Kim Asbeck of Murfreesboro says it took some nudging to get her 8-year-old son, Donnie, to get over his shy phase when he was a preschooler. “He’s an only child, and early on, he was shy around almost everyone,” Asbeck says. “We had to encourage him to take steps toward making friends and having fun with other people.â€
Some scientists claim that shyness is often due to genetic predisposition, but many psychologists point to strong experiential factors – past experiences of rejection or fears of future failure.
“Shyness robs people of opportunities in life,” says Renee Gilbert, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist. “While many children outgrow shyness with time, for those of us who carry our shyness forward into adulthood, life becomes one series of missed opportunities after another. Anything you can do to ease your child’s shyness will, in turn, decrease the number of opportunties your child misses over the course of his life,” she adds.
Consider the following ways to help your child come out of his shell:
Reminders of Past Successes
Highlight your child’s past successesin numerous ways. Frame a photo of his best piano recital, showcase awards or trophies in a place of prominence or ask him to mentor a younger child in an area where he excels. Encourage your child for attempting something new, even if he doesn’t excel at it.
Opportunities for New Success
Social confidence is largely based on self-confidence, which can be increased through solo successes in art, music, grades, individual athletics, writing and responsibilities like taking care of a younger sibling or pet.
Look for opportunities to help your child soar. Once your child hits a major milestone, be sure to praise his effort rather than the final result. You can share the accomplishment with friends and family and ask them to send complimentary responses, or post the piece on an online community portal or personal blog.
Get to the Root of the Problem
Sometimes, shyness is the result of a pervasive problem that may or may not exist outside the child’s control. Bullies, cliques or an overly critical parent or sibling can lead a child to devalue his worth and accomplishments. Look for ways to foster discussion with your child to help determine the cause of his shyness.
“Children are shy in different ways for different reasons,” says Gilbert. “Understanding the nature of your child’s shyness will help you develop a program geared towards your child’s specific needs,” she adds.
Questions like, “What makes you feel sad?” or “When was the last time you were mad?” may spark a conversation that leads to some discovery.
Whatever the cause, shyness is a common condition and shouldn’t be treated as a plague. Many children grow out of it, and those who don’t can still go on to build healthy relationships and careers.
Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer.
ways to help your child
- Model confident social behavior
- Teach social skills early
- Emphasize creative problem solving
- Help your child identify talents that make him feel special
- Help your child manage his emotions
- Encourage step-by-step change
- Seek professional help as needed