- 5 Ways to Shake Shyness
- Helping Your Shy Child
- The Vicious Cycle of Shyness
- Working with Your Shy Child
- Nine Ways Teachers Can Help Young Students Overcome Shyness
- What are the signs of shyness in a young student?
- What are the effects of shyness?
- What can teachers do to help?
- Nine strategies to help shy children become more outgoing
- Measuring Progress
- Outgoing Beth
- 7 Ways to Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety
- Related Articles
- 13 Confident Ways to Overcome Your Shyness
- 1. Don't tell
- 2. Keep it light
- 3. Change your tone
- 4. Avoid the label
- 5. Stop self-sabotaging
- 6. Know your strengths
- 7. Choose relationships carefully
- 8. Avoid bullies and teases
- 9. Watch carefully
- 10. Remember that one bad moment doesn't mean a bad day
- 11. Shut down your imagination
- 12. Stare it down
- 13. Name it
- Supporting your child with shyness
- When shyness might be a problem
- Shyness or something else?
- 13 Tips to Help Children Manage Social Anxiety
- 1. Nurture your child by noticing her needs and responding to them.
- 2. Empathize with your child’s worries and avoid shaming him.
- 3. Model confident behavior with other people. Kids learn from watching us
- 4. Teach your child basic social skills to respond to both adults and children
- 5. Help your child learn how to make friends.
- 6. Coach your child to express her needs and stand up for herself in social situations.
- 7. Don’t label your child as shy.
- 8. Teach your child effective strategies for dealing with feelings of social awkwardness.
- 9. Provide your child with small daily opportunities to interact with others
- 10. Don't push your child to perform
- 11. Remember that one good friend is worth many acquaintances.
- 12. Don’t create social anxiety by teaching young children to be afraid of strangers.
- 13. If your child seems generally fearful, consider that she's got some tears and fears inside that need to be expressed.
- Additional Resources:
5 Ways to Shake Shyness
Having a shy style isn't necessarily a problem. It's perfectly OK to take time to warm up to new people and situations. But shyness blocks some people from being as comfortable or sociable as they'd to be.
Some people want to feel less shy so they can have more fun socializing and being themselves around others. Here are some tips for overcoming shy feelings:
- Start small with people you know. Practice social behaviors eye contact, confident body language, introductions, small talk, asking questions, and invitations with the people you feel most comfortable around.Smile. Build your confidence this way. Then branch out to do this with new friends, too.
- Think of some conversation starters. Often, the hardest part of talking to someone new is getting started. Think of conversation openers, introducing yourself (“Hi, I'm Chris, we're in the same English class”), giving a compliment (“That jacket looks great on you”), or asking a question (“Do you know when our report is due?”). Being ready with a conversation starter (or a few) makes it easier to approach someone.
- Rehearse what to say. When you're ready to try something you've been avoiding because of shyness — a phone call or a conversation — write down what you want to say beforehand. Rehearse it out loud, maybe even in front of the mirror. Then just do it. Don't worry if it's not exactly you practiced or if it's not perfect. Few of the things more confident-seeming people do are perfect either. Be proud that you gave it a go. Next time, it'll be even better because it will be easier.
- Give yourself a chance. Find group activities where you can be with people who share your interests. Give yourself a chance to practice socializing with these new people, and get to know them slowly. People who are shy often worry about failing or how others will judge them. Worries and feelings these can keep you from trying. If self-criticism plays a role for you, ask yourself whether you'd be this critical of your best friend. Chances are you'd be much more accepting. So treat yourself your own best friend. Encourage yourself instead of expecting to fail.
- Develop your assertiveness. Because shy people can be overly concerned with other peoples' reactions, they don't want to rock the boat. That doesn't mean they're wimpy or cowardly. But it can mean they are less ly to be assertive. Being assertive means speaking up for yourself when you should, asking for what you want or need, or telling other people when they're stepping on your toes.
Most of all, be yourself. It's OK to try out different conversational approaches you see others using. But say and do what fits your style. Being the real you — and daring to let yourself be noticed — is what attracts friends.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: October 2016
Helping Your Shy Child
Source: Sudarshan V/Flickr
Do you know any children this?
- They “act really shy around other kids. They seem to be nervous or afraid to be around other kids and they don’t talk much. They often play alone at recess.”
- They “watch what other kids are doing but don’t join in. At recess, they watch other kids playing but then play by themselves.”
- They “are very quiet. They don’t have much to say to other kids.”
