Shyness, when channelled, can be a strength rather than a weakness, as shy children tend to listen more and speak less. Here are ways to help children manage their shyness.
Understanding the nature of shyness
Be sure that your child knows and understands that shyness is not a personality flaw, but actually a personality trait. Shyness does not translate to poor self-esteem, so steer clear of labels. Clinical psychologist Dr Eric Fisher says that introverts are born and can be part of temperament: “It could be part of their genetic make-up to be shy.” However, children can also have anxiety-related shyness as a result of childhood trauma; or they can simply be shy because of learnt-behaviour, like having shy parents or siblings.
Clamming up in a crowd
Is it a sign of pure shyness or a serious problem? According to Dr Sears “a shy child with healthy self-worth makes eye-to-eye contact, is polite, and seems happy with herself. She is just quiet. Her behaviour is generally good; she is a nice child to be around and people are comfortable in her presence.” When shyness can be a sign of inner trouble, “he withdraws. He avoids eye-to-eye contact and has a lot of behavioural problems … he operates from anger and fear instead of peace and trust.” Personal contact is a must. Hugging and gentleness will help a shy child be more at ease with crowds and strangers entering his personal space. It is not a popularity contest.
According to Aha! Parenting, you should teach your child that one deep connection with a friend is worth many acquaintances. This will set the child at ease and make them feel accepted, instead of rejected in a large group where they are overlooked.
Hiding, not shyness
Is your child retreating into a protective shell so he doesn’t have to risk putting himself out there? This could lead to developing poor social skills, and can reinforce a low self-esteem. Dr Sears says “This child needs parents he can trust, who discipline in a way that does not lead to internalised anger and self-dislike.” It is important to build your child’s self-esteem constantly. It is also of great importance that you arm your child with skills to cope with situations when they are being bullied or teased – show them through role playing.
Fading away into the background
Do not try to overpower your child with your extroverted personality. Give them the space to share their own opinions without bulldozing them. Be sensitive towards this point, especially when siblings are more talkative. Create a culture of taking turns to speak. Also, when you are interacting with others, show confidence – teach through example; be a role model.
Social retreating or shyness?
Retreating is a natural part of development. A child with stranger anxiety should not be forced into social contact. Rather give the child space and encouragement. Soon enough he will climb out of his shell. Do not push your child into a different personality type and do not put him on the spot – you will do irreparable damage and cause high levels of anxiety. However, allowing him to isolate himself is not going to help them at all. Be sensitive towards your child, but also create opportunities for them to interact, like introducing them to sports or choir.
When alarm bells should go off
According to Dr Fisher there are three major signs that should cause you to knock on a doctor’s door. These are major meltdowns, isolation and regressive behaviours. It is important to remember that all children display some of these behaviours some time in during their development, but the key is to gauge to what degree and how often these behaviours come to light.
A meltdown, for instance, has to coincide with excessive anger or sadness when adapting to new situations (especially when the child is over 7 years old), and often has physical characteristics of sweating and heavy breathing. With isolation, the child doesn’t want to be alone only sometimes, but rather most of the time, escaping from interaction with friends as often as possible. Regressive behaviours are a bit more in-your-face, as a child shows signs of an earlier developmental stage, like carrying around their blanky or speaking in a baby voice.