Watching a child blush and stammer his or her way through a conversation can break even the most hardened heart. With no one root cause of shyness, it can be tough to determine what is the best way to help a child gain confidence in social situations. Even with a constant stream of support, some children simply seem hardwired for shyness and carry it throughout childhood and into adult life. If you are seeking a way to help your child overcome shyness, it is important to remember that while shyness can wreak havoc on a social life, it is not in any other way life threatening. Above all else teach your child that (s)he is perfectly normal, and then work out ways to help him or her socially shine.
Pinpoint the Problem
If you have observed your child’s shy behaviour, and feel that it is getting in the way of normal social development, then the next logical step is to talk with your child to try to pinpoint the problem. Ask your child if (s)he:
- Feels that (s)he is shy.
- Thinks that shyness gets in the way of making friends.
- Feels nervous around strangers.
- Has trouble thinking of things to say in a conversation.
- Is ever bored by a conversation and instead simply “tunes out.”
- Is ever confused by conversations or activities and loses interest.
- Has a physical reaction to a social situation, such as an upset stomach or over heating.
- Dreads going out in public because (s)he will need to talk to others.
- Wants to make new friends.
It may seem as though we were born knowing the little scripts that make up day to day interactions, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Our social scripts have been learned, and some children may find these lessons harder than others. When you have a spare moment, go over these scripts with your child. For example:
- Remind your child that “please” and “thank you” are always important when speaking with others.
- Teach your child that greetings, such as “Hello. How are you?” can be answered with a smile and “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”
- Explain to your child that when someone asks a question, such as his or her favourite food or favourite colour, it is fine to respond politely and then ask the same question back.
- Assure your child that when in doubt, being polite and minding his or her manners is always the best route to follow.
- Convince your child that if (s)he ends up in a situation where other children are being mean, (s)he always has the power to say “That isn’t very nice,” and to talk about or do something else instead.
Practice Makes Perfect
For shy children, social skills are not innate but must be learned. Like anything else, practicing these skills will help your child perfect them. Find plenty of small social situations in which your child can try out his/her new talents. Great scenarios include:
- Family meals with grandparents or aunts, uncles and cousins.
- Small play dates with the children of friends.
- Letting your child order at the local café.
- Visiting the library and encouraging your child to speak with the librarian.
- Asking your child to join the kids club at church.
- Speaking with a GP, hair stylist, newsagent or postman.
- Enrolling your child in art or music lessons with kids his/her age.
- Attending a parent and child group like “Mommy and Me.”
- Setting up a “Coffee and Kids” group in the neighbourhood.
Avoid Performance Pressure
Even if your child becomes a regular chatterbox around family and close friends, chances are high that it will take him or her much longer to become comfortable with meeting new people. Avoid turning all social interactions into a test for your shy child, and instead casually praise him or her when you observe particularly good interactions. Shyness is not something that will be overcome all at once, but with slow and steady persistence you will find success.