Heidi Gazelle, of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, presented this three-part description to almost 700 third graders so they could help her identify what developmental psychologists call “anxious, solitary children.” These children want to interact with their peers, but their shyness holds them back.
When they’re around other kids, shy children feel outsiders looking in. Even among familiar faces, they often end up playing alone or just silently watching others having fun, without joining in.
The Vicious Cycle of Shyness
Many shy children get trapped in a vicious cycle that keeps them from connecting with other kids: Because they feel uncomfortable in social settings, they avoid interacting with their peers.
This means they get less practice talking and playing with other kids, so they have less opportunity to develop social skills—including having conversations, resolving arguments, taking turns, or figuring out fun things to do together.
Their relative lack of social skill further contributes to them feeling uncomfortable and wanting to avoid social situations.
Shy kids hold themselves apart because they’re focused on their own discomfort. For example, they spend recess time reading or silently staring at other kids from ten feet away. Unfortunately, the unintended message they send to their peers when they do this is that they don’t want to be friends.
Other kids often respond negatively to this standoffish behavior. Compared to kids who don’t withdraw from others, shy kids are more ly to be actively disd by their peers.
Shy boys tend to be judged more harshly than shy girls.
(Note: The response to shyness may be culture-specific; there’s some evidence that shyness may be more socially acceptable in certain Asian cultures, according to a 2010 review by Rubin et al.)
peer ratings and playground observations, Gazelle identified three important subgroups of shy kids, each with very different patterns of social relationships. All of these kids showed the shy behaviors mentioned earlier, but what they did in addition to acting shy was strongly related to how other kids treated them. (Note: Some shy kids didn’t fit any of these categories.)
1. Agreeable Shy Kids
Although these children didn’t initiate conversation or play, they responded warmly when a peer approached them. These children were generally accepted by peers and had about as many friends as more sociable kids.
Other children viewed them as reasonably fun and smarter than average.
Despite their tendency to hold back, their openness to other children’s overtures—and, perhaps, their positive family relationships—allowed them to develop good enough social skills to get along with their peers.
2. Immature Shy Kids
These children usually hung back in social situations, but when they tried to approach peers, they did so in ways that other kids found babyish or annoying. For example, Gazelle mentions a girl who, after getting “out” in a game of Twister, repeatedly interrupted the other kids by asking, “Can we play another game?”—even though they were still involved in playing that game.
Other children mostly ignore immature shy kids. They are more ly than agreeable shy kids to be disd by their peers, because they vacillate between being withdrawn and calling attention to themselves in disruptive and irritating ways. They also had fewer than average friends.
3. Aggressive Shy Kids
It seems contradictory for children to be both aggressive and shy, but Gazelle identified a subgroup of shy kids who mostly kept to themselves, but when they did interact with peers, they often did so in angry or hostile ways.
Compared to both more sociable kids and other shy kids, these children struggle the most with peer relationships.
They are very ly to be rejected, excluded, or bullied by their peers—partly because their behavior is so unpleasant, and partly because they have very few friends to protect or defend them.
Standard cognitive-behavioral treatment for anxiety involves helping people face feared situations, so they can build up their confidence that they can handle them.
However, the subtypes of shy kids identified by Gazelle show clearly that we can’t just shove shy kids into social situations and hope things will work out.
For both immature and aggressive shy kids, for instance, their anxiety about interacting with peers is well founded: their peers really do tend to respond negatively to them!
Exposure to (more) rejection won’t help children gain social confidence. Shy kids need specific guidance in how to connect with peers in positive ways, as well as practice doing so.
Working with Your Shy Child
Shy children don’t have to magically turn into life-of-the-party extroverts in order to fit in and have friends. There is certainly room in the world for a quieter style of relating! They do, however, need to find ways of interacting that fit who they are and that lead to positive reactions from others. Here are some ways you can help your shy child to learn to get along with peers.
- Follow your child’s interests: Kids make friends by doing fun things together. An activity that your child enjoys can be a stepping stone to friendship. If your child is focused on the fun activity, he or she has something to do and talk about with peers and is less ly to fret about the possibility of being alone or getting rejected. Some shy kids just need help getting over the initial hump—after that, they're fine interacting with peers. A favorite activity can serve as this bridge.
- Teach and practice social scripts: Most social interaction does not involve witty banter. A lot of what we say to other people is routine. Help your child learn simple social scripts through role play. For instance, greeting people with eye contact, a clear voice, and a friendly smile gets the friendship ball rolling. Asking “what” and “how” questions or giving a compliment are other useful and friendly scripts.
