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Shy or quietly confident?

We parents want our children to thrive. And it can hurt when we see a quieter child overlooked, not chosen or otherwise left out in fun, social settings. While we know each child is a unique individual with character traits and tendencies all their own, we still want the best for them and that usually means competence in social settings.

We want our children to have friends and to be cordial with adults. We want them to get invitations to parties and chosen to be part of a team. We want them to be happy. What can we do when a quiet child is seen as “shy?” How can we bolster confidence?

 

Possible contributing factors to introversion

Being an introvert is not necessarily a bad thing. Quieter people can be perfectly happy and have wonderful social skills. But at times children need a boost to make friends and to feel comfortable in social settings. Reasons for the more negative characteristics of being shy or overly quiet can be: 

  • Genetics. Some children inherit personality traits and dispositions leaning toward introversion.
  • Innate personality. We each have a unique make-up with certain tendencies.
  • Shyness can be a learned behavior. If those around the child model quiet or withdrawn social behaviors, the child may observe and imitate them.
  • Insecure family relationships. If a child has overbearing or overprotective adults in their life, the child can become fearful and worry about proper behaviors.
  • Lack of experience. A child who is isolated and has limited opportunity to play with others has fewer opportunities to learn acceptable social behaviors.
  • Overly critical parenting. This can create a child who fears failure.

 

The characteristics of a “shy” child

Friends and family may label a child “shy” when they notice certain behaviors. Your child may tend to play quietly rather than roar like a dinosaur. They may seem uncomfortable around other children, especially those not yet known. They may seem nervous and unwilling to try something new. They may worry that others won’t like them and may just watch as an outsider when games are played.

The shy child may be seen by others as stand-offish. Other children may believe that they just don’t want to play. And when a child is hesitant to join in the fun, that alone can begin a cycle in which a child has fewer interactions with others – fewer opportunities to practice using social skills, which in turn brings on more discomfort in play situations.

What to do?

Parents can help a quiet, withdrawn child by:

  • Avoiding labels. Refrain from calling your child’s behavior “shy.” Rather point out that they are thoughtful – a person who makes choices carefully.
  • Avoiding being overprotective. This is a tough one. But in general, offer many opportunities for your child to participate with others, but refrain from making it a huge potential problem. See your child as unique and as a learner who will be able to succeed at their own pace.
  • Teaching and modeling positive social interactions. Use role play with puppets or stuffed animals to act out ways to make friends and have positive interactions with adults. Practice making eye contact when speaking to others and rehearse scripts to use when meeting someone new. “Hi, my name is …”
  • Facilitating Social Opportunities. Make play dates with children your child likes. Be sure the date is a positive experience by prompting words and behaviors as necessary. “Maybe you could ask Johnny which toys are his favorites.”
  • Setting achievable goals. “Hey, you looked Grandma right in the eyes when you talked to her today. Great job.” Stickers and high fives when they approximate positive social interactions. “I saw how you shared your bubbles with Carlos. High five!”
  • Accepting and encouraging your child as the unique individual they are. It’s fine to be quieter or different from other children. Being quiet is only a problem if it brings unhappiness or hinders happy childhood life in some way. Your quiet child may be a strong student, be a better listener than others and may be able to support others who are more outgoing.
  • Using books as teaching tools. Here are some choices:
  • Too Shy to Say Hi by Shannon Anderson and Hiroe Nakata
  • A Little Spot of Belonging: A Story About Being True to Yourself and Making Friends by Diane Alber
  • Shy Ninja by Mary Nhin
  • Sometimes I’m Shy: A Child’s Guide to Overcoming Social Anxiety by Poppy O’Neill and Amanda Ashman-Wymbs
  • Shy Charles by Rosemary Wells

Reading and discussing a book together is a wonderful way to teach perspective-taking, the skill of learning to see things from another’s point of view. This skill is useful to children who struggle with friendships or finding confidence to try new things. They learn that other children worry sometimes too, and that there are ways to solve the problems.

Talking about a book character’s problems is a terrific way for your child to grow in understanding of their own worries or fears. And stories offer a chance to think about social interactions with no pressure to perform.

It takes patience to encourage a timid child. But step by step you can support your child as they become more confident and successful in social settings.

 

Resources

How to Support Your Shy Child by Lilianna Hogan, Grow by WebMD. 

7 Ways You Can Support Your Shy Child by Natalia Oliver, Guidepost Montessori 

Helping Your Shy Child by Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., Psychology Today

 

Jan is a retired teacher and reading specialist. She is the author of Homegrown Readers and The Exploits of Edna and Gertie. Find Jan at janpierce.net.

 

See our related articles:

Too shy for words?

Helping a quiet child bloom

Solo sports for introverted and shy kids

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