This is a guest post by Dorothy Piamonte.
The term “shy” generally refers to people who don’t join in social activities with the same enthusiasm as others. But, there are a lot of different reasons for that. Some people become too absorbed in their thoughts and projects that they take little interest in interacting with others. Others are introverted and find socializing quite draining. Still others are sensitive and find the energy of social situations simply overwhelming. These reasons are as valid for children as they are for adults.
The range of reasons that lead to shyness mean that there isn’t a quick fix for the situation because each motivation would need to be addressed separately. But, even if you could come up with the reason for the shyness, you should not try to change the behavior. The world needs shy people. And, being shy doesn’t translate to an inability to successfully socialize. When you treat your child like he or she is broken for perceived shyness, you send the wrong message.
What follows are suggestions for supporting your child in becoming more confident and comfortable in social situations. It isn’t wrong to worry when your child becomes anxious in interactions with others. You want him or her to make friends and stick up for their rights and feel ok asking questions and having opinions. You can help them do these things by enabling them to conquer social anxiety and not by forcing them to change who they are.
Avoid Shame and Pile on the Empathy
You are a loving parent and you worry, but you can’t let that translate into judgment. You need to help your child feel good about who they are. If insecurity is one of the emotions fueling your kid’s social anxiety, giving the impression that he or she is flawed exacerbates that. Instead, take time and empathize with the fears. Let your child know that feeling that fear is normal and it is something that can be managed. Modeling empathy also teaches your child to have it, and that will help when he or she connects with others.
Speaking of modeling. It isn’t just empathy you can display. You can also demonstrate simple, successful social interactions. This can make them more routine and less scary for your child. When you are out together, offer to assist other people, be friendly to people your encounter, and make an effort to speak to neighbors and other people you know. Remain relaxed throughout.
Teach Your Child Basic Social Skills
Some children seem to come out of the womb knowing how to work a room and charm individuals. Others struggle and need to be taught about responding politely to small talk, smiling, eye contact, and handshakes. You can use games to teach these skills. Try having stuffed animals or dolls speak to each other. Kids love it when you practice having a polite conversation with the couch. When you practice at home, make it fun and your child will relax. Just ask him or her questions about what should be happening. What should he do? What should she say? When your child ends up in a social situation, they will feel confident because these skills will be so familiar and accessible.
Don’t Call Your Child Shy
In social settings, it can feel like you need to apologize for your withdrawn child by reassuring people not to worry because he or she is shy. Don’t reinforce the idea. Instead, let your child know that his or her fears are completely natural and that they have overcome fears in the past and can do it again. This lets your child believe in their own power to succeed, rather than resigning them to the small role of “shy child.”
Dorothy is a writer, mother of an introvert, and a social butterfly. She writes for parenting and health blogs specializing in behaviors, addiction, gambling, treatment such as treatment for marijuana.