- Focus on one-on-one interaction: Many shy kids feel more comfortable with just one other person than they do in a crowd. Arranging and attending play dates can give your shy child a chance to practice social skills and deepen friendships. Having even one friend whom they and who s them back helps kids feel happier and be less of a target for bullying. If necessary, go over with your child how to behave on a play date before the guest arrives.
- Respond when others are friendly: Gazelle’s study showed that shy kids who were able to respond warmly to other children’s friendly overtures had an easier time socially. Help your child be on the lookout for kind behavior from other kids—this could be a sign of a beginning friendship! Help your child practice responding warmly. For instance, if someone gives your child a compliment, the correct response is a friendly “Thanks!”
- Imagine others’ perspectives: It takes kids many years to learn to imagine how someone else might feel in a particular situation. To support your child's perspective-taking skills, talk with your child about thoughts and feelings as they come up—either in daily life or in books, TV shows, or movies. Talking about feelings helps kids label and understand inner experiences. Mentally putting themselves in other people’s shoes can guide kids in how to get along. Looking outward and focusing on helping others feel comfortable can also help shy kids break free of paralyzing self-focus.
- Be patient: It can take time for reputations to change. Peers may not notice immediately when your child has turned over a new leaf. Express your faith in your child’s ability to grow and learn. With guidance and persistent effort, your child can begin to build connections with other kids.
How Children Make Friends
Is Your Child Inviting Rejection?
Growing Friendships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation. You’re welcome to link to this post, but please don’t reproduce it without written permission from the author.
© Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D.
Nine Ways Teachers Can Help Young Students Overcome Shyness
Whenever someone speaks to Beth at preschool, she quickly looks down, turns away, and doesn’t say anything. Her teacher has been hoping that Beth would warm up and interact more with the other members of the class, but weeks have passed and her behaviour hasn’t changed. What’s going on? Well, Beth may be shy.
Almost all children act shy at times, especially when encountering a new person or situation. Quite sensibly most children take time to figure out what to do (and not do!) when presented with a novel situation.
With time, most children start to feel comfortable in a new situation or with a person they’ve recently met and, therefore, act more outgoing, relaxed, and spontaneous.
Some children, however, warm up much more slowly than others.
Children who are shy may not respond when spoken to by a teacher or classmate even after weeks of school. Or they may say little, speak very softly, and avoid eye contact.
These children may hover near other children day after day but never join the others in play. Shy children may look tense or distracted in school as they worry about becoming the center of attention or doing something embarrassing.
Teachers never see the children at home smiling, laughing, and chatting away with family members.
What are the signs of shyness in a young student?
Shy children tend to show at least 3 or 4 of the following behaviors in preschool or primary school. Shy children tend to:
- Produce little or no voluntary speech
- Follow directions but don’t respond verbally to them
- Turn away when spoken to
- Watch but don’t join other children in fun activities
- Make little or no eye contact
- Speak softly
- Volunteer last and line up last for activities.
There are four possibilities, each much less ly than true shyness. In close cases, a expert’s opinion might be useful. The four problems that might look shyness are:
- Unidentified deafness. Consider this possibility if the child does not respond in any way to loud noises or someone calling her name behind her. A teacher calling, “Lisa, stop!” behind Lisa while Lisa is walking will bring a behavioral response in a shy child but not a deaf one.
- Undiagnosed autism. Consider this possibility if the child shows bizarre behavior such as hand flapping or repeating some other movement again and again, has frequent tantrums, or often makes unintelligible sounds. In general, shy children act normal other than when they are in specific social situations.
- Undiagnosed depression. Consider this possibility if the parents, when asked, say that the child usually acts or looks depressed or distressed at home. Shy children usually look and act happy and confident at home.
- Unidentified speech delay. Consider this possibility if the child tries to speak and joins the other children in activities and volunteers and lines up as fast as the others. Shy children speak normally at home, so if the parents, when asked, say that the child does not speak clearly at home, the problem is more ly speech delay than shyness.
What are the effects of shyness?
The unfortunate effects of being shy include nervousness, decreased development of close relationships, interference with learning, and reduced opportunities to practice and improve social skills. As a shy child reaches 9 or 10 years of age, peers tend to start thinking of the child as not normal.
This can in turn have negative effects on the child’s self-esteem. On the other hand, shy children tend to act out less than other children do, perhaps because they don’t want to call attention to themselves by doing something wrong.
Although some children outgrow shyness as they get older, others remain painfully shy their entire life.
What can teachers do to help?
Teachers can have a negative or positive effect on shy children. Teachers who interpret shy behaviour as wilful or spiteful may punish the child for remaining silent when asked to sing or to speak. Punishing shy behaviour makes no more sense than punishing urination accidents. It is more ly to cause emotional harm to the child than to help the child develop.
Teachers who view helping children become more outgoing as a developmental project similar to helping the children learn to read or share toys may have quite a positive impact on shy children.
Nine strategies to help shy children become more outgoing
Teachers can use the following nine strategies to help shy children become more outgoing:
- Put children in pairs or other small groups and lead them into an activity that requires interaction.
Put children in pairs or other small groups and lead them into an activity that requires interaction.
Here are a few examples for young children: Pair students and ask them to hold hands when they go somewhere outside class. Ask two children to play together one day.
With two or three students, play a group game, such as emotions charades, or a fantasy game, such as firefighters working together to rescue someone.
- Prompt interaction between children.
Prompt interaction between children. One way to do this is to give the shy child the words to say to another person, for example, “Juan, ask that boy what his name is.” Or, “If you don’t know the answer to a question, you can say, ‘I don’t know.
'” Or, “Say that you want to play too.” If speaking by a shy child is the question for the moment, encourage nonverbal communication. Waving hello is much better than making no response to a greeting.
Another way of prompting involves talking to one child and to another in a way that encourages them to talk together. For instance: “Christine, I see that you’re pretending to be a doctor. Ben makes a great patient. Ben, tell the doctor where you hurt.
” Or: “Jizreel, you have a dog and Nickie does. Tell her your dog’s name.” This approach is similar to serving as a good party host!
- Give shy children plenty of time
Give shy children plenty of time to respond to questions or to speak to the class. Don’t rush to speak for them, for instance, during show-and-tell. Be patient — it may take them a while to overcome their nervousness and speak. If the child doesn’t answer after a period of several seconds, go on pleasantly to the next child or activity.
- Show empathy and understanding.
Show empathy and understanding. By commenting in a caring way on a shy child’s apparent emotion, such as nervousness or embarrassment, you can help the child learn to identify those emotions.
By talking about similar emotions you experienced either recently or when you were a child, you can show the child that the emotions are OK and that it is all right to talk about them.
Identifying and talking about the emotions may help the child control them.
Show warmth. Play with all the children, hug them, compliment them, speak nicely to them, and show interest in them. All children being treated warmly, but shy children may gain the greatest benefit from being “warmed” up.
- Reward outgoing behavior.
Reward outgoing behavior. Praise children when they interact in a positive way with another person. Set the reward standard lower for a shy child and gradually require more outgoing behavior for praise.
So, you might initially praise a shy child for raising three fingers in answer to the question what is one plus two. Later, you might require her to say “three” in order to receive praise.
Still, later, you might require her to say “three” appropriately loud to receive praise.
Avoid labeling. Most children have great hearing when a teacher is speaking about them. Never tell a child that he is “shy.” Labeling creates a risk that the child will think that he is the label and will always be the label. The child will then tend to live out the role.
If describing a child’s shy behavior becomes needed, describe it to parents or others with words that are specific, that refer to a past time, and that are hard for the child to latch on to. Say, for instance: “He didn’t speak much today, even when others spoke to him.
- Read books to the class about characters who overcame shyness.
Read books to the class about characters who overcame shyness. Some of my favourites for preschoolers include:
- Buster the Very Shy Dog, by Lisze Bechtold.
- Chatterbox Jamie, by Nancy Evens Cooney
- Gretchen Groundhog, It’s Your Day, by Abby Levine.
- Speak up, Blanche! by Emily Arnold McCully.
My favourites for primary school students:
- The Shy Little Girl, by P. Krasilovsky
- The Playground, by D. Wilmer
See Helping Young Children Overcome Shyness for more related books. The best way to use such books is as a springboard to a discussion of feeling or acting shy and what children can do to reach out to another child, such as inviting the child to play.
Team up with parents. Work out a consistent plan with parents about how to help a child become more outgoing. Parents can do many things to help a child act more outgoing at school, including following the suggestions above.
Parents can also arrange play dates with another child in the class and set a model of talking with the other children and the teachers.
Teachers can also refer parents to information specifically written to guide parents of shy children, such as my blog post, “Helping Young Children Overcome Shyness.”
See Davies (undated) for other ideas.
