Shyness for many children can just be their way of demonstrating wariness of a new or difficult social situation. Not all kids are born extroverts, and some children just need time to warm up to the situation that they've often been thrown into. As a previously shy child myself, I know that new situations can be extremely scary, and a cause for anxiety.
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Whilst shyness is extremely common in children, it remains an important job for parents to help their child overcome the anxieties that can be attached to it, so that early (and normal) childhood shyness doesn't evolve into low self esteem or an older child becoming withdrawn. Severe shyness can cause children to become non communicative, an easy target for bullies and can lead to problems in school where a child is too shy to ask a teacher for help. It can also make it very difficult for a child to make friends, further increasing their need to withdraw into themselves. If you've got a shy child yourself, here are a few tips for helping them to build their confidence and self esteem.
1) Introduce them to new situations. If you are taking your child to a location they've not been to before, or when you have a number of visitors coming round, then preparation is key. Let them know what change is occurring or what situation they will find themselves in, so that they can be prepared for this. Use positive language so that new situations sound appealing.
2) Don't label your child Avoid using the word 'shy' in front of your child as a label and don't apologise to others if your child displays this natural wariness. As far as I know it's no crime to display shyness and if it is a child's way of letting you know they are anxious, pick up on these cues and tackle them appropriately. To label your child or to apologise to others about this shyness suggests that this behaviour is wrong somehow, when in fact it is perfectly normal. You'll likely find that your child has many situations where they will exude confidence and self esteem and other situations where their anxiety will manifest itself in shyness, try to understand what the triggers are for your child. If you have to let other adults know about your child's shyness, simply say that they just need some time to warm up to a new situation, which is true of many children and adults too.
Don't call your child shy
3) Scary social situations. Some kids will demonstrate shyness simply because they have been thrust into a social situation where they don't understand how they should behave. Perhaps you've taken them to a large social gathering where they don't know anyone. Do they have the social skills to go and make friends? Chances are that if they are under the age of 5, they might not yet have the honed social gravitas to leave your side to make new buddies. Try to look at it from their perspective and think about the possible social issues they are facing.
If they are scared of the situation you've taken them to, stay by their side and help them 'break the ice' until they are more comfortable.
4) Role model good social behaviours Demonstrate social behaviours such as greeting your friends, and talking with new people so that your child can see how it is done. Every day poses a new opportunity to role model social skills that your child can pick up on and emulate. Take the example of a trip to the supermarket; when you get to the till, make a point of saying to the cashier, 'Hi, how are you going.' and one day encourage your child to do the same. You can practice this at the shops, at a restaurant, practically anywhere that you see an opportunity for a social interaction. Your child will likely observe that it's actually fun to greet new people, and will often bring a smile to a strangers face.
5) Listen If your child is demonstrating social wariness or shyness, talk to them; ask them what they are worried about. Acknowledge their fears, and see how you can conquer them together.
6) Have friends come to you If your child gets particularly edgy in social situations where they have to go out and meet people, then arrange play dates at your home, and start small with just one or two friends. This way, it's on your child's home turf and they'll have less of the unknown to conquer. Talk to them about the play date ahead of it happening, and reaffirm the positives of the situation, and the fun that your child will have.
7) Patience is a virtue
Sometimes it's difficult to be patient with children because you so very much want them to experience all that life has to offer and not be wary of the adventures that are out there for the taking. However, children who are showing shyness, are not likely to change overnight, and for some it may well be a character trait that they carry into adulthood. All you need to do is be patient and provide them with sufficient tools for self esteem building so that their shyness doesn't impede them.
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8) Don't overprotect them
It's a natural instinct to want to protect children from anything that is making them anxious, however there is a fine line between protecting them and being overprotective. For kids to grow their self esteem and confidence they need to be able to make some of their own decisions and use their judgement so parents need to find the right balance. Let your child build up their own self esteem by letting them achieve certain tasks and responsibilities without your help, and praise them for a job well done.
How have you helped your child overcome their shyness, or related anxieties?