It is natural for parents to want the best for their children. So if they're not the most outgoing in social settings, you might worry that their shyness will hold them back. But is this necessary and what is the best way to approach the topic?

“Shyness is often portrayed as a barrier and a challenge to overcome. If you've ever said, “I'm sorry, they're shy” when introducing your child, you're not alone. But rephrasing and apologizing less can be really helpful, as shyness is not a character flaw,” says Gemma Campbell, counselor and clinical content specialist at Kooth.

“The label of being 'shy' can sometimes be unhelpful as it can seem like something to be ashamed of. Instead of labeling your child as shy, it may be helpful to see him as reserved, observant, or cautious.”

Finding your way in the world

Campbell points out that “it’s not uncommon for children to display some level of shyness from time to time” – especially when they are “in new environments, starting school, meeting people for the first time, or in new social situations.” And flipping our perspective can help us see things more positively.

“If your child's shyness is simply a matter of being reserved, rather than extreme shyness that affects everyday life, it may be important to see some of the real benefits of being more reserved in nature. For example, you can be a reserved child and still have a lot of inner confidence, self-confidence and courage,” says Campbell.

“More reserved children can also be deep thinkers, naturally cautious, fantastic observers, more approachable and great listeners,” she adds. “If a naturally reserved child feels comfortable in their own skin, their natural shyness may not be a problem to be solved, but a characteristic to be understood and respected.”

Parenting writer Tanith Carey, author of The Friendship Maze: How To Help Your Child Navigate Their Way To Positive And Happier Friendships, agrees that it's a good idea to resist negative labels—and assures that there's often nothing to worry about.

“Research has found that shy children tend to have as many friends as more confident children. It just may take them a little longer to warm up and their circle of friends a little longer to grow,” says Carey.

“In any case, it is only relatively recently, since the beginning of the 20th century, that there has been a trend in our society towards louder and more extroverted personalities. Now the wheel is turning completely. Those with socially sensitive temperaments are now increasingly recognized in the workplace, among other places, as having important qualities such as making more considered decisions and listening to and understanding their peers better.”

Lead safely

In The Friendship Maze, Carey presents tips for handling the issue sensitively—and suggests trying not to “excuse a more cautious child as 'shy' in front of other people, lest it turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the child adopts this as a fixed label”. She also suggests explaining “to your child that they can like to take things slowly and get used to things at the same time.” [their] at their own pace, to make it clear that they will eventually come out of their shell.”

It's okay to be a little shy sometimes…

Counseling Board member Georgina Sturmer also believes it is helpful to lead with confidence.

“Children turn to their parents for security, acceptance and affection. If we notice that our child has a natural tendency to be shy, it is helpful to reassure them that sometimes it is okay to be a little shy. This helps them feel confident about themselves and can boost their self-esteem,” says Sturmer.

“It can also help to open up communication about their shyness if the child knows they won't be met with widespread disapproval or criticism. It may be easier for them to explore how certain situations or people might trigger their shyness.”

How can you give them a gentle nudge?

Campbell and Sturmer agree that if you notice your child's behavior has changed and he or she has suddenly become withdrawn or appears to be very distressed in certain situations, it may be worth considering whether there is something else going on and possibly seeking support. But when it comes to general childhood shyness, are there things parents and guardians can do to gently encourage youngsters?

“Depending on your child's age, you might think about things like organizing playdates or small social gatherings, problem-solving with your child if shyness is getting in the way of something they want to do, or setting smaller, more achievable goals to increase boost their confidence and help them achieve bigger goals,” suggests Campbell.

“Exploring what’s behind shyness can also be helpful. For example, does shyness hide deeper feelings of anger, frustration, fear, or something else entirely? Exploring this gently and sensitively with your child can be very helpful, as you can begin to work on feelings rather than just outward behavior.”

Sturmer adds: “Don’t minimize or dismiss their feelings. Show them empathy and validate how they are feeling. Ask them what they need. If you know that your child finds a certain situation difficult, ask him how you can help him deal with the situation. Maybe they need to arrive sooner or later. They may need to visit in advance to familiarize themselves with the setting. Maybe they need a chance to explore a one-on-one friendship before joining a group. There is no single answer and your child may have the answer you need.”

Role modeling can also be included. As Stumer explains: “You may or may not be shy, but there may be situations that make you feel shy, uncomfortable, or out of place. Show your child that you are also willing to take risks with yourself. Explain how a situation makes you feel and the steps you take to help yourself cope.”

You can even create some fun games. “Sometimes shyness comes because we don't know what to say or do when we meet new people,” adds Sturmer. “Design your own icebreaker that you can play when entering a set. What silly questions can you ask? How many people are wearing red clothes? This can help distract us and give us a sense of purpose.”

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