How can teachers tell if their efforts are helping a child act more outgoing? If the teachers, child, and parents set specific behavioural goals for the child, such as speaking when spoken to at school or playing with another child, and then keep a daily record of the behaviour, everyone involved can tell when the child makes progress. Be sure to share any signs of progress with parents.
Month after month, Beth, the preschooler described at the start of this article, didn’t respond when the teacher greeted her in the morning. Then, on the last day of the school year, Beth responded with a hello. The lion roared, one might say, and the teacher threw up her hands and screamed with delight. Teaching has its rewards.
7 Ways to Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety
It is estimated that nearly 17 million American adults at some point will meet criteria for social anxiety disorder or social phobia. The number of adults who struggle with shyness greatly exceeds that number. Fortunately, there are some effective strategies to overcome shyness and social anxiety and gain confidence:
Confidence comes through action, learning, practice, and mastery. Remember when you learned how to ride a bike? It was terrifying at first, but after you just went for it and tried it, you got it, and felt confident. Social confidence works the same way.
Feeling anxious is not the problem; avoiding social interactions is the problem. Eliminate avoidance and you will overcome your anxiety.
This means participating in small talk in the checkout line and talking to strangers at bars, stores, sporting events, and the gym. Additionally, approach the individuals to whom you are attracted romantically. Talk to them. Ask them to dance. Ask them out on dates.
Life is short. Who cares if you get rejected? There are seven billion people on this planet. You’re not expected to or be d by all of them. Take some chances and put yourself out there to meet new people.
3. Try new things, even if they make you anxious.
Join a club, a sports team, or an improv class. Pick up a new project, take on a difficult task at work, or learn a new skill. Do something to get your comfort zone.
Part of overcoming shyness is about developing confidence in several areas of your life and not letting anxiety, fear of failure, fear of rejection, or fear of humiliation get in your way. By practicing new activities, you are confronting your fear of the unknown and learning to handle that anxiety more effectively.
Start practicing giving speeches or presentations and telling jokes or stories at every opportunity. Be more talkative and expressive in all areas of your life. Whether you’re at work, with friends, with strangers, or walking down the street, you can practice talking more openly. Let your voice and your ideas be heard.
Confident people are not preoccupied with whether everyone is going to what they have to say. They speak their mind because they want to share, engage, and connect with others. You can do this too. Anxiety and shyness are not reasons to stay quiet.
5. Make yourself vulnerable.
A fear of being judged contributes to social anxiety and shyness. The only way to overcome this fear is to make yourself vulnerable. Practice doing this with the people you are close to and can trust.
You might realize the more you do it, the closer you feel to others and the more pleasure and meaning you get those relationships.
This will lead to increased confidence in yourself and in social interactions.
Being vulnerable requires a willingness to let others see the real you. Be proud of who you are. Being genuine and vulnerable is often the quality that others will appreciate the most about you.
6. Practice displaying confident body language.
Make eye contact when talking to someone. Walk with your head held high. Project your voice clearly and effectively. Shake hands. Give hugs. Stay in close proximity to others.
7. Be mindful.
Mindfulness has been defined simply as awareness. Wake up. Be present to all of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and memories in any given moment. There is no part of your experience that you have to run from, escape, or avoid. Learn to appreciate yourself and the world around you, including those “panicky” thoughts and feelings, and just notice them without judgment.
When you are fully present in the moment, you will realize that social interactions are not something you need to avoid.
You will perform better because you are actually paying attention to the conversation and the cues in your environment.
With practice, you can continually incorporate and improve upon your social skills that you learn from the world around you, ultimately making you feel more confident.
Shy man photo available from Shutterstock
7 Ways to Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety
13 Confident Ways to Overcome Your Shyness
Shyness can truly hold people back–partly because those who are shy tend to avoid public situations and speaking up, and partly because they experience so much chronic anxiety.
If that's you, take comfort in knowing you are far from alone–four 10 people consider themselves shy.
But here's the good news: Shyness can be overcome. With time and effort and a desire to change, it's possible to break through.
If your shyness is severe, you may need help from a therapist or counselor, but most people can overcome it on their own.
Take your first steps in getting past shyness with these 13 techniques to help you become a more confident you.
1. Don't tell
There's no need to advertise your shyness. Those who are close to you already know, and others may never even have an opportunity to notice. It's not as visible as you probably think.
2. Keep it light
If others bring up your shyness, keep your tone casual. If it becomes part of a discussion, speak of it lightheartedly.
3. Change your tone
If you blush when you're uncomfortable, don't equate it with shyness. Let it stand on its own: “I've always been quick to blush.”
4. Avoid the label
Don't label yourself as shy–or as anything. Let yourself be defined as a unique individual, not a single trait.
5. Stop self-sabotaging
Sometimes we really are our own worst enemy. Don't allow your inner critic to put you down. Instead, analyze the power of that voice so you can defuse it.
6. Know your strengths
Make a list of all your positive qualities–enlist a friend or family member to help if you need to–and read or recite it when you're feeling insecure. Let it remind you how much you have to offer.
7. Choose relationships carefully
Shy people tend to have fewer but deeper friendships–which means your choice of friend or partner is even more important. Give your time to the people in your life who are responsive, warm, and encouraging.
8. Avoid bullies and teases
There are always a few people who are willing to be cruel or sarcastic if it makes for a good punch line, some who just have no sense of what's appropriate, and some who don't care whom they hurt. Keep a healthy distance from these people.
9. Watch carefully
Most of us are hardest on ourselves, so make a habit of observing others (without making a big deal it). You may find that other people are suffering from their own symptoms of insecurity and that you are not alone.
10. Remember that one bad moment doesn't mean a bad day
Especially when you spend a lot of time inside your own head, as shy people tend to do, it's easy to distort experiences, to think that your shyness ruined an entire event–when chances are it wasn't a big deal to anyone but you.
11. Shut down your imagination
Shy people sometimes feel disapproval or rejection even when it isn't there. People probably you much more than you give yourself credit for.
12. Stare it down
Sometimes when you're scared, the best thing to do is to face it head on. If you're frightened, just stare it down and lean into it.
13. Name it
Make a list of all your jitters and worries. Name them, plan how you're going to eliminate them, and move forward.
Suffering from shyness shouldn't keep you from the success you are seeking, so try these simple tools and make them work for you–in fact, they're good techniques to try whether you're shy or not.
Published on: Jun 15, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
Shy behaviour is normal in babies and children.
For example, a baby might cling to her parents, cry in social situations, or physically try to avoid social interaction by hiding her head, moving or turning away, or shutting her eyes.
A preschooler might not want to talk when unfamiliar people speak to him. He might hide behind a parent, or avoid joining in games.
A school-age child might avoid answering questions in class, have trouble making friends, prefer to sit back and watch others play, or avoid new activities.
There’s nothing wrong with shyness.
All children are different, and some children are more shy than others. It’s just part of their temperament, which is the unique way they interact with the world.
Children who seem shy often ‘warm up’ as they get to know a person or situation. This means it’s better to describe these children as ‘slow to warm up’ rather than ‘shy’. Labelling a child as ‘shy’ can make her feel there’s something wrong with her, or there’s nothing she can do about her shyness.
Supporting your child with shyness
Shyness doesn’t always go away over time, but children can learn to be more confident and comfortable interacting with other people. These tips can help.
Tips for babies and young children
- Give your baby time to feel comfortable. Don’t make him go straight into the arms of an unfamiliar adult. Instead, encourage the adult to play with a toy near your child and use a calm voice.
- Stay with your child in social situations, playgroups or parents groups, while encouraging her to explore. As your child gets more comfortable you can gradually move away for short periods. For example, sit on a chair with other adults while your child plays on the floor. You can move back to your child if you need to.
- Let your child know that his feelings are OK and that you’ll help him manage them. For example, ‘I can see you feel a bit scared because you don’t know who’s at the party. Let’s look together before we walk in’.
- Avoid over-comforting your child. Over-comforting sends the message that you think this is a scary situation. And the extra attention might accidentally encourage your child’s shy behaviour.
- Praise ‘brave’ behaviour responding to others, using eye contact, trying something new or playing away from you. Be specific about what your child has done – for example, ‘Quinn, I d the way you said hello to the boy in the park. Did you notice how he smiled when you did that?’
- Try to model confident social behaviour so your child can watch and learn from you. For example, when someone says hello to you, always say hello back.
- If other people say your child is ‘shy’, gently correct them in front of your child. For example, ‘Lou takes a little while to warm up. Once she’s comfortable she’ll be happy to play’. This sends the message that you understand how your child feels, and she can deal with the situation when she’s ready.
Tips for school-age children
- Encourage playdates, either at your house or a friend’s house. If your child is invited to a friend’s house, he might feel more comfortable if you go with him at first. You could gradually reduce the time you spend with him at other people’s houses.
- Practise show-and-tell or class presentations with your child at home. This will help your child feel more comfortable when she has to stand up in front of her class.
