Short Answer – First off, don’t call your child “shy”, you don’t want them to self identify with the label and clam up even more. Secondly, don’t think of shyness in children as a negative, introverts have wonderful gifts and qualities to offer the world! Work with your child’s nature and find strategies to help them deal with stressful social situations so they can speak up and connect in their own unique way.

Being shy gets a bad rap sometimes. Our culture often values extroverts – the kids that speak up often, make friends easily and jump right in to share their ideas. Parents may instinctively want to help overcome shyness in children and get their kids to participate more. But before you do, take a moment to think about what being shy really means.

Shyness In Children

Shy is a broad label that covers a lot of different kids. You child may be highly sensitive, meaning they are very attuned to their surroundings and can be strongly affected by their environment. Your child may be introverted, meaning they need time away from other people to recharge their batteries. Or maybe your child has high focus, and can get so absorbed in an activity that they’re just not interested in social interaction.  

Your child may also have shyness and social anxiety, meaning they worry about saying the wrong thing, or that other kids won’t like them. Whatever the cause, shyness in children is a personality trait, not a fault. It’s usually the result of a child that relates to the world a little differently and it’s important that we as parents appreciate and embrace our child’s unique nature.

Shyness Affects Learning

That being said, shyness does impact a child’s ability to effectively communicate their educational and emotional needs.  This in turn can affect their learning outcomes. If a shy child is unable to let a teacher know when he/she doesn’t understand something, or is unable to join in a classroom discussion, they can have a poor school experience.

Students that are unable to express their preferences in the classroom may also have difficulty communicating their boundaries outside of class. This can be a health and safety concern. So it makes sense that parents want to help!

The good news? Most kids can learn to manage their social anxiety so they can connect with others and speak up for themselves. Overcoming shyness in children is an attainable goal. Your child just needs a little extra time and support to get there.

How Parents Can Help

Overcoming general shyness in children will help improve shyness in the classroom. Therefore, we offer a few strategies from experts and educators to help you (gently) work on building your child’s confidence and comfort level in speaking up.  

Remember, one third of all people are introverts (folks that would rather listen than speak) and this is a beautiful thing!   The goal here isn’t to turn an introvert into an extrovert. It’s finding ways for an introvert to feel connected and safe speaking up, without changing who they are.

Overcoming Shyness In Children - How Parents Can Help
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Strategies To Help Overcome Shyness In Children

  • Don’t call them “shy” – Labeling gives children permission to stay quiet and not push their boundaries.  You want to open doors for your kids, not limit their options.
  • Don’t expect them to be most popular – Not everyone needs a huge social circle. Having just a few close friends may be all an introverted child needs to be happy and well adjusted. Don’t feel the need to push for more.
  • Make goals for social situations – For example, let your child bring a book to a family gathering but agree ahead of time that during the meal they will join the group.  At a party, plan when your shy child will leave your side, maybe when a game is being played. It can help to check in with the party host ahead of time to know what activities will be happening.
  • Arrive early – In the context of social situations, newness can sometimes be overwhelming.  Get there early. That way your child has time to familiarize themselves with their surroundings and feel comfortable before other people show up.
  • Allow for some struggling – Resist answering right away if a waiter asks what your child wants to order. Watching your child struggle to respond can be hard, but being overprotective and jumping in isn’t going to help overcome shyness in children. Embrace the awkward few moments your child wrestles for an answer. Then be encouraging and give positive feedback when they do respond.
  • Give time to prepare – Your child’s anxiety will decrease if they know what to expect, so plan out new experiences ahead of time.  If your child is starting a new activity (like karate, for example), drive by the studio the day before. Let your child watch another class. Show them the uniform, introduce them to the teacher, and talk about what they will be doing in class so when the day actually comes, they’ll feel more comfortable. 
  • Listen patiently – Encourage your child to talk about any fears or worries they have when approaching a new person or situation. Empathize with them. Let them know you “sometimes feel shy too” and talk to them about how you handle your feelings. 
  • Practice at home – Practice scenarios where your child will need to speak up to build their confidence. Have them present their “show and tell” item to you first so they feel more comfortable doing it in class. Practice what to do if he/she wants to share a toy with another child. Show him/her how to ask and then play the part of the other child. Practicing simple interactions is a great help at overcoming shyness in children.
  • Give them “assignments” – Help your child become more socially savvy by giving them mini-assignments to practice their skills. Things like, giving money to the cashier, calling a friend to make a playdate, or ordering a meal.  All these little interactions help build confidence in asking for what you want.
  • Replace pessimistic patterns – Shy behavior can be rooted in pessimistic thought patterns such as “they won’t like me” or “I might be wrong”, which in turn produces self-doubt and a fear of speaking. Work to turn these patterns around with positive reinforcement. Teach your child that, “it’s okay to get the answer wrong. It doesn’t change how great you are. You will be okay.”
  • Work with your child’s teacher – We can’t stress this one enough!  If a teacher knows your child struggles with shyness there are things they can do to help.  They can let you know about certain group activities ahead of time so you and your child can practice. Teachers can also assign your child a buddy for outings so they feel less anxious, or check in with your child to ensure they understand assignments if they are too afraid to ask questions. The most important thing is to get the dialogue started so you and your child’s teacher can work together as partners.

What If My Child’s Shyness Becomes Serious?

If your child’s shyness goes beyond having an introverted personality and they display other behavioral issues such as; an inability to move beyond certain fears, extreme isolation, or emotional outbursts, your child may be experiencing a social anxiety disorder.  Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about having them evaluated.

If you’re interested in learning more about shyness in children and introverts in general, there are some great books on shyness such as Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking.