Shyness is a normal part of development and life. We all feel shy at one point or another, but when that shyness begins to interfere with relationships and social situations, then it can be a problem.
Shyness is considered a normal part of the developmental process at around five-six months and then again around two years of age. However, shyness that persists far beyond that may have other causes and can have negative consequences. Shyness can be very painful for kids to live with. As parents, we desperately want to protect our children, so when we see them withdraw from a social situation, our first instinct is to protect them and excuse the behavior by saying, “Oh, he’s just shy.” But we might be doing more harm than good by allowing the shyness to persist because we’re not helping our kids to overcome that shyness and embrace new situations—something they’re going to need to do throughout life.
The bottom line—as a parent, you can help your child shake off his/her shy and it might be the greatest lesson you teach. If you have a child who struggles with shyness, it’s important to identify the underlying cause and then take an active role in teaching social skills—skills that will serve your child forever.
Causes of Shyness
There are many reasons for shyness:
- Low self-esteem: Children with low self-esteem may expect others to hold a low opinion of them and therefore, withdraw.
- Overprotective parents: Kids who don’t learn independence lack confidence and feel insecure.
- Learned behavior: Some kids learn shy behavior from parents.
- Lack of exposure to social settings: Kids who haven’t learned how to navigate social situations have a tendency to withdraw.
- Too much teasing or criticism: Children who are overwhelmed by too much negative feedback will withdraw to avoid more.
- Too much change: Kids have a hard time coping with too much change and therefore, will withdraw.
- Volatile home life: Inconsistent parenting or problems on the home front can leave a child feeling insecure and scared.
- Shy temperament: Some kids are just naturally born with a shy temperament.
The Impact of Shyness
Shyness can leave a lasting impact and generally make life harder for a child (who could eventually be a shy adult). You may think being shy is harmless, but shy kids face a litany of challenges:
- Difficulty making and keeping friends
- Difficulty expressing emotions
- Difficulty standing up for oneself
- Problems in school (because they’re too shy to ask for help)
- Feeling left out
- Difficulty communicating effectively (an important lifelong skill)
Of course, the best way to combat shyness is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. If you want to raise confident kids who aren’t held back in life by shyness, it’s important to:
- Teach social skills
- Model confident, non-shy behavior
- Provide exposure to different social situations
- Help children feel confident and capable
- Provide plenty of love and affection
- Teach effective communication
Despite the best of intentions, sometimes shyness can take over. If your child is struggling with shyness, it’s important to gently intervene and steer the ship in a different direction. Here’s what you can do:
- Banish teasing. Even the most “harmless” teasing can cause serious damage to a child’s self-esteem. Develop a no-teasing policy in your home and stick to it. Your child needs to know it’s safe to be him/herself.
- Abandon isolation. Shy kids want to withdraw and isolate themselves. Your job as a parent is not to allow it. Plan activities and social outings that will help your child engage with others. Help your child identify an activity they want to participate in such as Boy Scouts or soccer.
- Practice. Acknowledge that you understand your child is feeling shy and offer to help them role-play or practice prior to a social engagement. If your child is worried about being left out of the conversation, coach him/her about some potential topics ahead of time.
- Enlist help. Talk to teachers and other parents about your child’s shyness and enlist their help. Make it clear that you don’t want anyone enabling your child’s shyness, but instead gently coax your child to feel involved.
- Don’t reinforce shyness. Acknowledge your child’s shyness very matter-of-factly, but don’t give him/her a lot of emotional attention around it. Often, by focusing on the shyness, we tend to reinforce it.
- Encourage independence. Teach your child independence wherever possible. Often shyness is the result of an over-dependence on a parent.
- Teach communication and assertiveness. Teach your child to ask for what she wants—and to feel safe doing so. By teaching communication and assertiveness, you lay a foundation for a lifetime of self-confidence and personal responsibility.
Shyness may seem like an impossible habit to break, but it’s not. With a strong commitment, you can help your child shake off the shy and feel safe navigating the world.