It’s natural for young children to feel ‘shy’ at some stage in their development. I prefer to use the word “Reserved.” If this behaviour is longer lasting or intensifies as the child grows older, it can become crippling – limiting their openness to new experiences and making it very hard for the child to socialize and meet new friends. So here are some positive parenting approaches that can help:
- Be Mindful – If you label your child as being ‘shy’ at every opportunity, it can lead to a downward spiral of them fulfilling your expectations. It’s easy to say, “Don’t be silly, you are a big boy and big boys aren’t shy.” But these kinds of statements may lead kids to think that their inner feelings aren’t valid. And by dismissing their feelings, we can confuse them and lead them to even greater anxiety.
- Acceptance – it’s crucial to cradle their feelings with warmth and concern. You might say, “It sounds as if you’re feeling nervous. That’s understandable.” If you support your child’s feelings, they will become more confident and secure.
- Generalize – and normalize the concerns your children have. Let them know that they are not alone and that many other people feel the same way – everyone is unsure of themselves from time to time. You can suggest things that other people do to overcome their fears. Refer to a situation you found daunting, what you attempted to overcome it and, by making the effort, how good you felt afterward. You might also point out the challenges that their other friends face. After all, children learn social skills by watching other children.
- Communicate -It’s better to have a conversation with your children about their anxiety when they are not in the midst of it. Try to find a relaxed time to discuss the matter. You’ll be better able to communicate while also avoiding a reactive, anxious response. Think about the specific situations when your child withdraws and look for skills that may help them in managing those situations. You can even role-play to help them rehearse these skills.
- Boost -your little one’s self-esteem with authentic descriptive praise . “Even though you were nervous, you asked for help and that was very brave.” This will help your child to develop a sense of achievement and pride. At the same time, try to show them how much faith you have in them and in their abilities. “You seem a little nervous but that’s to be expected, I know you can handle this.”
Many people equate being shy as a problem or having poor self-image. Unfortunately, some children internalize and not every parent is practiced at dealing with these challenging social situations. If you notice a rapid change where your child becomes more withdrawn or ceases to interact with others, I would recommend seeking professional support too.
We all want to see our children social and happy however make no mistake we do not need to “fix” children who are shy. Shyness is a personality trait, not a fault. Some children just have temperaments that are a bit quieter than others. Those children who are more reserved can have wonderful personalities and beautiful, positive qualities. It is absolutely vital that you make sure your attitude towards your child’s temperament is positive and not of disdain. So please, let’s not apologize for who our children are. Let’s support and celebrate them instead!