- Encourage your child to do some extracurricular activities. Try to find ones that encourage social behaviour – for example, Scouts, Girl Guides or sport.
- Coach your child before social gatherings – for example, ‘People are going to want to talk with you today. Remember to look at Uncle Dan when he’s talking. If you don’t, he might think you’re not listening to him’.
- Avoid negative comparisons with more confident siblings or friends.
- Help to build your child’s self-esteem by encouraging even small steps towards being less shy.
When shyness might be a problem
Your child’s shy behaviour might be a problem if it’s causing him (or you) a lot of distress and/or getting in the way of daily life. For example, shyness might be a problem if:
- you or your child can’t go places because of his shyness
- your child shows signs of anxiety in social situations parties or school
- your child says he feels lonely but doesn’t know how to join in with other children
- your child feels he can’t answer or ask questions in class.
Some children who are shy go on to develop anxiety. So if your child’s shy behaviour is significant and hard to change, it could help to talk to a professional your GP, paediatrician or a psychologist.
Shyness or something else?
It’s a good idea to talk to your child and family health nurse (for young babies and toddlers) or your child’s teacher (for preschoolers and school-age children) to consider other possible reasons for your child’s behaviour.
- A child with a language delay might show signs that she wants to speak to people – for example, looking for eye contact or trying to make social connections – but get frustrated that she can’t be understood.
- A child with a hearing impairment might not hear or respond to what people are saying, or have trouble following instructions.
- A child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) might have difficulty reading social cues, might not play in the same way as other children and might seem uninterested in social contact.
13 Tips to Help Children Manage Social Anxiety
“Probably the worst thing to do is to say, ‘Don’t be shy. Don’t be quiet.' This is not about trying to change the child’s temperament. It’s about respecting and honoring temperament and variation, and helping children navigate the world with their own instruments.” – Dr. K.R. Merikangas
Parents often ask me how to help children who are “shy.” But what does “shy” even mean?
Some children who are considered “shy” are highly sensitive, meaning very aware of and strongly affected by their environment. Others are introverted, meaning that they need time away from other people to renew their energy. Some children are so absorbed in their own projects and ideas that they're simply less interested in social interaction.
And the rest of us who think we're “shy” usually mean that we feel awkward or anxious in social situations. A large NIMH study in 2011 found that half of all teenagers in the United States think of themselves as “shy.
” In fact, half of all adults think of themselves as “shy,” and many more say that they were “shy” as children. That's a lot of us. And yet most of those adults feel able to successfully handle most social situations they encounter, at least most of the time.
They've gained confidence through their experience that even if they're sometimes a bit apprehensive, they'll be able to manage.
So let's say, for the purposes of this article, that you're reading this because you want to support your child to become more comfortable in social situations.
Hopefully, you appreciate your unique child, who probably notices social nuances that other children miss. But it's natural to worry if your child seems to feel anxious with other people.
We all want our children to make friends easily, to feel comfortable asking questions at school, to speak up for themselves.
The good news is that most kids can learn to manage social anxiety so they can connect happily with others, enter new groups, and speak up for themselves. Some just need a little extra support.
1. Nurture your child by noticing her needs and responding to them.
Highly sensitive baby chimps given to extremely nurturing mothers became leaders in their group, while their equally sensitive siblings raised by less responsive chimp mothers seemed anxious and fearful throughout life.
Responsive mothering helps sensitive little ones learn to calm themselves and manage their reactions.
That allows their heightened sensitivity to become an asset, because it makes them more aware of the needs of their peers and better at negotiating group situations.
2. Empathize with your child’s worries and avoid shaming him.
Acknowledging what he feels, without negative judgment, helps him to feel good about himself. Giving him the impression that there is something wrong with him will just make him feel worse about himself, and therefore more insecure. Empathizing with your child will also help him develop empathy, which will enhance his social skills and help him connect with others.
3. Model confident behavior with other people. Kids learn from watching us
That means being friendly to strangers, offering help to others, and modeling a relaxed attitude about social interactions of all kinds.
4. Teach your child basic social skills to respond to both adults and children
Kids often need to be taught to make eye contact, shake hands, smile, and respond to polite chit-chat appropriately. Make games social skills and practice at home.
Just grab two teddy bears and have them act out scenarios in a funny way to get your child laughing, which defuses the child's anxiety.
During your show, ask your child frequently “What should he say? What should she do?”
5. Help your child learn how to make friends.
Role play with your child how to notice and respond when another child initiates, how to join a game at the playground, how to introduce themselves to another child at a party, and how to initiate a playdate.
