While most children have their moments of being socially reserved, some of them experience shyness. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being shy, but sometimes this behaviour can cause difficulties for the child, whether toddler or school-aged. Toddlers, for example, may have trouble making friends, or may become upset when left in the care of childcare providers, friends, or even other family members. School-aged children may have difficulties making and maintaining friendships, or speaking out in class. This can lead to social isolation, low grades, and further troubles in school. Here are a few tips on how to help your child manage his or shyness.
While being overly indulgent is never a good idea, understanding your child’s shyness can help you work with them to overcome it, rather than against them. Shy children prefer to approach new social situations with caution, and may take a while to warm up. Don’t rush your child, or force him or her to approach a situation faster than they are ready for. By helping your child adjust at his or her pace, you can help them see you as an ally – which will help make these new situations seem less scary.
Even adults hate being put in sudden, unfamiliar situations, so don’t have any unrealistic expectations of your child. When relatives are visiting and express an interest in seeing your child’s art work or latest performance accomplishment, for example, ask him or her privately if they feel comfortable, and respect their wishes if they say no. An ideal solution is to ask beforehand, giving him or her time to prepare.
If your child is hoping to make new friends at daycare or school, help him or her rehearse ahead of time. Role play conversation starters, and encourage them to approach new friends one-on-one, rather than in large groups. Understanding that it is possible to start with small steps may help your child feel more comfortable. When at the park or playground, model the social behaviour you hope your child to imitate, by approaching other parents and starting conversations. If your child can see that it isn’t so scary for you, it may encourage him or her to copy your behaviour.
Children who are confident about certain skill sets tend to be less shy when asked to demonstrate them. Remind him or her about a time in his or her life when a certain task was accomplished with success, such as making a friend in the past, or doing well at a school presentation. Being reminded that they can succeed with these skills can help reinforce to a child that there is little need to feel nervous about completing the same task again.
Another way to build confidence and reduce shyness is to practice social skills. For example, when out running errands, have your child present the cashier with your debit card or cash. Encourage limited social interaction by having him or her say please and thank you during the transaction. When out for dinner, ask your child to order his or her meal, or, if this is too much, their drink. If your child is a bit older, allow him or her to call a friend for a play date, which can also reinforce their ability to succeed at social interactions.
Remind your child that there’s nothing wrong with being shy, and, if possible, relate a few examples in your life when you felt shy or nervous. This will make your child feel less alone, and will help him or her to trust you when you provide suggestions. Something as minor as “Mommy is pretty shy too, but practicing before I give a presentation always helps me feel better” can go a long way to managing your child’s shy behaviour.
If your child refuses to speak at all in selected settings, such as school, a type of anxiety disorder known as selective mutism may be the cause. Speech therapy, as part of a multi-disciplinary approach, may be advised.