Humans are social beings and need interaction. When we interact with others, we benefit from the connection, support, and feeling of safety. For shy children, social interactions may be difficult. The word ‘shy’ is defined by the Oxford dictionary as being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people.
Children need social interaction to feel safe, supported, and connected.
Being shy is a normal personality trait.
Parents can learn to recognize signs that their child may be shy.
For some children, shyness may turn into anxiety and require additional help.
Parents can teach their shy children how to succeed socially.
Naturally, as parents, we want our children to make friends, be confident learners, enjoy hobbies, and play without fear. In this article, we will talk about ways to help a shy child be successful in social situations.
How to recognize if your child is shy
As early as infancy, a child’s temperament starts to show itself. It’s possible to identify traits such as activity levels, adaptability, and persistence. Your child’s personality is largely based on their temperament. Babies may be easy and calm or strong-willed and high-strung as their personalities emerge early in life. Here are some signs that your child may be shy:
- Clingy in social situations.
- Crying around new people.
- Reluctant to join group activities.
- Turning or moving away with a smile.
- Worrying about school.
- Feeling worried in unfamiliar situations.
- Fearing public performance in plays, songs, or public speaking.
- Trembling or blushing.
Some cultures consider shyness as a problem or weakness. It’s important to know that being shy is a normal personality characteristic. Shyness isn’t something that needs to be fixed. Being reserved or slow to warm up can be a good thing. Research shows that shy or reserved people are perceived positively by others. There’s nothing wrong with approaching new situations slowly and carefully.
Some children are introverted and prefer spending time alone in activities such as reading. Other children may be reluctant to join social events because they are tired, hungry, upset, or fighting an illness. These children may be reluctant to join social occasions — but it is not because they are shy. For parents and guardians, it is important to know these differences. Shy children want to join in, but they feel stressed or overwhelmed by social interaction.
Signs a child may have anxiety
Shy children are very likely to grow into well-adjusted adults. However, for some kids, their shyness develops into something more. Scientific studies show that 30-40% of shy children move past shyness into anxiety. Therefore, although a child may be showing signs of shyness, they actually may be experiencing anxiety.
Signs your child may have anxiety:
- Complaining of headaches or stomach aches.
- Rigid or stiff body posture.
- Turning or moving away without smiling.
- Excessive worrying before an event.
- Refusing or avoiding strangers, school, team sports, or doctor visits.
- Loss of appetite or suffering from nausea/vomiting/diarrhea.
- A sense of worry that interferes with daily functioning and quality of life.
If you feel your child is showing signs of anxiety, contact your child’s doctor. Discuss your concerns and consider whether your child would benefit from additional help.
How to help your shy child
Just as we teach our boisterous children to practice self-control, we want to help our shy children to navigate social situations for success. Shy children can have difficulty making and keeping friends. Shy kids may miss out on fun and chances to learn and grow. However, shy children benefit from parents teaching social strategies. For example, if your child struggles to join a group, show them how. Approach a person or group, say hello, introduce yourself, and ask if you can join. Then calmly pick up a toy or crayon and begin playing.
Here are more ways to help your shy child:
- Don’t use the label ‘shy’ as it may cause a child to feel something is wrong with them.
- Be supportive.
- Don’t shield your shy child from opportunities to try new things.
- Allow a child to take little steps on their own.
- Don’t push or rush a shy child into stressful situations.
- Give your child time to warm up.
- Ask others to approach your child slowly.
- Don’t expect the child to join on their own.
- Model how to be assertive by singing along with a group or calmly answering questions.
- Start small with playdates you attend and slowly move toward sitters or preschool.
Being shy is not a problem. It’s a personality trait. Realize it’s much easier to accept your child's personality rather than try to change it. Shy kids need a parent’s guidance to navigate situations that make them feel stressed. You will have much better luck if you accommodate your shy child and teach them to be assertive and join social activities. This can help avoid their shyness from turning into anxiety.
If you have concerns over your child’s emotional growth, keep a written list. Write down and describe what you see to remember. Then, reach out to your pediatrician and use your list to review your concerns.
- Healthychildren.org. Shyness in Children.
- Healthychildren.org. Emotional and Social Development: 4-7 Months.
- Merckmanuals.com. Social Anxiety Disorder in Children and Adolescents.
- National Library of Medicine. Differentiating Social Phobia from Shyness.
- American Psychological Association. Born Bashful.