I knew my oldest son was naturally shy when he was only 6 months old. I had gone back to work at my teaching job in a residential treatment center for teens and was so excited for the chance to bring my son to work with me for graduation. As a proud new mom, I was thrilled to death to show off my baby (who absolutely was going to be the cutest thing my co-workers had ever seen). I was shocked when my usually cheerful baby buried his face into my shoulder whenever one of my coworkers or students came within 5 feet of us. I had been a shy child growing up but I didn’t know how to parent a shy child, especially one who was showing signs of fear so early in the game.
My shy baby grew into a shy toddler. He refused to play on any playground if there were other kids there. I spent many trips to MacDonalds talking to other moms with my son on my lap. I began making excuses for him. I knew at that point, that his shyness was a bit extreme and other kids didn’t have a problem playing on a playground no matter how many other kids were there. I started telling the other moms “He’s a little shy. He prefers to stay with me.” I figured he’d outgrow it and until then I wasn’t going to force him to do anything he didn’t want to do.
I didn’t realize the mistake I was making until my son was about 4 years old and I overheard him tell another little boy, “I don’t do that. I’m shy.”
It stopped me dead in my tracks and I realized that yes, my son had a tendency to be shy, but announcing it like it was a fact, I was crippling him. From that day on I made a point of never telling anyone else that my son was shy. Today he is a confident and outgoing 6 year old who no one would guess spent years paralyzed by shyness.
Use Words to Express Confidence
Kids hear everything – even the youngest kids, even when we think they aren’t listening. A friend once told me that during natural childbirth, hearing her husband tell the nurse how strong she was meant so much more to her because he said it not knowing she was listening. I’ve tried to apply that to my parenting. I let my kids hear me praise their strengths to other people. Hearing me say something positive about them to someone else nearly always causes them to demonstrate the behavior in the future. Don’t hesitate to praise kids to their face either. The world brings kids down enough that I don’t think there’s such thing as over-praising.
Raising a child in a loving environment and helping them grow up with confidence can make them stronger and more resistant to common adolescent pitfalls such as teenage alcohol abuse and teen drug addiction.
Provide Opportunities for Social Development
Shy children are often shy, regardless of whether or not they have had opportunities to socialize with other children. A shy child is often a master at being in a social environment without actually being a part of the group. Parents can encourage a shy child to stretch out of their comfort zone by setting goals for a playgroup or team practice. In the beginning, when my son was first starting to reach out of his comfort zone, I would encourage him before kindergarten to introduce himself to someone in his class. Once he had mastered that skill, I began encouraging him to ask someone new to play with him at recess. Shy children often do not know where to start or how to join a group. They can make huge strides in their social development if parents teach them to make one step at a time.
Practice Conversation Skills
Shy children are easily overwhelmed by new social situations because they simply do not know what to do. Parents can help prepare children for new social situations by talking with them about what they can expect and role-playing conversation ideas. My son and I often talk about conversation starters before he jumps into a new social situation. Teach children to introduce themselves and then ask what the other child’s name is. Parents can help a shy child brainstorm conversation starters so that the child is more comfortable talking with other children. Possible conversation starters are:
- What is your favorite sport?
- Do you have any pets?
- What do you like to do?
- Do you have any brothers and sisters?
Parents can give a shy child the encouragement and confidence that he needs to face social situations. Every child comes with his own unique personality. My son still struggles with shyness from time to time but more and more, he amazes me with his confidence and bravery and I’m so proud of what he’s overcome.