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- Shyness can be social anxiety, lack of self-confidence or introversion.
- Shy kids are observant and more sensitive than their outgoing peers.
Shyness in children is extremely common.
A third to a half of adults consider themselves to be shy. In kids, shyness can mean many things. It can be social anxiety, a lack of self-confidence, or merely a preference for spending time alone observing and daydreaming.
Sometimes it’s a bit of all three.
Is it just a bit of social anxiety?
A small dose of social anxiety is common among children. The idea of being in front of other people and speaking up or reading aloud can trigger a bit of fear of being judged by others.
Is it a little lack of self-confidence?
Your child may be shy because they feel intimidated by an environment or new situation. This lack of self-confidence and self-doubt is also quite common for children.
Things like starting a new school or even returning to school again, can be daunting for a lot of kids. The good news is this can be temporary and ease off when they become accustomed to new people and places.
Is it introversion?
“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.”
We live in an extroverted world, and it can be concerning to see our kids on the introverted side of things. Many of us have a cultural bias against introverts, it’s a good idea to examine your own pre-conceived notions.
Susan Cain has a fantastic book about the power of introversion “Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.” Introversion may manifest itself as shyness.
Some people are more introverted than others and prefer to spend time working independently on their projects. In fact, many famous people are (were) introverts. Think Albert Einstein, JK Rowling, Lady Gaga, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Your kid may fall into this category, where they don’t particularly like large group activities, but enjoy social stimulation on a smaller scale. They may prefer their own company. The good news here is that according to research, introverted people are just as likely to succeed as their extroverted peers.
Most kids will have some self-doubt of their abilities. They may not know exactly where they fit in or how to engage with others in group activities. If you find that your child can use a little help in opening up and being less shy in certain situations, here are tips for how you can help.
1.) Listen to them. Don’t interrupt.
One of the things I found about working with so many kids over the years is that kids need to feel genuinely heard by adults. For kids to feel valued, their opinions and ideas have to be valued, and there’s no better way to do that than to validate them by simply listening.
It’s easy to brush off things kids say when you’re in a rush, but these moments can add up and inadvertently signal to a child that what they’re saying doesn’t merit your attention.
If you’re in a rush, take the time to explain to them that you’ll listen to them at a later time and keep your word on that.
2.) Don’t criticize or correct.
It can be tempting to correct things your child is saying because you want to help them get things right. This can signal to a child that their ideas are wrong.
It’s a good idea to ask your kids questions and give them new facts that may inform them and help them improve upon their previous rationale. It can help them adjust their thinking so that they can come to a more accurate conclusion.
3.) Teach them to do Deep Breathing and Reframe Social Situations
Kids may be reluctant to participate and engage in activities where they think that they won’t enjoy themselves. They can be so convinced of this that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Teach your kids to take slow deep breaths and think of the situation at hand. This helps in interrupting their negative thought patterns. You can ask them how likely it is that what they fear will actually happen. Then help your children brainstorm the ways they can enjoy themselves.
4.) Give them choices.
In our bid to be good parents, sometimes we pressure our kids into activities they don’t enjoy.
By giving kids choices, we are inviting cooperation and giving kids the feeling that they are in control of their lives. This is important because we need to validate the sense of self that kids feel.
5.) Praise them for their courage.
We can praise kids for their courage. If we see them do something with extra effort, trying something new, positively engaging in situations where they don’t feel comfortable, we can praise them for their bravery.
Praise is not only a great motivator, but it also builds natural confidence. Being encouraged to be brave can make children feel less fearful in social situations and prompt them to speak up.
6.) Normalize Shyness and Role-Play with Them
You can talk to your kids about how being a little shy is normal and that it’s something we’ve all experienced at one time or another.
You can show them that shyness does not have to get in the way of having fun. You can do activities and read books together like Quiet for Kids which will help your child understand shyness and introversion.
Develop social scripts with your child. Teach them what to say or do in uncomfortable situations for them. You can role-play certain situations that your child commonly encounters and ask them to play along and practice what they would say and do.
For example, showing them how to greet people with eye contact and what kind of questions to ask when getting to know someone. You can also teach your child how to say no to other people and set boundaries.
7.) Find Activities That Suit Your Child’s Shyness
Building up a child’s confidence takes time. A great way to do this is to help kids feel like they’re great at something. Whether it’s sports or a musical instrument, it’s a good idea to find an activity that suits their shy temperament.
If they enjoy an activity where they see themselves improve through dedication, it can give them the confidence they need to be more vocal in other situations.
It can also foster a sense of belonging which further boosts a kid’s self-esteem. This is especially important if they don’t feel like they fit in at school.
Are Shy Kids Smarter?
Not necessarily. Some introverted individuals who are seen as shy can be more deeply philosophical than extroverts. The time they spend on observing and thinking can give them an intellectual edge over their peers, but it’s not necessarily the case with all shy kids.
Shy kids can also be more sensitive to changes in their environment. Their observations of people and places can make them more insightful and have a tendency to make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.
What are the best activities for a shy child?
Solo activities or group activities that revolve around structured play are great for shy kids. Some ideas:
- One on One Playdates
- Musical Instruments
- Arts and Crafts
- Board Games
- Visiting Museums and Libraries
- Reading & Learning New Ideas
Shy Toddler – When to be Worried?
If your toddler exhibits any of the following behaviors, it may be a good idea to seek guidance from a health care provider or child development professional to see if your toddler’s social development is on track.
- No gesturing. Things such as pointing, reaching, showing and waving.
- No recognition. Doesn’t seem familiar with names of people and body parts when your child hears them. For example, not looking at the body part of the person when they hear the name.
- Doesn’t maintain eye contact.
- Doesn’t smile, when you’re smiling.