by Nicole Mento
Many children experience shyness at some time in their growing years. It’s a common part of early development.
Children who are extremely shy, however, tend to have fewer friends and social interactions, and they may lack effective communication skills. They may also feel lonely and anxious. In school, timid children are often hesitant to ask for help and consequently fall behind academically.
You want your child to feel comfortable and confident when she is with friends, teachers, and others with whom she must interact. If her shyness starts to interfere with social interactions and overall emotional well being, it’s time to take steps to help her cope.
Signs of shyness
Shykids.com is staffed by former shy kids, blossoming shy kids, and parents helping them along the way. It reports that signs of shyness include frequent trouble talking, stammering, stuttering, blushing, shaking and sweating hands. When these symptoms occur, the shy child often becomes more upset and less able to deal with conversations or situations.
Rachelle Tyler, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Mattel Children’s Hospital at the University of California in Los Angeles, says what causes shyness is not known.
“Many children may be biologically wired to be shy,” she observes, noting that children who were not exposed to a variety of social situations early in life may be timid around new people. Additionally, children who have been criticized or bullied—or who harbor a lack of self-esteem—may become withdrawn.
Regardless of why a child is shy, he can learn ways to cope with this personality trait to help him function more comfortably at school and in social settings.
Dr. Tyler notes, “Many shy children and adults have developed their own coping strategies to help them do what they need to do in social situations.”
Parents, Dr. Tyler says, can help prepare their child by discussing conversation topics for the people he may meet.
“Mothers and fathers can lead by example by exhibiting strong social skills,” Dr. Tyler explains. “Simple everyday gestures such as saying ‘hello’ to someone in public, opening a door for a stranger or giving someone a compliment can make a positive impression on a child.
“If you also suffer from shyness, discuss with your child how challenging these simple gestures are for you. Your child will appreciate your honesty.”
If your shy child suffers from low self-esteem, you can provide opportunities to help him to gain control and have confidence in his abilities.
Helping your child
NBC “Today” contributor, Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D., offers advice in “How to Help Your Child Overcome Shyness.” She says the most touching types of kids she sees in her practice are the painfully shy.
“These kids are often so afraid of peer rejection that they assume anything they say to others will be perceived as inept, so they often go through the day tongue-tied and anxious,” says Peters. “Many of these children are lonely because making friends often involves taking risks—something shy people just don’t do well.
“It’s a vicious cycle: they’re afraid to talk to peers, so they present themselves as awkward and different from others. Some shy kids are perceived as snobbish, while others are seen as uninvolved and perhaps a little strange.”
Peters’ advice is to first understand that your child is most likely timid by nature, has always been and most likely will always be somewhat uncomfortable in new situations.
Set an example
Renée Gilbert, Ph.D.,is a licensed clinical psychologist. She says that shyness is hard enough for adults to cope with, but imagine being a child—feeling like you don’t fit in. Shy children need help with overcoming their fears.
“Anything you can do to ease your child’s shyness will, in turn, decrease the number of opportunities she misses over the course of her life,” says Gilbert.
“Parents should role model confident social behavior. Children learn by watching the people around them. With time this can help to put your child at ease.”
Your parenting style can set an example. Help your child learn by being cordial, helpful and friendly toward others in front of her. Tell her how these actions make you feel.
Nicole Mento is a Florida-based freelance writer. Her two young children are the inspiration behind her love of writing about babies, children’s issues, and the joys and challenges of being a new parent.