away. What you can do is give them coping mechanisms to not only survive but thrive in the situations when they feel overcome with shyness.
Would it help if they squeezed your hand and you squeezed it back (or some other special signal) so you know they are feeling shy? Would it help if they took a few deep breaths before talking to someone new? Would it be beneficial to write down a list of friends names at school that you know and like so if you are unsure of who to play with you could pick one from the list?
These are only a few suggestions – the possibilities are endless. Write the ideas down, and make a list – better yet have your child make the list so they are fully invested in the problem solving process. If your child is too young to read make a list using picture cues or actual photos of the child doing the different things you’ve talked about.
9. Remember that practice makes perfect.
The only way to help your child face their shyness is to let them deal with situations where this feeling arises. Do not throw them to the wolves! Be sure to not put them in a situation they are not prepared to handle.
Make sure you have set them up for success, not failure, by doing all the above-mentioned coaching. Feel free to talk about their feelings before, during, and after the fact. Having a debriefing afterwards to talk things out. Ask them questions like ‘what strategies did you use?’ or ‘did you find they worked in this case?’ Be here for them during this time and try to scale back this time if you can so that eventually they can overcome their shyness on their own.
Although helping your child work through their emotion of shyness may take time, energy, love and support, it is very worthwhile to help them manage this big feeling as it is one that is likely to stick around, even into adulthood. Having a strong foundation of emotional intelligence and coping strategies will serve them well in life.
Look on the bright side, you may not have to worry as much about stranger danger with a shy child because if they won’t even talk to someone new what are the chances they’ll climb into their car? There is a positive spin to any situation!