If you have a child is reserved, and perhaps a little timid, there’s a good chance they’ve been described as shy. Shyness is a term often used to describe quieter children and, rather unfortunately, it seems to come with a negative inference. But here’s the thing: shyness in children is NOT a character flaw and it is not something that needs to be “fixed.” But there are many ways you can support your child. In this post I will share tips on how you can help your shy child gain confidence.
Parenting a shy child
My first-born daughter, Miss A, was a clingy toddler and experienced intense separation anxiety. At first I thought it would pass but it escalated. At home she followed me around like a shadow, and outside the home she would refuse to unleash her grip on my legs. Socialising with friends and their children only heightened her anxiety, and mine. If I left her side for a minute it caused her great distress. I looked on enviably as the other mums sat sipping cups of tea, chatting amongst themselves as their children played happily, without their involvement.
The playground was also hard. I watched the other kids confidently navigate the playground whilst my daughter cowered between my legs. She wouldn’t participate unless I participated too. I must have looked like a helicopter parent to onlookers but the truth was I wanted to be sitting on the park bench watching, not plunging down slippery dips! Ever wondered where my blog got its name? I really wanted to help my shy child gain confidence, but I wanted to do so gently.
At the age of two, Miss A had excellent language skills but she wouldn’t speak to anyone outside the family. I expressed my concerns to the maternal health worker and she told me to readjust my expectations. I realised that I had been expecting my daughter to behave according to how I did as a child; extroverted, sociable and confident. Instead of trying to change my daughter’s behaviour I worked with her to build her confidence. In order to help her feel more comfortable in social situations I adopted a gentle, supportive approach and altered my expectations. My role was to love and extend her, not to change her.
By the time she started kinder she was able to separate more easily from me, with the help of her furry friend, but she remained an observer. She was happy but unable to join in the group activities, preferring her own company and independent play. She once asked me how to make friends. That she wanted to initiate friendships with others was a big step, but it also broke my heart a little that she didn’t know how. Around this time I enrolled Miss A in a music and ballet class, and that’s when her self-confidence began to soar. Through creative expression she found a confidence that has slowly and steadily grown.
Miss A is about to finish Semester One of her first year at school. The past six months of Prep have been wonderful and she has moved from an observer to a participator. One of my proudest moments this year was her first “Share and Learn” session (Show and Tell in old school terms). That she was able address a classroom of 24 kids and 1 adult was a significant milestone and I will forever remember the sparkle in her eyes when she came home from school that day and enthusiastically relayed her experience. She remains on the quieter side in class (partly because she’s so focussed, thankfully not taking after her mama!) but she has a tacit confidence that will enable her to embrace all experiences fully. I couldn’t be prouder of my little girl.
4 ways to help your shy child gain confidence
Readjust your expectations
Naturally, as parents, we want our children to be happy. We like to see them playing happily with other kids, confidently participating in group activities, able to speak with adults, shine brightly. But every child is unique and a confidence that grows quietly and confidently is often a confidence that will prevail. Parenting a shy child can be difficult at time. But I think that slow-to-warm = slow and steady. If you’re outgoing and sociable, and your child is not, don’t push them to be like you. Embrace their individuality and enjoy watching them grow.
Shyness is not a character flaw
Shyness is temperament, not a fault. Many people don’t understand shyness and equate being shy with having a problem. They think a shy child must suffer from poor self-image. This is quite untrue. Many shy children have a solid sense of self and purpose and tend to be attentive listeners, exuding a warm presence without saying a word. If you are parenting a shy child, remember that we need all types of personalities and temperaments in this world, and quiet, shy people are an important, and indeed essential, part of that mix!
Don’t apologise for them
There is no need to say apologetically, “She’s a shy child,” especially in front of your little one. Be conscious of the language you use. There is nothing wrong, and a lot right, with being shy. Kids who continually hear they are shy often feel they are doing something wrong, particularly if they sense that their parents want them to act in a way that is very different from what feels comfortable. When children are labelled shy it can lead embarrassment or, worse, shame. Remember, labels are for jars not people. Your role is to help your shy child gain confidence.
Accept and support
Recognise that you are blessed with a sensitive, caring, gentle child who is slow to warm up to strangers, approaches social relationships cautiously, but generally seems happy. Embrace your quiet child and be gentle. Not every child needs to be gregarious. With love and support you can help your shy child gain confidence. What helps children the most is to know that their parents accept them as they are and have confidence that they will be fine.
Are you parenting a shy child? What has been your experience? Do you have any advice on helping build confidence?
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