By Alexander Shaw
Raising a shy child can be a challenge for most parents. Some may brush shyness off as a phase and wait for their child to grow out of it. The problem is that introversion isn’t just a phase for most people, it’s a fundamental part of their personality and can even become a behavior problem. As such, it affects all areas of their life, from how they make friends to which jobs they’re best at. The more parents can do to embrace their child’s shyness, the better equipped they will be for long-term success. Shy introversion is neither good nor bad, but another way that makes all people different.
Accept, Don’t Push for Change
The most common mistake parents make when dealing with a shy child is trying to force them to change. If your kid isn’t a social butterfly, it’s not necessarily a symptom of a behavior problem. Introverts and extroverts both need to learn skills that allow them to thrive in social settings. The lessons will be different for various personality types. It’s important that the parent’s goal is always to help the child accept it and succeed rather than become something they aren’t. In fact, most introverted children are not going to be capable of a 180-degree shift to become more extroverted and in fact, it can be harmful to think you can change them. Parents need to accept their children for who they are, and that will go a long way toward them accepting themselves too.
A better solution for parents is to encourage their children with learning simple social skills of small talk, graciousness, courtesy, and more which are essential virtues for both extroverts and introverts.
A key to understanding your introverted child is that they can experience a great deal of fear in social settings. While fear is a product of the mind, its impact on your child is genuine. Even an irrational fear can raise your child’s heart rate and blood pressure while negatively affecting their ability to think clearly. When you understand that your child is overcome by fear around other people, it can be a lot easier to approach them with sympathy rather than impatience. Extroverted children may also be fearful in social settings, but their response is to talk more, sometimes overpowering other people. They need some social guidance as well.
Take Things Slowly
Shy children are never going to jump directly into social environments and succeed without learning the right skills. They can find a measure of comfort and ease within these settings if they are prepared correctly. When taking your child to a public environment, the worst thing you can do is pressure them to rush into things. Give them the time they need to acclimate and warm up before they go off and become a part of the activity.
Most introverts prefer to hide or remain on the outskirts. It’s common for shy children to stay near the edge of the action and watch from a distance. This assessment period is necessary for them to slowly work themselves into an unfamiliar environment and it should never be rushed. Instead, you can help by preparing them. Talk about what’s going to be happening at the event, who’s going to be there, and even give them ideas for who they might talk to or elements of the activity that they might enjoy. These are preparations they can undergo themselves as they mature and prepare for such events as adults.
Find Shy Kids in Media
While it might seem like popular media always focuses on outgoing characters, there’s no shortage of books, movies, and shows depicting more sensitive people. One of the most problematic elements of isolation is that your shy kid might not realize how common their own social anxieties are.
In movies or books, your child can find a shy character they identify with. As the character goes through various trials and situations, your child can latch on and find comfort in the fact that they aren’t alone. Even better, find stories of these characters successfully overcoming their shyness. They will teach your child some helpful strategies and coping mechanisms.
Some psychologists have suggested creating a number scale for your shy child to communicate their level of discomfort at any given time. On a 1-10 range, with 1 being the lowest social discomfort, you can create various strategies for dealing with situations at different points on the scale. At a 1, you might encourage your child to take advantage by going out and making some friends. If they’re nearing the top of the scale, teach them that it’s perfectly acceptable for them to excuse themselves for a moment and take a couple minutes to calm their thoughts.
Giving your child a practical toolset with which to handle their shyness can do wonders. They’ll feel like you understand them and they’ll develop a sense of preparedness for new social situations.
Teach Them How to Make Friends
Making new friends is a mystifying experience for most people. If you ask a lot of adults how they met their closest friends and developed those relationships, they’ll often give you answers like, “It just kind of happened” or even “I don’t really know.” So, it’s no wonder that shy children have absolutely no idea where to begin making friends with their peers.
Sometimes, a great lesson is that it just starts with the courage to say “hi.”
For the shy kid, going up to a stranger and introducing themselves or asking them to play a game with them can seem like impossible tasks. Start with demonstrating this kind of behavior for them in the home. Practice going up to your child and introducing yourself and asking them friendly questions to get to know them. Then, let them try the same thing on you. If you make this a fun, lighthearted experience, your child can begin to understand how social interactions work. The next step is to allow them to practice in the real world. You can show them first by going up to people in social settings and demonstrating some of the greetings you’ve practiced and then let them try it for themselves in your presence.
Another tactic is to be sure to invite people to your home and have your shy child introduce himself or herself, but start with their introducing the family pet.
Stay Positive and Be a Motivating Force
Being a shy kid is not a burden. By embracing the sensitivity that shy kids share, they can be encouraged to take pride in their shyness rather than be discouraged by it. Without support and specific social training from their parents, shy kids can become isolationists, develop depression, or behavior problems later in life. Fortunately, there are some straightforward ways you can help your kid overcome this part of their personality and thrive regardless. Remember to always come from a place of encouragement, acceptance, patience, and understanding, highlighting their successes and developing them to learn lessons from their experiences.