Monday, October 1, 2012

Helpful tips on parenting a shy child

Growing up as a shy child myself I can always sympathize when I see those children that hide behind their mommy's leg in any big social situation or have difficulty going to school.

Slumber parties or birthday parties were always a challenge for me, and don't even get me started on dance recitals or going off to cheerleading camp. Yep, this shy girl was actually a cheerleader and even a captain a couple of years. So you parents of shy kids, there is hope and being shy is not always a bad thing.

To me, growing up in a culture that is so outgoing can be intimidating for a child that is shy. It was always difficult for me as my family was so social in our small town. Everybody knew my parents since they were knee-high to a grasshopper. Having a big brother, I grew up under the guise of only being the "little sister." I sometimes wondered if anyone knew my first name because I was always called by my last name or Brad's (my brother) little sister.

So from being on the shy team for all these years, let me just say this to you parents of timid little darlings. I know it can be frustrating when your child won't let go of your leg or you feel like it is a reflection on you when your child doesn't speak or acknowledge someone that speaks to them. I know is has to be so hard to know what to do. What I can tell you is this, please don't make your child feel bad about being sensitive or shy like it is some illness. Being sensitive or shy can actually be a good thing at times as your child is observing and making careful thoughts about what to say or do.

Believe me, it only makes it worse when you shame the child about being clingy or not talking as much as their peers. Your "shy child" will only start to feel bad about themselves when everyone talks about how shy she is or will feel overlooked because they are not sure how to communicate.

So what can we do as parents to help our child transition more smoothly into social situations? What can we do as teachers? Well, we thought that we couldn't say it any better than an article we came across from Dr. Laura Markham's website,, as well as an article written by one of our favorite children's expert, Dr. William Sears,

Both articles are extremely helpful so we hope you will take the time to read them even if you don't have shy children. You may have a friend with shy kids or you might even teach a child that is struggling socially?

Dr. Laura Markham's article from Aha Parenting site:

Nurture your child by noticing her needs and responding to them. Shy baby chimps given to extremely nurturing mothers became leaders in their group, while their shy siblings raised by average mothers remained shy and fearful throughout life. Responsive mothering helps shy little ones learn to calm themselves and manage their reactions. That allows their heightened sensitivity to become an asset, because it makes them more responsive to the needs of their peers and better at negotiating group situations.

2. Empathize with your child’s shyness and avoid shaming him.
Acknowledging what he feels, without negative judgment, helps him to feel good about himself. Giving him the impression that there is something wrong with him will just make him feel worse about himself, and therefore more insecure and shy. Empathizing with your child will also help him develop empathy, which will enhance his social skills and keep him connected to others.

3. Model confident behavior with other people. Kids learn from watching us.
That means being friendly to strangers, offering help to others, and modeling a relaxed attitude about social interactions of all kinds.

4. Teach your child basic social skills. Kids often need to be taught to make eye contact, shake hands, smile, and respond to polite chit-chat appropriately. Role play with them how to join a game at the playground, introduce themselves to another child at a party, or initiate a playdate. Kids who are successful in joining groups of kids usually observe first, and find a way to fit into the group, rather than just barging in. Make games out of social skills and practice at home.

5. Help your child learn how to make friends. Most kids need to learn social skills, and benefit from a little extra help. I particularly recommend Lonnie Michelle's How Kids Make Friends: Secrets for Making Lots of Friends, No Matter How Shy You Are

6. Coach your child to handle teasing and bullying by role playing and encouraging her to stand up for herself. A terrific book to help you help your child, offering scripts and strategies, is Scott Cooper's Sticks and Stones: 7 Ways Your Child Can Deal with Teasing, Conflict, and Other Hard Times

7. Don’t label your child as shy. Instead, acknowledge his feelings and point out that he can overcome his fears. For instance, “Sometimes it takes you awhile to warm up in a new situation. Remember Billy’s birthday party, how you held my hand all through the games? But by the end, you were having lots of fun with the other kids.”

8. Teach your child effective strategies for dealing with shyness. The general rule of thumb is to accept the nervousness that comes up as a part of normal life that affects most people, reassure yourself that you’re ok anyway, and focus on others rather than yourself. For instance, remind your child that she doesn’t have to be interesting, just interested, and teach her to ask other kids questions and listen to their answers. Brainstorm with her how she might handle a situation that makes her nervous: “If you feel nervous at the party today, what could you do to make yourself more comfortable? Could you hang out with one of the kids you know from school? Could you offer to help serve the refreshments? What do you think you might talk with the other kids about?”

9. Provide your child with daily opportunities to interact with others.
Shy kids need downtime, of course, but they also need plenty of opportunities to practice their social skills. And remember that empathizing doesn’t mean being over-protective. Applaud every little step he takes on his own.

10. If your child seems generally fearful, consider that she's got some tears and fears inside that need to be expressed. When kids experience something scary and don't feel safe at that moment, the fears get repressed. You can think of this as stuffing them in an emotional backpack, to be processed later. The problem is that humans don't willingly subject themselves to scary feelings. So often those tears and fears stay locked up inside. But since the body knows those emotions need to be felt -- so they can evaporate -- the feelings are always trying to bubble up. Children who are trying to keep fear at bay often become generally fearful and even rigid. If this describes your child, give her daily opportunities to giggle by playing games that dance just on the edge of fear -- bucking bronco rides, for instance. And when she feels safe enough to let those fears surface in tears, welcome her meltdown. On the other side of it, you'll have a less fearful, more flexible child.

11. Don’t create social anxiety by teaching young children to be afraid of strangers. Instead, teach your child that he or she should always be with you, or with a teacher or babysitter. If her special adult is with her, your child doesn’t need to be afraid of strangers. Once she’s old enough to begin walking home from school by herself, you can begin discussing how to keep herself safe.

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