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Why is my child shy?
Experts believe that both genetics and environment contribute to a child's shyness. Some children are simply born with a heightened sensitivity to outside stimulation. Environment comes into play when your child's shyness combines with negative experiences, such as teasing or exclusion by other children, shaming, or a lack of the reassurance a shy child needs.
How can I encourage my shy grade-schooler?
Be a role model. Be confident in your exchanges with salespeople, ask appropriate questions of peers, and make eye contact with strangers.
Be on the lookout for triggers. Watch your child closely to see which social situations tend to increase his shyness. Once you understand his anxieties better, talk them through and work together on strategies to overcome them.
A child who's been pushed too hard academically, for example, may clam up because he's afraid of failure. If that's the case, ease up on your scholastic expectations.
Practice difficult situations. Consider role-playing situations that make your child nervous. He may giggle and think it's silly to practice saying hello at a birthday party or introducing himself to the soccer team, but he'll also begin to feel more confident in his ability to socialize.
Another approach: Ask your child to talk about his "what if" fears about the event. Then together you can brainstorm ways to address each of his concerns. You might also remind your child that it's normal to be anxious when starting a new class or meeting new people. To validate his feelings, try describing one of your own flustered moments.
Find a niche. Shy kids often have a hard time carving out a place for themselves in social circles. To make the task a little easier, encourage him to get involved in an extracurricular activity. The key is to find something that suits his interests – a place where he can be part of a group (swimming lessons or the chess club), but still shine as an individual.
Once he realizes he has a talent, his confidence will soar along with his enthusiasm. If he nixes all your suggestions, don't force the issue. Keep tossing out ideas, and eventually he'll find the right fit.
Know when to back off. There's a fine line between helping your child cope and pestering him with endless tips on how to be more outgoing. It may also help to remind yourself that your child's temperament isn't a reflection of your parenting skills.
As long as he has some friends, is reasonably happy, and can function as a student and family member, all is well. Praise him for his efforts to be social, provide advice when asked, and leave it at that.
What's wrong with labeling my child as shy?
There's nothing wrong with being shy, but it's rarely helpful to label a child, whether it's a label that places undue pressure on her ("gifted," for instance) or one that explains her behavior ("Oh, she's just shy."). She might not even consider herself shy, but if she hears it often enough she'll come to believe it.
What's more, your child may not see her shyness as an obstacle. But if you talk about it as if it's a problem, she may come to think something's wrong with her. If you ever feel you need to explain her behavior, consider saying, "She likes to take her time in new situations," instead of describing her as shy. It's equally important to encourage relatives, family friends, and teachers not to label her.
If your child has already been labeled shy, try adjusting her self-image by letting her overhear something positive. When she's in earshot, discuss how friendly she has become, or make a fuss over some effort she made to be social. It may help to remind her that some of the qualities associated with shyness, such as being cautious, careful, and less likely to jump in to new situations without thinking about the consequences, are good characteristics to have.
Does my shy child need professional help?
Shyness should be a bump in the road, not a roadblock. It probably will take a bit of anguish and some false steps, but even very shy children can learn to forge relationships and cope with being in the occasional spotlight. They may have fewer friends than other kids, but those friendships will be just as close.
However, your grade-schooler may need professional help if he is so shy that he begins to avoid all interactions, or if you're concerned that your child's shyness is interfering with his ability to function in his daily life. Talk to your child's school counselor or healthcare provider, who may suggest a developmental evaluation.