Written by: Jenny Smith
Dealing with shyness in children can be a daunting prospect. Lots of adults describe themselves as shy and say that they felt that in childhood too. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being shy, it is natural for some personalities to be more extrovert than others and those that are shy often have sides to them such as being great listeners that can be missing in a more exuberant being!
However, in our busy outward focused life it can be possible that opportunities at school and college are more available to outgoing children and if you or your kids feel that you are missing out it can be helpful to put some strategies in place to support yourselves to manage shyness so that you get an equal chance to everyone else.
If you notice shyness early on in your child, it can be very affirming to them to really tune into their needs and respond thoughtfully to them. Responsive parenting can be very soothing and can support a heightened sensitivity to become an asset later on in their lives. Empathising with your children’s shyness without shaming them is an invaluable gift in parenting. Making any aspect of any children innately wrong can really lower self-esteem and increase insecurities and shyness. Through your empathy your child will also develop empathy and which will strengthen their ability to socially interact and connect to others. The way we behave as parents is the greatest message to our children and they will consciously and unconsciously mimic our behaviour. Be friendly to strangers when out and about, offer help in situations and as much as possible be relaxed in all your interactions.
Remember that social skills can be taught and take time to encourage your children to make eye contact, shake hands and engage in social chatting. Teach them to observe new situations first and then join in once they have a sense of the ‘social rules’, this will give them a back drop of confidence to take part in new situations.
If shy behaviour is very alien to you, take some time to try and put yourself in the shoes of someone who feels that way and see if you can imagine that experience. Recognise all the different ways that you would feel if you felt shy and see if you can imagine what you would need. Alternativly if shyness is something you experience and something that one of your children also shows, make sure to avoid assuming that their experience is the same as yours. Any two people with seemingly the same trait will have different versions of it because of many other varying factors.
It can be helpful to avoid labeling someone as shy because the word itself is quite loaded, instead you can be creative and see what the most affirming way of describing your child’s behaviour is, for example ‘Mel is great at checking out what is going on before going right into a new situation’, or ‘Harry gives all his attention to one friend at a time and is great at taking space when he needs it too!’ Validating their style and approach to life can only support them to feel good about themselves.
Normalise nervousness as a part of being a human! Share times when you feel shy or anxious too and also what helps you in those situations. Let your children know that it is really common to feel some apprehension in different situations and that they won’t be the only children feeling it. Reassure them that they are OK whatever they are feeling and encourage them to focus on themselves rather than on what anyone else is thinking. Teach them to ask questions and listen to the answers that are given, remind them to take the pressure of themselves to always have something to say or to be entertaining and instead share ways of relaxing and and releasing any worry thoughts.
Prepare for situations
If there is a particular event that is causing anxiety it can help to prepare a bit in advance with how your child may deal with it, you can ask them things like ‘how might you deal with ‚Ä¶.’ or ‘what do you think you may say to that question….’ but overall the message of trusting and relaxing is much more important than trying to pre-empt any stressful scenario.
Finally, try to give your children a message that the world is overall pretty safe. Encourage them to be wise in their choices but avoid instilling fear about strangers into them. And celebrate whatever friendships and relationships they do have, whether they have one special one or are part of a group.