Many children are labeled shy. If you understand what this term really means, you may decide that having a shy child is not such a negative quality after all. Shyness can be a help or a handicap to a child, depending partly on how it’s handled.
Shyness is a personality trait, not a fault
There is no need to say apologetically, “He’s a shy child,” especially in front of them.There is nothing wrong, and a lot right, with being shy. Many people don’t understand shyness and equate being shy with having a problem. They believe a shy child must suffer from poor self-image. Most of the time this label couldn’t be further from the truth. Many shy children have a solid self-concept. They have an inner peace that shines.
Parents still worry when their child clams up in a crowd. Is he just shy or is there a serious problem? Here’s how to tell.
When shyness is a handicap
In some children, shyness is the manifestation of inner problems, not inner peace. This child is more than shy, he withdraws. He avoids eye-to-eye contact and has a lot of behavioral problems. People are not comfortable in his presence. When you delve into this little person, you discover he operates from anger and fear instead of peace and trust.
Hiding behind the shy child veil
Some children hide behind the shy child label so they don’t have to reveal a self they don’t like. It’s safer not to show anything, so they retreat into a protective shell. The “shy” label becomes an excuse for not developing social skills and a reason for not exercising them. The unmotivated child can use “shy” as a defense against trying harder and an excuse for staying at the same level of skill development. For these children, shyness is a handicap, reinforcing their weak self-esteem. To cure the shyness, you must build up the self-esteem. This child needs parents he can trust, who discipline in a way that does not lead to internalized anger and self-dislike.
Little Miss Outward turns inward
What about the bubbly two-year- old who smiles and waves at every stranger, but who at age three turns into a clam? Parents often worry that they caused such a personality reversal. The answer usually is “no” Before age two, many children are spontaneous. They act before they think, especially in social relations. Between two and four years of age, children go through a second phase of stranger anxiety, as they become afraid of people they don’t know.
Before you apologize to your relatives, blush from embarrassment, or call a behavioral therapist, be patient. Give your child encouragement and space and he will soon blossom again.
Parents wonder what to do about their child’s shyness. Is it just a passing phase? Should the child be encouraged to become more outgoing? Is there a more serious underlying problem? Usually not! Try these things if you’re concerned.
First, recognize that you are blessed with a sensitive, deeply caring, reserved child who is slow to warm up to strangers, approaches social relationships cautiously, but generally seems to be a happy person. Hug your quiet child. The world will be a more gentle place because of him or her.
The harder you pull, the more the shy child retreats.
Never label a child ‘shy’
It’s tempting to want to help the shy child. But be careful—the more you pull, the more some children recoil. You can’t pull a child out of shyness. It’s better to create a comfortable environment that lets her social personality develop naturally. Never label a child “shy.” On hearing this a child feels something’s wrong with her, and this will make her feel more shy. If you must use words to describe your child use “private” or “reserved.” These are nicer and more accurate terms. Labels also affect the way others treat your child. Calling her “shy” can make them over solicitous, as though there is something they should do to “help” or fix it.
If you are going to visit Aunt Nancy and you want your quiet child to make a good first impression, avoid the temptation to say, “Don’t be so shy, Aunt Nancy won’t bite.” That’s guaranteed to make him clam up. The already self-conscious child is likely to become even more shy. Tell the child ahead of time what’s expected of him, a simple “hi” and quiet, polite behavior. Don’t ask more than you can reasonably expect. Keep the attention off the child, and as he gets comfortable, trust that Aunt Nancy will come to appreciate him. Encourage your child to bring along one of her favorite activities (for example, art supplies or a board game) that Aunt Nancy can use as a bridge to communication.
Don’t put the little performer on the spot
The grandparents are visiting, and you can’t wait to have five-year-old Johnny play the piano for them. Don’t spring this request on Johnny without warning. The young showman may run from your request, leave you apologizing, and leave grandmother wondering why he’s so shy. Instead, privately ask your child’s permission first: “You play so well and grandmother loves to hear you play, would you please play a little piece for her?” This respects a child’s comfort level at showing a skill in public. Some children are born performers—give them an audience and they’re on stage. Others guard their skills cautiously and must gradually become comfortable as skills develop. First, they are comfortable playing the piano for themselves. Next, they play for parents (because they will still applaud even if the child makes mistakes).
This article was adapted by Julie Zommers
Photo by Jcomp – Freepik.com