In one family, you’ll find that no two children are alike. When I was young, my best friend’s mom frequently referred to my BFF as “the grownup of the house”. While her brother was strategically tying up our stuffed animals for ransom money, my bestie would be pointing out to her mom all the ways her brother was breaking the expected norms. Not in the same language, of course. But one thing that I remember most about my dear sweet friend was that she was shy. Incredibly shy, even around people that we had known for years. Of course there is nothing wrong with being shy. It’s a trait that has unfortunately become a negative description for some really brilliant individuals. However, sometimes extroverted parents of kids who are shy struggle with their child’s completely opposite way of experiencing life. If this sounds like you, here are some tips to follow:
Identify the Triggers
Start by recognizing the reason for your child’s shyness. Knowing where the timidity is coming from will help you be able to provide better support. Is your child shy meeting new people? Playing with other children? Making presentations in front of people or just shy everywhere?
Children can be shy for a variety of reasons. Learning disabilities may make children shy as they might be unable to read properly or answer questions. Some children may have advanced levels of anxiety while others have much difficulty engaging with other people. It’s a good idea to talk with your pediatrician and your child’s teacher to gauge whether the behaviors you see at home are within the expected range for your child’s peers.
Work as a Team
Children will often mimic the behaviors of the people around them, especially their parents. If you are more confident you can help put your child at ease in social situations. You can introduce yourself first and then your child, or you can be the one to begin a conversation.
Some children do end up outgrowing shyness over time but for many their shyness carries on into their adult life. Parents can encourage a shy child to make friends and become more confident, but they should not try and change who their child is as a person.
Together with your child, you could set some goals. The two of you could create a list of things that your child wants to feel more comfortable doing. He may want to initiate a conversation with a peer, ask for help, or make phone calls to friends. Come up with a plan for what he will do and how he will do it, and practice the skill together.
Children aren’t the only ones who feel awkward in social situations. Many adults have similar concerns about socializing. Through your pediatrician or counselor, you can find classes or group sessions to help develop social skills and confidence. You can enroll by yourself or take your child with you. Everything you learn should be practiced with your child outside of the class.
What you should avoid doing is embarrassing or rebuking your child publicly. Don’t make a big deal out of mistakes and failures. Always encourage your child to try again.
Plan Play Dates
The younger you start to teach your children social skills, the better it is for their socio-emotional development. You might encourage your child to invite other children to your home to come and play or let him go to another child’s home. Indoor playgrounds and outdoor parks are also fun places to meet up for play dates.
Parenting books are a great resource, but you don’t have to follow every author’s suggestions. Keep in mind your family’s values, and filter what you read through them. Parenting a shy child is a common pain point for parents, so there are plenty of helpful guides on the market. Check Amazon or the parenting section of your local library, and ask for recommendations from your counselor. Not only do these books provide helpful tips and techniques for you and your child to use, they often include behavior logs and reward charts to make the process more engaging.
You should definitely consider going with your child to talk to a marriage and family counselor. You could both benefit from the wisdom of a professional, and it may be just the thing your child needs to boost your child’s confidence in himself.
Whatever techniques you decide to use, approach your child with love and compassion. Try to see the world through his eyes, and make sure you communicate that you are there to support him with whatever he needs.