We live in a society where social confidence is important and connecting with others is valued and an important part of relating and relaxing. Children want to experience a sense of belonging, and being shy can interfere with this, increasing their sense of isolation. Shyness can also affect academic performance in those children lacking the confidence to ask questions in class or put up their hands to engage with others. The feelings of isolation that result can have an impact on them forming friendships, feeling likeable and generally confident in themselves. Shy kids can learn to manage their shyness and with the support of caring adults, they can learn to express themselves and manage their lack of confidence more effectively.
Below are some useful tips for helping shy children:
- Model confident behaviour, children learn from watching us. This means that we need to model being friendly to new people, engaging with others and not demonstrating fear in social situations.
- Demonstrate empathy and avoid shaming your child for their shyness. Acknowledge how they feel and how difficult it is for them as conveying disappointment in their shyness or giving them the impression that there is something wrong with them will only increase their insecurity and lack of confidence. Demonstrating empathy helps your child to learn empathy for others, which will help them to understand and relate to their peers better.
- Teach basic social skills. For some kids social skills don’t come naturally. Kids often need to be taught to make eye contact, shake hands, smile, and respond to polite conversation appropriately. Discuss and role play with them how to join a game at the playground, introduce themselves to another child at a party, or initiate conversation. Help them to understand how to include themselves in a game. Using social stories can help to provide a way to discuss and model appropriate behaviour for them.
- Help them learn how to make friends. Teaching them how to initiate conversations, make friends, sustain friendships, initiate play dates etc. are important skills for them to learn. Teach them to show an interest in others and model and teach them how to initiate conversation.
- Don’t label your child as shy. Instead, acknowledge their feelings and point out situations where they have overcome their fears or taken a risk socially that has paid off.
- Normalise shyness. Nervousness is a normal part of life and affects most people at some time, especially in unfamiliar situations
- Give them strategies for what to do if they are feeling nervous and plan topics that they could talk about if they are not sure what to say. Encourage confidence in standing up for themselves.
- Provide opportunities to interact with others. Shy kids need time away from the pressure of socialising, but they also need plenty of opportunities to practice their social skills. Help them to organise play dates and family outings or get togethers with opportunities to socialise.
- Offer encouragement for success in their socialising but ensure that you do not convey disappointment when it goes wrong as this will only undermine their confidence further.
- The most important thing is for your child to feel connected. It doesn’t matter how many friends they have as long as they feel connected and liked by others. Communicate to them that it’s not necessary to have a lot of friends, just a few good ones.
- Encourage your child to express their worries and feelings as this will help them to process their feelings and encourage confidence in being able to share their fears and obtain support for their anxiety.
- Encouraging confidence (see previous posts) will help shy children to feel more confident in themselves and as a consequence more confident in their ability to connect and be liked by others.
- Encouraging independence will help shy children to develop confidence in themselves which may encourage them to risk more socially and develop confidence generally.
- In a few cases, children may experience a sense of reward from their shyness in the form of increased attention from parents and it is important to be aware of the possibility of secondary gain. In these instances it is important to ensure that this learnt behaviour is not encouraged.
Shyness can be a normal part of a child’s development and on its own is rarely a cause for concern, however, should your child’s shyness interfere significantly with their functioning at school, at home or with friends, they may need specialist support. Also, where shyness seems extreme it would be important to exclude underlying things that may be contributing to this, such as anxiety, including social anxiety, phobias or social communication differences. Should you have concerns about the latter, speak to your GP or contact us for a confidential chat.
If you remain concerned that your child may need therapy, you are welcome to contact KindleKids for a free, no obligation initial telephone consultation to discuss your concerns and get advice regarding the best way to address them. Alternatively, if you want some practical advice to support children with their emotional regulation, managing anxiety and anger, building confidence, social skills and resilience, click here to have a look at our 8 session online POWER course, which has a wealth of information on supporting your children to manage life’s challenges and be the best ‘me’ that they can be.