Parents seem somewhat bashful to ask me if it’s okay that their child is shy in front of others. Shyness is a common issue for parents and children. This week let me try not to shy away from the topic but provide some information about it.
First, shy children do not lack the skills to make and maintain friendships. They just have trouble with the initial contact and entering groups.
If your child is shy, don’t label them as shy because it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your child thinks you are anxious about their being shy, they will be tense about interacting. They could end up withdrawing more and more from social situations.
Look for positive ways to shape attitude. Talk with your child about their appearing shy when interacting with others. If being shy is not bothering your child, then leave the problem alone and it will likely resolve by itself.
If it does bother your child, talk about what would make things more comfortable in social situations. Practice with your child as to what to say when meeting someone new. Help your child get into a conversation with others as you drive a group of kids to a practice. You can also make your home an inviting place for kids to come over and play. Don’t push, but ease your child gradually into these new conversations and situations.
Remember to work on building your child’s self-esteem, since a poor self-image is often responsible for shyness. Praise your child when they do handle an unfamiliar situation. Sometimes it helps to talk about how you as a parent overcame being shy at one time in the past.
Here’s another idea: have your child care for a pet or child a few years younger. This can make them feel needed, will often boost confidence, and can help with the shyness.
If the shyness becomes a noticeable problem, talk to your child’s health care professional and/or a counselor for further advice. This is especially important if your child appears isolated, depressed or withdrawn. Usually shyness disappears over time as your child gets more accustomed to social settings.
Hopefully tips like these will help you and your child to not be bashful when overcoming this common childhood problem.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.