A shy African American girl hides behind a book.

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Simply Reserved vs. Anxiously Quiet

Dealing with Shyness in Children

Soon enough there will gatherings with loved ones as we celebrate our blessings during the holidays. But for many families, and children in particular, parties and even small gatherings can be stressful simply because kids are not yet well versed at greeting and meeting others. Many parents know the frustration of getting their children to simply greet or even acknowledge others-- especially “shy” children. This stress might make an introverted child even more withdrawn. The good news is that still waters run deep and shyness can be downright positive. And with understanding and forethought, parents can gently nudge bashful children out of their shells to grow and build those social skills and not miss out on the benefits of being more open.

Understanding Shyness

Shyness stems from everything from a sensitive, quiet nature to a simple lack of social interaction and fear of failure, according to “Children and Shyness” in Better Health Channel. It’s also associated with academic achievement, good behavior and listening skills. And the world definitely needs more kind, gentle souls to shine their quiet light amidst the cacophony of modern life. But children need some parental guidance when anxious thoughts keep them avoiding eye contact and struggling with self-confidence. When fear holds them back from accepting that invitation or zebra role on stage, encourage your little ones to “do it afraid.” BHC recommends for starters to avoid the shy label because “children (and adults) tend to live up to the labels others give them.”

Give Space, Encouragement

Parents can create a safe space for social practice with anxiety management with low-key activities like a home playdate.

“Deliberately take your child into new situations. Aim for small changes in behavior first and gradually build up. For example, reward a child if they greet someone who is new to them. Be supportive,” BHC writes.

In “10 Tips to Help your Extremely Shy Child” Susan Light advises parents to model outgoing, friendly behavior. Also explain times you’ve overcome shyness, like when you nervously spoke out against a bully and felt stronger afterward. “Explain why that experience was good for you. Discuss the good things that will come from acting more outgoing. These things can include making new friends, having more fun, and enjoying school more.”

Shine Thy Light

Help children to love their God-given temperament and develop special talents—what child doesn’t bask in the glory of a hard-won tennis trophy? “Is he creative? Is she athletic? Encouraging these skills will allow your child to see himself as a talented and capable individual. This sense of confidence can help him become braver in social situations,” she writes.

Finally, together explore literature for lessons in courage. “Read books with your child that feature characters who have overcome extreme shyness. Use the stories as a starting point for discussions about shyness and how it affects her life.”

Practice the Part

Pull out the puppets, actions figures and dolls and enjoy playtime practice with your child at home to greet others, initiate conversations and meet new people. “Consider dealing with shyness as any other learning process, such as learning to read. The key is to be patient, gentle and understanding with your child as you boost her confidence,” says Light.