Jennifer recalls how tough it was to be an only child. Her grandmother would always remind her of how different she was from other children because she preferred to play alone. Although she liked to be alone, she still felt lonely.
She believed her shyness peaked after her parents divorced. The seven-year-old had never expected to be living with a stepparent. Her comfort of coming home to both parents quickly diminished, causing anxiety, insecurity, and low self-esteem.
Shortly after her parents separated, she felt that her parents no longer had time to listen to her. Jennifer felt as though she had no voice and just had to accept the situation. She became conditioned to being alone and eventually found being alone comforting. Many children who experience divorce may find themselves without a voice, which can contribute to feelings of guilt and shame. This might result in shyness, insecurity, and separation anxiety.
Jennifer believes that being a shy child hurt her emotional growth and contributed to her difficult childhood. She recalls the pain of how her parents paid little attention to her. As a result, she sought little attention in school and had difficulties forming relationships with others. Being the only child was difficult and having no siblings to play with or talk to contributed even further to her sense of isolation and lack of social skills.
Divorce is not the only factor that can cause shyness and a lack of social skills in children. Additional factors, such as abuse, neglect, an overprotective parent, and mental disorders, including learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders, can contribute to shy characteristics. Being an only child can also affect a child’s sociability.
When children do not feel encouraged, they tend to clam up and disengage with others. Therefore, if you are the parent of a child that exhibits shyness, try not to label him or her as shy. Once children are labeled as shy, it can take away their self-esteem and motivation to become outgoing and social. Also, overprotective parents can take away their children’s independence by not allowing them to learn skills and make decisions in social settings.
The following are ways to reduce shyness in children:
Increase Social Skills
Children without brothers or sisters may suffer from shyness because they lack that extra stimulus that comes from playing with other children. Therefore, their parents should initiate play dates with the children’s neighbors, schoolmates, or even extended family members who are of a similar age.
Play dates do not have to be expensive: you can just rent a movie, bake cookies, or play board games together. Events such as attending a fair, carnival, or concert in the park with family or friends can also increase your child’s awareness of the importance of relationships.
Enroll your child into extracurricular activities, such as sports, arts or music classes. Children who are enrolled in sports are typically able to learn the importance of being team players. Being involved with a group not only increases children’s confidence but also gives them something to brag about. Playing music or taking an art class can increase your child’s confidence by enabling them to express their creativity.
A parent acknowledging small efforts can help to boost a child’s confidence and self-esteem. When parents praise their children on their accomplishments and social efforts, the effects can be positive. For example, a parent who says, “Inviting Sara over for dinner was a great idea,” is giving positive feedback that encourages the child to increase his or her social behavior.
Praising children does not have to relate to a current event but can refer to something brave they did years ago (i.e., singing at a school assembly). Children have excellent memories, and their brains are like sponges — parents should be encouraged to praise and acknowledge their children’s efforts to engage in positive social activities.
A lack of positive reinforcement or supportive praise for children as they are growing up can ultimately lead to shyness and a lack of motivation to socialize. Shyness can be debilitating for adults and lead to feelings of discouragement and disengagement and a fear to do anything outside of one’s comfort zone.
Jennifer says that her parents emotionally neglected her and that her grandmother constantly reminded her of being “different,” which contributed further to her shyness and lack of social skills.
Parents can attend to their child’s social and emotional needs by keeping their child involved in some type of activity and by being present when their child wants to talk. Children who are often told to stay out of adults’ conversations can become discouraged to socialize. Instead, parents can always explain that right now is not a good time and assure their child that they will talk later. Parents can also take their children to another room to hear what they have to say, keeping in mind that children’s self-esteem is hindered when they are silenced and not allowed to express themselves (thus, contributing to shyness).