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Is Your Child Shy?

Shyness is a personality trait, not a fault.

Many people think shyness is a fault or a problem when in fact it is a personality trait.

Some parents try to make excuses for their shy child as if apologizing. Others think a child who is shy must have a poor self image. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Still parents worry when their child won’t interact and talk. AskDr.Sears.com explains there is nothing wrong with, and a lot right, with being shy. Most of the time calling a child shy is very unfair. Many shy children have a solid self-concept.

Some “shy” children are cautious and tend to be thinkers. They are slow to warm up to strangers and need to study people before they invest effort into the relationship. This can be sometimes annoying to extroverts, but once warmed up to the surroundings, a shy person can open up comfortably.

Parents should respect a child’s shyness, especially if they themselves are not shy, and not tease or criticize about his or her shyness. Dr. Sears recommends not saying “he’s shy” especially in front of the child. Never label your child as “shy.” This can make your child feel as if there is something wrong with him or her. Better words to describe him or her are “reserved” or “private.”

How do you know if your child’s shyness is normal or a problem?

Shyness is likely to be normal if the child is shy in new situations and around new people, but eventually warms up after awhile. It is also normal to be “shy” in larger group settings but do well in small groups. If your child eventually is able to make friends then consider the shyness normal. Dr. Sears says a shy child with healthy self-worth makes eye-to-eye contact, is polite, and seems happy with her or himself. He or she is just quiet.

Children who are “shy” often have at least one parent who is shy.

Shyness can be a problem if you think it is interfering with making friends or affects school work. It’s tempting to want to help your child but the more you pull, the more the child may retract. You can’t pull a child out of shyness. It’s better to create a comfortable environment and let his/her social personality grow and develop. Respecting their comfort level goes a long way. Avoid trying to speak for your child when he or she becomes reserved. Dr. Sears suggests parents become more reserved around their "shy" children which may in turn cause the child to be more outgoing.     

What can you do to help your shy child? Keepkidshealthy.com has some pointers:

  • Prepare your child in advance for new activities and events.
  • Try to stick to activities with very small groups of people or just one other child.
  • Your child might do better in noncompetitive activities.
  • Play dates with children that are younger than your child might be helpful.
  • If your child doesn’t do well with younger children, then try older children.
  • Gently encourage your child to try new things and activities.
  • Set up situations so that other kids will come over and play with or near your child.
  • Offer lots of positive attention and reinforcement when your child does try new things and encourage his strengths and interests.
  • Watch your own reactions around new people and new situations, especially if you are shy.

When do you get help? Shyness can be a problem if it is interfering with the functions of your child, either socially or in school. In some children, shyness is the clue to inner problems. Some withdraw, avoid eye contact and have behavioral problems. If you think your child has more than simple shyness, a visit to your pediatrician is recommended for an evaluation.  

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