By Krysten Taprell
The tendency to be shy is often a personality trait. These kids (and adults) tend to be cautious but thoughtful. They may warm up to people slowly, and once they do, they make strong friendship bonds. The reason we would have some concern for these kids is that when they lack the confidence to join in, they can become distressed and avoid social and new experiences, which often perpetuates the cycle of poor self-esteem.
5 Ways To Support A Child Through Shyness
1. Talk about feelings
All feelings are important. We can honor who our child is, their level of comfort, and their intuition with something like, “I know it is hard when we meet new people. We can wait until you are ready. Your body will know when it is the right time.” This tends to work better than saying, “You don’t need to be shy. There is nothing to be afraid of,” which will most certainly invalidate their experience and cause them to question their intuition.
2. Make a plan
Kids who tend to be shy generally won't like new things sprung on them. They need time to plan and process what will happen. Talk to your child ahead of time about where they are going, who will be there, what they will do, and roughly how long it will take.
Part of shyness is that kids don't know what to do and may lack the confidence to do it. Role-play different social scenarios such as asking to play, raising their hand to ask a question, looking at people, and holding their head up. This will prime their brain for what is to come and, as you connect with their feelings, they will feel safer knowing you are a secure base. Have fun with this and encourage their effort. Be specific, such as, "I loved how clear your voice was." That way they will know what to do, and every time they practice, they are building confidence. When they do go to the event and their first instinct is to stand back, you can say, "Remember what we practiced? You can do this. I believe in you."
4. Find the kind people
When a child is overwhelmed, their brain will be hypervigilant, looking for danger. It is the brain’s job to look for danger in order to keep us safe. We can be the calm influence that helps the child see that there is kindness around them. When someone says "hello" and smiles, point it out as something nice. If a child shares or asks them to play, then acknowledge that there are people around them who are safe and helpful. These quiet kids are good at observing. If we help them see the kind around them, they will feel less fearful to join in.
5. Social Stories
Social stories are helpful for a child to understand what they can expect in a situation. They can be really fun to make, and by doing this with your child, you can see the experience from their perspective and give them some control.
- Start by saying where they are going. For example, "On Mondays, I go to preschool."
- Then write something about the preschool. Maybe write about what happens during the day, their teacher, their friends, and so forth. Give the story color with as much detail as your child needs. You can also discuss “goodbyes” by focusing on the return with something like, “Mum/dad have to leave, and they always come back."
- Acknowledge how they feel. Write, for example, "Sometimes I feel sad when mummy leaves." Then add what they can do if they feel this way. "If I feel sad I can ..."
- Finish the book by saying, “At the end of the day, mum or dad will come and pick me up.”
- Encourage your child to draw the pictures or pick and paste photos to use in the book. This gives them a sense of ownership.
Children who feel shy are beautiful, sensitive, and caring children. We want to honor who they are while also gently supporting them to explore and expand their level of comfort in unfamiliar social situations. We don't have to turn them into raging extroverts but by helping them recognize their feelings, have a plan, practice, and see the kindness in others, we are giving them the tools they need to have positive experiences.
** Krysten is a Psychologist with over 20 years experience working with children and families. Her monthly blog offers parents the tools and knowledge to support their children. Krysten has also written a children's book, puzzles and cards to help children manage nightmares and develop gratitude and mindfulness. Check her out on FB and IG.