Shyness can be a challenging obstacle to overcome in both children and adults. We’ve all had moments of feeling unsure or uncomfortable in a situation, and a natural defense can be to take a step back. At times, entering new situations and meeting new people can lead to feeling overwhelmed; and this can lead to a child retreating into shyness.
Before we get into some of the tips on overcoming shyness, it’s important to note that introversion and shyness are not the same thing. For a child, preferring some time to be at home and to recharge is perfectly normal and healthy. However, shyness-based fear may interfere with a child’s ability to interact with others and enjoy new situations.
Whether your child experiences the occasional bout of shyness or they’ve developed some anxiety to certain social situations, we’re got tips on overcoming it. We all want our child to be happy and to feel comfortable in the world. The following tips can help you support your child in overcoming shyness.
Don’t force it
Putting your child in a room with a group of other kids is not going to solve their shyness; it may perpetuate their shyness. A child tends to retreat into shyness when they’re in a stressful situation or overwhelmed. Over-stimulating them doesn’t help and pushing them into an uncomfortable situation is not going to help. Start slow and be a safe base for your child as they enter a new social interaction.
Don’t use negative language about their shyness
Try to avoid even using the word “shy” around your child. Negative labels are not helpful. If you need to give someone a heads-up about your child’s temperament, use words like “slow to warm up.” That way you’re encouraging the fact they will eventually warm up. Words are powerful, so be careful with them.
Don’t avoid it
Sure, shyness isn’t bad, but in younger children especially, it’s important for them to be able to play and interact with other children. Social development starts when a child is born, as soon as they start forming a relationship with their parent. But that development takes years and involves learning about self and others, interacting with others and developing positive communication skills. When a child’s shyness is preventing them from interacting with other kids their age, you should address the situation head-on.
Do start small
If you know your child gets easily overwhelmed in larger social settings, start with one-on-one play dates. Start with someone they’re familiar with and slowly add in more friends. If you notice them starting to retract during a social situation, remind them you’re there and encourage them to have fun. After every playdate, check in with them on how they were feeling and what they enjoyed.
Do prepare them
If you’re planning to introduce your child to a new environment, make sure you’ve communicated with your child where they’re going and why. If you’re visiting the dentist for the first time, drive by the building several days before and point it out to them, so they know where they’re going before they go. If they’re starting school, make sure to come early and show them around the building and introduce them to their teacher before dropping them off. And when you drop them off, let them know when you’re coming back.
You might even role play with your child. Pretend you’e in the new environment, so your child knows what to expect. Provide your child with pointers about things to say or how to act if they start to feel uncomfortable.
Do empathize and assure
Tell them about times when you were nervous to do something and how it turned out to be fun. Let your child know shyness is perfectly normal. Assure them it’s going to be okay without dismissing their fears. And when you watch them overcome that shyness, celebrate with them. Using language like “you two looked like you were having so much fun playing together,” can help them see the situation that was causing anxiety turned out to be a good time.
Being open and talking with your child about their fear and anxiety is an important first step. They could be worried other children won’t like them or something might happen to them, so reassuring them they’re safe is crucial. A parent’s anxieties and fears can project on even the smallest of ears, so it’s important to be aware of the language you’re using if your child if starting to pick up traits of shyness-based fear.