Written by: Cally Worden
The world can seem like a big scary place sometimes, and children can react to this by withdrawing into themselves in social situations, as a form of self-protection. While a degree of shyness and social anxiety is okay – even healthy – when this behaviour starts to interfere with your child’s ability to form relationships and make friends it’s time to step in and help out.
How to help younger children with social skills
Kids are often shy simply because they don’t know what to do or how to behave in certain situations. Show them ways to interact through play, without the need to be the centre of attention.
Talk to your child
Instead of making assumptions about why your child is reluctant to mix, have a chat with them to find out why this is the case. Maybe they don’t like the game being played, perhaps one of the children in the group is too boisterous, or maybe your child fears rejection. When you understand the problem, you can tailor your solution accordingly.
Don’t push your child
Not all kids are naturally gregarious. It’s important to allow children to develop socially within their own personality. Pushing them into situations where they are expected to behave in a way that is alien to them may only serve to compound the problem. Encourage them to find their own way.
Avoid jumping in
If you know your child is a little shy it’s easy to jump in and answer for them when someone approaches and talks to them. Try hard to avoid doing this, and encourage your child to respond directly
Don’t label your child
It’s tempting to make excuses for a shy child by talking about how timid they are. This serves only to reinforce the child’s opinion of themselves as shy – in a sense it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your child is unique. Be proud of who they are and they will derive confidence from that
Some kids are socially withdrawn because they don’t have a positive self-image. Try to boost your child’s natural confidence and self-esteem by encouraging them to voice and acknowledge the good things about themselves and their life. Make a list, and pin it somewhere visible in the home, to remind your child every day of how amazing they are
Helping older kids
As children get older they are finding their place in the world. A large element of success in this is feeling comfortable with who they are. Self-acceptance delivers a brilliant confidence boost to young people, such that even when in social situations they find uncomfortable they are able to feel safe and happy in themselves. Here are some ways you can help them build this confidence:
Lower your expectation
In the approach to, and during adolescence, your child is dealing with a whole range of stuff. Hormones, mood swings, a changing body – all these and more are affecting the way your child’s sense of identity. Allow them time and breathing space to get used to these changes without placing them under additional pressure to ‘perform’ in social situations. Shyness may be a help to them during this tricky period. Support your child and be particularly sensitive to their needs at this difficult time
Help your child find their personal talents
All young people have special gifts, it’s just that not all of them are as visible as others. Your child may not be a great musician or artist, but they may have a special way with children or animals, be gifted at maths, or have a talent for telling stories. Help your child to find their own special talent, and find ways to nurture this strength
Nurture their Independence
Young people are desperate to break free from the constraints of childhood, and nurturing their independence is a great way to help boost their self-esteem. Simple things like catching the bus to town alone, or taking responsibility for a few simple household tasks can work wonders. As your child grows in confidence so will their ability to cope in social situations where they are out of comfort zone
Do your homework
There are some very effective books and websites aimed at helping young people overcome shyness. Making these accessible to your child without being too obvious about it. Older children are usually aware of their social struggles, and may prefer to take the initiative for change in private.