It is agonising to watch your child’s lack of confidence holding them back. You can see that they clam up, hang back and generally miss out.
Certainly you can persuade (or push even) your reluctant child into social situations and have them join groups to bring them out of their shells, but it doesn’t always work.
For some, being thrust among strangers they have little in common with raises awkwardness to painful shyness. Yet others do find team activities, practice and hobbies they enjoy can really help them feel happier in their skins – and among other people.
Of course, in the entirely unavoidable situation of school some shy children really struggle.
They won’t speak out in class, so miss opportunities to participate or, even, demonstrate their understanding. They find group learning and speaking out in public hard. In short, their shyness may have a negative effect on their education.
Parents – particularly if they, themselves, aren’t shy – are left flummoxed. They find themselves torn between wanting to push their offspring out into social situations so they learn to buck up, and the urge to protect them from further awkwardness.
It is possible that being quiet and more comfortable in smaller groups is just how your child is. So there is an argument that says they should be left alone to grow into themselves. However, it’s still crucial they are able to perform to their full potential at school.
So what can you do to help your timid son or daughter?
Do not label your child as ‘shy’ it shouldn’t define who they are. Allow that they are shy sometimes but it is not who they are. Don’t let other people label them either. It could become self-fulfilling.
If your son or daughter is too timid to start a conversation with another child, it can be helpful to be put in a situation where they are alongside one another. They will start to feel familiar with each other and may begin to talk or play together.
If your child is behaving in a shy manner, then be supportive and understanding rather than trying to jolly them out of it or getting cross with them. Empathy will go a long way to allowing them to deal with the problem.
Let them know that other people feel shy – even grown-ups – but that they find a way of overcoming it. Share your experiences with them.
Set an example. Display outgoing behaviour, even if you are feeling shy, and don’t be afraid to discuss your feelings.
Work out coping strategies for your child – perhaps practice some conversations or some techniques to deal with situations.
Praise your child when they overcome their feelings to join in or take part. Acknowledge how hard it was for them.
Talk to your child’s teacher. It’s important they understand how a lack of confidence is affecting the child. They may not see the whole picture of the child’s behaviour. Many shy children avoid participating in class discussions because they fear saying the wrong thing.
Move slowly. Gradually start encouraging your shy child to be more outgoing. Start with having a friend over for a short visit, then more friends and for longer, and outside the home.
Be sure it is shyness. Other aspects of personality, such as caution, can easily be mistaken for timidity. Your child might just be hanging back because they want to be certain about people or a situation. Alternatively, they may simply be very comfortable in their own company.
Camouflage them. Allow your child to wear the same clothes as their peers, let them tell you what they need to feel confident they won’t stand out from the crowd.
Seek help. If your child is chronically sad and withdrawn or their behaviour has changed, it’s probably a good idea to make an appointment with your GP.