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Why are you so shy?

“Why are you so shy?” There’s nothing wrong with shyness!

All children are different, and some children are more shy than others and it might be just be their temperament. Children who seem shy often ‘warm up’ as they get to know the person or situation. Therefore, it’s better to describe these children as ‘slow to warm up’ rather than ‘shy’. Labelling a child as ‘shy’ can make her feel there’s something wrong with her, or there’s nothing she can do about her shyness.

Supporting your child with shyness

Some children may never overcome their shyness, but parents can help them to be more confident and comfortable interacting with other people. These tips can help.

Tips for babies and young children

  • Give your baby time to feel comfortable. Don’t make him go straight into the arms of an unfamiliar person. Instead, encourage the person to play with a toy near your child and use a calm voice.
  • Let your child know that his feelings are OK and that you’ll help him manage them. For example, ‘I can see you feel a bit scared because you don’t know who’s at the party. Let’s have a look together before we go in’.
  • Avoid over-comforting your child. Over-comforting may come across that you think this is a scary situation. And the extra attention might accidentally encourage your child’s shy behaviour.
  • Explore pretend play and create different situations
  • If other people say your child is ‘shy’, gently correct them in front of your child. For example, ‘Sarah takes a little while to warm up. Once she’s comfortable she’ll be happy to play’. This shows that you understand how your child feels, and she can deal with the situation when she’s ready.

Tips for school-age children

  • Encourage playdates. If your child is invited to a friend’s house, he might feel more comfortable if you go with him at first. You could gradually reduce the time you spend with him at other people’s houses.
  • Practice class presentations with your child at home. This will help your child feel more comfortable when she has to stand up in front of her class.
  • Role play and act out different scenarios to prepare your child
  • Encourage your child to do some extracurricular activities. Try to find ones that encourage social behaviour.
  • Coach your child before social gatherings – for example, ‘People are going to want to talk with you today. Remember to look at the person talking to you. If you don’t, they might think you’re not listening to them’.
  • Avoid negative comparisons with more confident siblings or friends.

When shyness might be a problem

Your child’s shy behaviour might be a problem if it’s causing him (or you) a lot of distress. For example, shyness might be a problem if:

  • you or your child can’t go places because of his shyness
  • your child shows signs of anxiety in social situations like parties or school
  • your child says he feels lonely but doesn’t know how to join in with other children
  • your child feels he can’t answer or ask questions in class.

Some children who are shy go on to develop anxiety. So if your child’s shy behaviour is significant and hard to change, talk to a professional like your GP, paediatrician or a psychologist.

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