Parenting a Shy Child

Shyness is a feeling of awkwardness, worry or tension during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people. Severely shy people may exhibit physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, pounding heart or upset stomach.

They could also be filled with negative feelings about themselves, worries of how others see them, and this would manifest in a tendency to avoid social interactions. Feeling shy on occasion is perfectly normal, however, some people face intense feelings of shyness that may prevent them from interacting with others; this usually leads to problems in school or at work, and relationships.

If this leads to significant impairment in social activities or relationship and academic functioning, then it is no longer shyness but a psychological problem called social phobia and this needs professional help.

Identifying shyness

The most common observable symptom of shyness is “avoidance behaviour” in which the child tries to avoid all situations where he or she has to meet other people. Your child may exhibit anger, resort to crying, or keep silent (elective mutism) if he or she is forced into such a situation. Be observant of your child’s mannerisms and reactions in order to find out whether your child is shy.

When to seek help from a professional?

If you’ve tried all the tips and your child is still not showing any positive progress, be patient and give him or her some time. However, you must be alert of your child’s moods and behaviours, and if he or she shows signs of anxiety that is becoming very severe. If he or she shows complex symptoms or suicidal thoughts or intentions, it is vitally important to contact a mental health professional or a child psychologist for counselling.

How you can help?

  • Do NOT ridicule or make fun of your child in public.
    Negative comments or labels are dangerous, as they will cause emotional distress to your child. This may cause him or her to become even more withdrawn, thus making his or her shyness even more severe.
  • Do NOT label your child as “shy”.
    Accepting your child for who they are is very important; labelling him or her as “a shy child” will make him or her more likely to believe that label and act shy.
  • Build up your child’s self-esteem and confidence.
    Encourage your child to become competent in the real-world. Nurture your child’s sense of self-esteem and confidence by allowing him or her to make decisions and take responsibility for them.
  • Be a role model for confident social behaviour.
    Children usually learn by imitating the people around them, so be sure to exhibit the characteristics that you want them to have.
  • Teach your child social skills early.
    Good social skills need to be developed; some children may have greater aptitude for it than others, but practice makes perfect. Allow your child to pick up social skills by letting them practice with people as much as possible.
  • Teach tolerance and respect for others.
    Shy children are particularly judgemental of themselves and others, thus you will need to teach him or her to be tolerant and respectful of others. Tell them that no one is perfect, but should be tolerated in spite of their imperfections.

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