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Parenting

Helping Shy Children Find Their Way

2:00

With school back in session, many shy kids are facing a difficult time. As a parent, you’re already familiar with your child’s personality and can tell when he or she is experiencing anxiety in a social situation.  Once your child enters school, there are going to be times when your little one is immersed in surroundings that may make them very uncomfortable, but along with challenges comes solutions.

As parents of a shy child, there are two traps to avoid: overprotectiveness and pressure. Trying to get your child to be more outgoing will only make him or her retreat. And sheltering denies them the chance to enjoy group activities or become comfortable in social circumstances. You have to walk a tightrope, promoting social behavior with compassion.

Some children are shy from birth and have a genetic predisposition to be that way. Other kids are shy only during certain situations that make them uncomfortable or afraid. These might include:

·      Meeting new people

·      Entering new situations

·      Being singled out or being the center of attention

·      Not knowing how they're expected to act or what they're expected to say

·      Being laughed at, embarrassed, or teased

Quite frankly, the last situation makes just about everyone uncomfortable, but for children that are naturally shy, it can be quite traumatic.

One tip for parents is to try and use the word “shy” less often when describing their child. Being labeled can make your child feel less confident. Being labeled anything presents a certain amount of pressure to live up to its definition. 

Instead, put a positive spin on his or her shyness. Maybe a more accurate characterization is "slow to warm up"; rather than withdrawing from or avoiding new situations, he or she just takes their time and sizes up the scene. This can be translated into a compliment: "You like to think things through," or "You like to get started slowly." As time goes on, your child can adopt this more positive view of him or her self and use it as a rebuttal if someone challenges their behavior.

Kids are often fearful when they don't have the social skills necessary to feel comfortable during a particular scenario. A child who hasn't spent much time around large groups of people, for instance, is more likely to want to avoid them. A child with low self-esteem or one who's been pushed hard academically may be afraid to fail, leading to shyness. Watch your child closely to see what triggers his or her shyness. Once you understand their anxieties better, you can talk them through and work together on ways to overcome them.

School is going to be a place where kids experience a tremendous amount of socialization- whether they want it or not. So why not practice difficult situations at home? This way, children have an idea of how to respond either before an event happens or before it happens again.

In an uncomfortable situation, a shy kid experiences the same physiological reactions that adults do. Your child may feel shaky, get sweaty, or turn red. His heart may race, or she may get a frog in her throat. If his reaction is visible to those around him, he may get even more embarrassed, setting up a cycle of awkwardness each time he has to step up to the plate.

With practice and reassurance, though, your child can prepare for those moments that throw him or her for a loop. You and your child can talk through the situations that make them nervous or, if your child is willing, even act them out together. He may giggle and think it's silly to practice saying hello at a birthday party or introducing himself to the soccer team, but he'll also begin to feel more confident in his ability to be friendly and relaxed.

You might also remind your child that it's normal to be nervous when meeting someone new, starting a new class, or being called upon by a teacher to speak. Describe one of your own flustered moments to show that most people have the same feelings.

In a child’s mind, one of the most important aspects of school is fitting in. This is a time when parents can make helpful suggestions. You might encourage him or her to get involved in activities by discussing the value of participation and then helping them discover a sport or activity they like to do. The key is to find something that suits them -- perhaps where they can be part of a team but still function as an individual, such as running cross-country or singing in the chorus. When a child realizes he or she is good at something, their confidence will rise, and so will their enthusiasm. However, if your child really resists, don't turn it into a power struggle. In a low-key way, keep making suggestions and trust that they’ll be drawn into an activity eventually.

Shyness should be a bump in the road, not a roadblock. With some anguish and a certain number of false steps, even very shy children can learn to forge relationships and cope when the spotlight is on them. They may have fewer friends than other kids, but those friendships will be just as close.

In rare cases, a child is so shy that he or she begins to avoid all interactions. If you are concerned that your child's shyness is isolating them or undermining their ability to function, seek help from a school counselor or your family pediatrician. Either may have valuable advice and can refer you to a specialist if necessary.

Yes, it can be like walking a tightrope trying to help a shy child learn how to handle uncomfortable situations. You don’t want to pressure too much or protect too much and it can be emotionally challenging figuring out the next step.  

By accepting your child as he or she is, you can help them accept who they are. It may help to remind yourself that your child's temperament isn't a reflection of your parenting skills. As long as he or she has some friends, is reasonably happy with his or her self, and can function as a student and family member, all is well. Praise your kid for their efforts to be social, provide advice when asked, keep an eye on their progress and challenges and know that they will find their way in the world.

Story source: Anne Krueger, https://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/children-s-health-10/child-development-news-124/shyness-ages-6-to-12-645930.html

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