What about shyness?

     Shyness is often viewed as a problem. Many people believe it is an undesirable trait, one that reflects a poor self-image. Actually, it’s only a problem when people perceive it as one. A reserved child who is not taught that something is wrong with her will be just as confident, happy, and involved as her more outgoing peers.

     One woman who was shy as a child had parents who never made her feel bad about her quiet nature. As a result, she’s a reserved adult who moves confidently through life. Another woman remembers being chastised for her shyness. Her parents constantly tried to change her: “Why don’t you act like the other kids?” “Why are you so anti-social?” She still feels self-conscious and uncomfortable and imagines her mother saying, “Talk! Just go ahead and talk to them!”

     The way a child perceives her shyness depends mostly on her parents. If they accept her personality and don’t focus on shyness as a problem, she also will be matter-of-fact about her shyness. She will see herself as able to do and enjoy the same things other children do. But if her parents try to change her or focus too much on her shyness, she’ll become self-conscious. It’s a fine line between acceptance and feeling bad about having this trait. The more parents concentrate on shyness as a problem, the worse their child will feel about herself.

     Shyness is a personality characteristic and should be accepted as one, not as a flaw. Reserved children are often nice, well-behaved, and generous. They are usually good listeners and enjoy and respect privacy. They also can enjoy watching other children participate in activities. Although they are shy in some circumstances, they may handle other situations well. They’re often fine in small groups of two or three children or in one-on-one conversations with an adult. A shy child who is involved in an interesting project won’t appear shy. It’s only when she becomes the focus that her shyness becomes apparent.

     While shyness should not be seen as a problem for a child, it can be frustrating for parents. They may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when she doesn’t respond as other children do. They may feel judged and they may see her ignored by adults who engage with other, more talkative children.

     Parents can help themselves and their child by avoiding uncomfortable situations and protecting her when necessary. For instance, many shy children don’t like to be put on the spot to say hello or otherwise talk on demand. If she appears unlikely to respond to an adult’s questions, her parents should matter-of-factly respond for her and then quickly steer the discussion away from her. The alternative, trying to force her to talk, will only make her feel worse and will probably be ineffective.

     Parents can sometimes help their child by role-playing uncomfortable situations with her: “Let’s pretend you meet Jackie in the hall at Sunday school. How could you say hello to her?” “Imagine Aunt Karen asking you, ‘How’s school?” Practicing may be useful. However, when she is actually confronted with an uncomfortable situation, she may not respond as she had rehearsed.

     If parents expect guests at their home, they can prepare their child or make special arrangements for her. She might feel more comfortable if she has a friend of her own over. She might prefer helping before the guests arrive rather than when the visitors are in the house. If parents generally arrange situations so she doesn’t feel focused on, everyone will feel better.

     Parents often wonder how to approach the subject of shyness in school. If that’s a concern of yours, wait and see how comfortable your child is in class. Don’t begin the school year by telling the teacher your child is shy; the teacher may treat her differently or anticipate problems. If your child feels self-conscious about being made to speak in class, schedule a conference at school. Let the teacher know you don’t want your child to receive negative messages about shyness. You have to correct any adult who believes she can change your child’s personality.

     Many teachers prefer quiet students. Your reserved child may be rewarded for her behavior, perhaps more than you would wish. One shy first-grader received stickers at school for being so “good” and quiet. Then, during a school conference, the teacher told the parents the girl was very shy. “But you reward her for being quiet!” her parents replied. They asked the teacher to stop reinforcing her shy behavior and instead reward her for finishing her work or participating in class.

     Sometimes your child will come home from school or play feeling frustrated because she couldn’t participate comfortably. She may become whiny or demanding. Accept that she needs understanding and an outlet for her feelings. If she feels comfortable enough, she may talk to you about shyness and how it sometimes interferes with activities. Certainly as she gets older, an accepting atmosphere at home will make it easier for her to share her thoughts.

     You may be convinced that she will always be shy, but it’s hard to predict the paths she’ll take. Some kids who are extremely shy during the elementary years may gradually become more outgoing. In any case, your job is to accept her as she is and help her find activities and situations that make her feel good.

Picture Credit : Google