Do you worry about your child’s shyness? Do other people label your child shy? Do you wonder if shyness is a problem?
Shyness isn’t always a problem. Really! Humans come in all different temperaments, and thank goodness for that. American popular culture tends to favor social, outgoing people, but (a) other cultures send different messages, and (b) neither way is “right or wrong”. Rather, it is FAR more important that your child feel comfortable the “just way they are,” to quote Mr. Rogers.
Developmental Stages & Shyness
First of all, consider your child’s developmental stage. Young toddlers go through stages of separation anxiety, but so do older kids, it just looks different. The most prominent period for this (later) is when children start kindergarten. This is a huge transition for kids, and results in shyness, or regression, or a host of other behavioral changes. It’s normal. In those situations parents need to continue to support and love their child, talking about the changes and your child’s feelings and how to cope. Things will get better with time.
A second period of developmental shyness is normal around the early stages of puberty, too. Body changes are accompanied by greater pressures from peers, and emotional and hormonal shifts. It’s a tough time, and shyness is often part of the picture. Again, just keep supporting, loving, talking, and teaching and things will get better with time.
Introverts & Extroverts
An extrovert is someone who ‘gets their energy’ from interacting with others. An introvert is someone who gets their energy from within, from being alone. Which one is your child? A shy child might be a perfectly happy and content introvert, with no need for fixing or changing.
Is your child happy? Do they think their shyness is a problem?
I encourage you to ask them! In a non-confrontational way–perhaps when it’s just the two of you in the car going somewhere–bring up the topic of shyness. For example: “John, did you have a good time yesterday at Dan’s birthday party? If your son says “No,” talk a little about why he didn’t have a good time. Perhaps he himself felt that his feelings of shyness kept him from enjoying himself. If you son says “yes,” you might say “You know, I noticed when I picked you up that you were playing by yourself in the back room.” Perhaps this will spark a conversation. But simply, your goal is to find out whether your child themselves thinks that shyness is a problem.
Yesterday, I defined coping skills.
Today, I’m listing some ways to help your child improve their coping skills.
- First, talk to your child about emotions. They need to be able to recognize their own emotions (as well as the emotions of others) in order to cope with them!
- Second, define the term “coping skills” for your kids, and talk about when you use them. (Give concrete examples.) Tell stories of times in the past when you saw your child handling their emotions well–what specifically did you see them do? Talk about that and praise your child.
- Third, sit down with your child, and brainstorm things your child likes to do. Riding her bike? Playing with the dog? Reading a book? Check! The parent should write down every idea your child identifies, plus a few of your own. It’s fine if the list includes video games, eating candy, and/or clothes shopping, but just make sure that there are healthy/free/easy/quick/always accessible activities, too.
- Fourth, once you’ve got a rough list of fun activities, make a fun art project out of it! Rewrite the list on a big piece of paper, and decorate it together with your child. Maybe even draw tiny pictures representing some of the activities! (just have fun doing it.) Talk about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Post the final version up on the wall somewhere prominent–the fridge, for example.
Now, you’re ready! The next time your child is mildly upset, do this:
- Validate their feelings.
- Ask if they’d like some help from you.
- If they say yes, walk with them over to the list, and have them pick 1 thing.
- Do the activity. Alone or together, their choice. (one of the great things about this step is that your attention is built-in praise for your child’s positive behavior–using a coping skill is a big positive, and one that we want to encourage!)
- When you’re done, process! Talk about your child feels now, as compared to before. Be sure to clarify at some point that the coping skill doesn’t ‘fix’ the original problem–it simply makes us feel a little better in the moment.
So, if you go through these steps, and rinse/repeat a number of times, then you will likely find that your child starting to make this a habit–a positive habit! And soon, you’ll see your child using their coping skills for upsets that are bigger than “mild.” Ahhh, a very happy achievement this will be!