For instance, kids who are successful in joining groups of kids usually observe first, and find a way to fit into the group, rather than just barging in. It can really help to read books about social skills with your child and then role play.
Several good books are listed at the end of this article, for children of different ages.
6. Coach your child to express her needs and stand up for herself in social situations.
All children need the confidence that they can handle what comes up when parents aren't around. For instance, every child needs to know how to respond to affronts with phrases “It's my turn now…. I was still using that….. I don't it when you say that….
I am not going to play with you if you say hurtful things to me.” This is especially important when peers tease or bully. Roleplaying is essential in learning skills, play is very helpful in managing anxiety, and reading books helps teach kids that they aren't alone or powerless.
Asking “What would you do?” is invaluable in helping kids think through possible responses and outcomes.
If you're concerned about your child's ability to stand up for himself, one good book to help you coach your child, offering scripts and strategies, is Scott Cooper's Sticks and Stones: 7 Ways Your Child Can Deal with Teasing, Conflict, and Other Hard Times. Several books for kids on how to handle bullying are listed at the end of this article. You may also want to read the article 11 Ways to Empower Your Child Against Bullying on this website, which has more specific suggestions and book recommendations.
7. Don’t label your child as shy.
Instead, acknowledge his worries and point out that he can overcome his fears. For instance,
“Sometimes it takes you awhile to warm up in a new situation. Remember Lorenzo’s birthday party, how you held my hand all through the games? But by the end, you were having lots of fun with the other kids.”
8. Teach your child effective strategies for dealing with feelings of social awkwardness.
One very helpful approach to social anxiety is to accept it as a part of normal life that affects most people. Then, reassure yourself that you’re okay, and focus on others rather than yourself.
For instance, reassure your child that most people feel socially awkward at least sometimes. Then remind your child that she doesn’t have to be interesting, just interested, and teach her to ask other kids questions and listen to their answers.
Brainstorm with her how she might handle a situation that makes her nervous:
“If you feel nervous at the party today, what could you do to make yourself more comfortable? Could you hang out with one of the kids you know from school? Could you offer to help serve the refreshments? What could you say to reassure yourself? What do you think you might talk with the other kids about?”
Once she knows she can handle whatever comes up, she'll feel more ready to tackle a new experience.
9. Provide your child with small daily opportunities to interact with others
Socially anxious children need downtime, of course, especially if they're introverts. But they also need plenty of opportunities to practice their social skills.
Remember that empathizing doesn’t mean being over-protective. If your child is worried, remind him that he can do hard things. Talk every night at dinner about one hard thing each person in the family did that day.
Applaud every little step your child takes on his own.
10. Don't push your child to perform
Some children telling jokes or showing off their new abilities for Grandma, but many kids hate it. Enjoy your unique child without making him feel he's only valued if he performs. If you have the video rolling on your phone and your child asks you to stop, stop. She's allowed to enjoy life without feeling the pressure to perform.
11. Remember that one good friend is worth many acquaintances.
Some parents worry if their child isn't the life of the party. But what's important is that your child feel connected, she has someone she can talk to, or someone he wants to play with at recess. It's not necessary to have a lot of friends, just a few good ones.
12. Don’t create social anxiety by teaching young children to be afraid of strangers.
Instead, teach your child that he or she should always be with you, or with a teacher or trusted babysitter. If her special adult is with her, your child doesn’t need to be afraid of strangers. Once she’s old enough to begin walking home from school by herself, you can begin discussing how to keep herself safe.
13. If your child seems generally fearful, consider that she's got some tears and fears inside that need to be expressed.
When kids experience something scary and don't feel safe at that moment, the fears get repressed. You can think of this as stuffing them in an emotional backpack, to be processed later. The problem is that humans don't willingly subject themselves to scary feelings.
So often those tears and fears stay locked up inside. But since the body knows those emotions need to be felt to go away, the feelings are always trying to bubble up to get healed. Children who are trying to keep fear at bay often become generally fearful and even rigid.
If this describes your child, give her daily opportunities to giggle by playing games that dance just on the edge of fear — bucking bronco rides, for instance. That takes the edge off anxiety. And when she feels safe enough to let those fears surface in tears, welcome her meltdown.
On the other side of it, you'll have a less fearful, more flexible child.
Please note: These books are Amazon links with photos of the books. If you are not seeing them on your page, it may be that your browser is not picking them up. Please try a different browser. Enjoy!