Childhood Shyness

Shyness or bashfulness is perfectly normal in a child’s development and will usually appear at around 5 or 6 months of age and then again at the age of two. At that age it is perfectly natural and no cause for concern. On the other hand if the shyness is prolonged and seems to interfere with the child’s relationships and social interactions it is important that the parent intervenes.

Shyness can manifest itself for a myriad of reasons. Children are constantly being exposed to new experiences. Some children have trouble coping with anything new and tend to withdraw. Other possible causes are:

  • Constant teasing harassment or criticism- if children are constantly the objects of ridicule, they may feel a need to avoid some social situations and contact with people.
  • Low self esteem-If children do not feel good about themselves they may perceive that others feel that way about them.
  • Overprotective parents- if children do not gain a sense of independence, they may lack the assuredness needed to make appropriate decisions for themselves. This may cause insecurity, which can lead to shyness.
  • Heredity- Shyness seems to run in families but whether the cause is genetic or learned is still up for debate.
  • Learned behavior- Since children learn by example, parents who are shy often have children who are shy
  • Lack of consistent parenting- Some parents may believe that by letting their children do things for themselves they are helping to promote independence, which may lead to the child believing that they are not worthy of attention. The child may start to believe that others are not interested in them and may struggle in social situations.

Shyness is extremely painful emotionally for a child and can have negative effects in many areas of a child’s life. Many shy children develop low self-esteem and may lack self worth. Shy children have difficulty making friends and may be so timid that they will not ask for help from teachers which could set them back in their studies. These negative traits can also follow a child into adolescence and adulthood.

On the brighter side shyness is not difficult to correct but it does need a strong commitment from parents or caregivers. The following is a list of things that parents can do to help their children overcome shyness.

  • Do not tease or let other family members tease your shy child- Children that are constantly teased may withdraw to avoid being teased
  • Do not allow a shy child to spend too much time alone- Since shy children feel uncomfortable around people they may avoid contact and isolate themselves. Parents need to encourage activities with others and praise their children when they attempt to be sociable.
  • Provide exposure to new people and new situations- This should be done gradually and make sure to offer lots of support
  • Do not criticize shy behavior but reward non-shy behavior- Any positive behavior should be rewarded with a smile and words of praise. Keep in mind if a situation is too overwhelming for the child parents should respect their children’s feelings.
  • Do not speak for the shy child- If the parent is always answering for the child they may reinforce the shy behavior, shy children need to be encouraged to speak for themselves.
  • Have age appropriate expectations of your child- Keeping in mind your child’s personality do not always expect your shy child to be chatty and outgoing, but they should be expected to respond when someone speaks to them or to participate in most social activities with the family.
  • Teach responsibility and independence- Provide children with responsibilities that are age appropriate and encourage independence by allowing your child to make decisions and solve their own problems. Always keep the child’s age and ability in mind. These two skills will help to foster self -esteem in your child.
  • Teach your child to be more assertive- Show your child that they do not have to give in to peer pressure and they should ask for what they want. Avoid fighting your children’s battles for them.
  • Find hobbies or activities that your child can excel at- If a child feels like they can do something really well it will help to boost their self- confidence, but never force your child to do an activity they are not really interested in.
  • Positive self talk- Teach your child to say good things about themselves .The more they repeat the positive statements to themselves the quicker they will start to believe.

Shy children sometimes believe that there is nothing that they can do to change how they are feeling. One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to offer lots of love and attention. Show your child through your words and your actions that they are loved.

It doesn’t really matter what caused the shyness in the first place. The most important thing is not to ignore it and hope it will go away. There are many excellent books on the subject of shyness but if your child’s shyness is more than just a passing phase professional help may be in order.

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