Dos and Don’ts for Helping Normally Shy Children Learn to Manage the Social World Continued…

  • Don’t avoid situations where your child is uncomfortable. Mastering any skill, including comfort with other people, takes practice. Start with situations that are less likely to overwhelm your child and introduce her to gradually more demanding ones.
  • Do clearly and consistently let the child know that being shy is an okay way to be. When shy children feel supported by the adults around them and accepted for who they are, they generally learn how to work their way into new situautions with new people.
  • Do meet the pace of the child. Children who are slow to adjust to new situations and new people often just need a little more patience and a little more time. Take that into consideration when planning activities so that there is time for the child to join in at his or her own pace.
  • Do make time for overlapping with a sitter or daycare or school. Shy children often have trouble with transitions. Allow enough time to stay with your child for awhile. Once he’s engaged with others or involved in play, say a quiet goodbye and ease out.
  • Do build on successes whenever you can. When the child becomes anxious in a situation she managed before, matter-of-factly remind her and express confidence that she can do it again.
  • Do practice some social skills at home. Join in imaginative play with a dollhouse or stuffed animals or make-believe. Set up situations where the characters have to manage a novel situation or new people. Encourage your child to come up with ways to handle it.
  • Do be a positive role model. Greet people with a smile. Engage in social talk when your child can observe you doing so. Talk with her about situations where you felt uncertain but found a way to join in.

Shy Child to Healthy Adult

Sensitive, shy, quiet children can and do grow up to be healthy adults. Some maintain their shyness and choose occupations and people that will accommodate their more reserved approach to life. Others either naturally outgrow their shyness or decide to push themselves to master it. Still others develop a gregarious outgoing persona but always feel their shyness inside. With fully 50 percent of American adults reporting that they consider themselves at least somewhat shy, shyness clearly isn’t abnormal.

Problem Shyness

When is shyness a problem? Only when it is so pronounced that the child can’t manage being away from familiar people or when it blocks the child’s ability to develop new skills. Children who are in distress due to their shyness are children who cry for long periods of time when they are separated from the familiar or who get highly upset by new situations. If your child’s “shyness” develops into such fearfulness that he or she can’t tolerate being with other people or can’t get comfortable at daycare or school or with a babysitter, it may be time to get a professional opinion. Your pediatrician can refer you to a child psychologist who can evaluate what is going on and give you some advice for how to help your child.