Shyness can be considered a reluctance to engage with other people for fear of being embarrassed or somehow rejected. It’s common in many people well into adulthood and to some extent even for a lifetime. Shy behavior is most common in childhood, and that’s when it should be addressed. In every classroom in the country there’s at least one student that sits off to the side, unwilling to join the activity. Here are some ways to get your shy child more socially involved.
Degrees of shyness vary, but you may observe that your child rarely engages in conversation and spends much of their free time alone reading, playing video games, or daydreaming. They tend to speak softly and rarely participate in sports or discussions. The root cause of shyness is a lack of confidence, not necessarily in their own abilities, but in apprehension of how others will react to them. It’s often a result of low self-esteem. Shy people often fail to be assertive because they take it for granted that nobody will value their input or contribution. Shyness can come from traumatic experiences such as abuse or bullying. Shyness may also be in part genetic. Shyness can be a kind of acquired behavior from a shy parent.
Shy children will be uncomfortable in large groups, so it may be easier to identify those with whom they are most comfortable and encourage those relationships. You could arrange playdates, then give the group tasks to do or fun projects to work on, or encourage them to play games. Gradually try to introduce new members to the group so that this trusted inner circle grows into more social relationships. Look for activities, settings, and people where your child does exhibit social behavior, and encourage participation in those situations. Help your child to find key roles in social environments where they don’t necessarily have to speak, such as being a flower girl or ring bearer at a wedding, or helping at charitable causes where they’ll be thanked and appreciated.
Use positive reinforcement
Many adults may become frustrated with their shy children, but it’s important that you don’t criticize them for their behavior. That will only lower their self-esteem and make them feel more alienated. Never scold your child for his/her shyness, or allow others to mock them for it. Family and especially parents should always be supportive so provide healthy relationships in the home. These relationships serve as the foundation for all others. Instead, calmly encourage the child to socialize more, and praise them or offer some form of reward when they take the initiative.
Avoid using the word “shy” altogether. It is not nor should be considered a handicap. Some shy but very successful people include Albert Einstein and Neil Armstrong. Many shy children are actually above average in intelligence. One way to improve their confidence is to support them in their own passions. Whether it’s drawing, building things, or athletic skills, make an effort to discuss it with the child in a positive way. Provide support with things like books, tools, or a skiing school. Celebrate their achievements and encourage them to share their knowledge and skill with others. Developing confidence and letting them know that they’re accepted just as they are is critical to self-esteem.
Just because a child is shy is no reason to label them, berate them, or regard them as having “special needs”. Socialization is something that will increase with confidence and experience. No matter how shy your child seems, they can still lead a rewarding life on their own terms if only you offer them support.