Our daughter spent 18 months at the nursery. She didn’t say a single word the entire time she was there. We were dealing with a shy child. But it was far from our first experience with a shy child – our oldest son had been too. It’s never easy with the first ones because you never really know what to do. We were often embarrassed when he refused to say hello, or sad when we found him, for the umpteenth time, playing alone in a corner.
When he hid behind us when he saw people he knew, we wondered if he was shy or just clingy. Did the difference matter? Back then, we made a big deal out of it. We were much more worried and frustrated than with our daughter. Should we adopt a different parenting style? Should he react differently? Was it a passing phase?
We were concerned that his shyness would become a handicap in life. It turned out that there was no need to worry. At six years old, our son was not the same. He had become so talkative that the days of worry were quickly replaced by times of embarrassment.
Having had the experience of raising a shy child, we were much more relaxed with our daughter. We stopped feeling pressured to justify or explain his behavior. When we were asked if she could speak, we were fine with saying that she spoke when she wanted to.
Although the literature on dealing with shy children abounds, it can be disturbing. According to some studies, a highly sensitive child can increase the chances of developing an anxiety disorder later in life. Others have found that shyness is an integral part of a child’s temperament and can be persistent. But there is hope – shyness is not necessarily a handicap. Here are some tips to help you deal with a shy child.
According to a recent study, parents play an important role in helping their shy children cope with their shyness. Researchers at the University of Maryland involved in this study found that having a strong attachment lowers the risk of later anxiety disorders. They recommend that parents adopt kindness towards shy children.
Accept your child for who he is
In a society that values verbal expression, being a shy child can be difficult to deal with, for both children and their parents.
So what to do?
- Create an environment in which your child feels protected.
- Avoid putting your child in awkward situations by asking them to do things they have trouble doing in public (eg singing or telling something).
- Avoid negative comparisons.
- Learning to listen with empathy will help your child cope better with their shyness.
- Prepare it. Get into the habit of talking to her about what to expect.
- Your child needs to know that being yourself is enough and that wanting to spend quiet time alone is normal.
Being shy doesn’t mean having a problem. When your child is calm, but happy and pleasant, there is no need to apologize for their shyness.
When you say repeatedly that he is “a shy child,” he may view his shyness as a negative condition that is part of his nature and, as a result, feels even shyer. Remember that very few people suffer from chronic shyness. Emphasizing your child’s positive traits also determines how others will perceive him. Instead of talking about your child as “a bit shy person,” say they are attentive, peace-loving, or calm.
Take him out of his comfort zone
According to some studies, overprotection can make your child’s behavior worse. But getting a shy child out of his shell requires a lot of patience and is a rather delicate subject: the more you push him, the more he will resist.
Some little tips to help you:
- Do not change the fundamental nature of your shy child.
- Take small, progressive steps. Encourage games with friends. If your child is afraid to go to a friend’s house on their own, you can start by inviting them over.
- Avoid unreasonable requests. Remember to praise his accomplishments over his shyness when talking about what he has done (praise the behavior, not the child – for example, It’s good how you were asked to play Maxime with you.)
- You can help your child get out of his comfort zone by teaching him what is expected of him. For example, you can tell him to say hello, but in his own way (obligation to say hello, but not to say how to say it – orally, kisses, hugs, high five, etc.).
- Reassure him. Stay with him on outings or explain to him what time you will be back.
Be sure to gradually decrease the time you spend with him during outings with his friends and family.
Know when to need professional help
Unfortunately, shyness can be a sign of a bigger problem. It’s time to seek professional help if:
- Your child’s shyness causes a lot of distress, both for him and for you;
- Your child is very shy even at home and has a difficult behavior;
- When his shyness prevents him from participating in social activities;
- When he has a lot of behavior problems;
- When he avoids looking you in the eye.