MoonDragon's Parenting Information
SHYNESS IN CHILDREN, TEENS, & ADULTS
HOW TO EASE SHYNESS IN CHILDREN
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: I was a painfully shy child. I was afraid of everyone, especially authority figure types (probably due to having an abusive, explosive father) and every social situation. I learned at a very young age to fade into the background and "hide", keeping myself very small. I was this way through my teen years and into adulthood. In high school, the other kids used to think I was "stuck up" because I didn't talk to anyone or socially interact with my peers or teachers. I would sit in the back of the class, terrified that a teacher would ask me a question that I would have to answer in front of the entire class. I was terrified that a boy would talk to me, much less ask me out to a social function such as on a date or to a dance. I didn't attend social events and had very few friends. The few friends I did have were "outcasts" or "blacksheep" like myself and were also very socially stunted. I avoided any type of confrontation. I was picked on frequently by "class bullies" as an easy target. It was only after I became a mother myself, that I seriously, consciously, began working on developing my social skills on my own. I worked very hard on this. I had to interact with my children's school teachers and I began to make myself come out of my shyness shell. It was very difficult, but as I worked on it, I gained more confidence in myself and my abilities to handle situations and do those things I really wanted to do. When I began midwifery I forced myself even more to be able to interact with others. I had to. I was working very intimately with people and had to have confidence in myself to be able to properly support my birthing mothers. The best thing that ever happened to me was when I went back to school beginning in a community college and working up to a university. I actively sought out social situations to further work on my shyness. I became editor of the student publication, president of a few clubs and chairperson on a university alumni committee. It was during this time that I began to blossom and more fully be able to normally cope with people, situations, social functions, and my life. People who know me now would never guess I was this painfully shy child that used to hide away from life. I still have to force myself to speak out on occasion, but it has gotten easier every time I do it. But it is always a conscious effort. It never comes easy. That shy child is still deep inside of me and still has that old fear. But I continue to work on it. - MoonDragon Midwife.
Shyness can be painful for both parents and children. Parents however need to realize some kids are just born to be quiet and less outgoing than other children are. Just as some children seem to be born wild, others are born to be shy. Shyness is often a symptom of a cautious temperament, which is considered to be hereditary, like blue eyes and curly hair. However, I do believe that sometimes existing shyness can become worse by early negative life experiences. The key is to realize when a child's shyness is becoming a problem that it results in problems with school and social interactions.
Unless shyness is interfering with your child's life, it should not be considered as a problem. Many children outgrow their shyness as they have more social experiences. You do not want your child to believe you are disappointed in him.
But what if shyness has grown to the point where your child is having trouble making friends, is turning down invitations to classmates' parties and never volunteering in class? Then his shyness is a problem that can result in both academic problems and an unhappy social life.
Shy kids have a hard time asking for help. A study of college students found that the shy ones were less likely than their non-shy peers to seek information or use the career placement service. They had a disadvantage that was handicapping their careers.
Signs and symptoms of avoidance and inhibition include:
- Canceling social events at the last moment.
- Avoiding situations that provide positive social interaction.
- Few or no friends.
- Avoidance of activities that are otherwise pleasurable.
- Passivity, pessimism and low self-esteem.
- Friends, family members, teachers, or mentors are concerned.
- Excessive computer use that is not social in nature, and is without face to face contact with others.
Other signs of painful shyness may include:
- Blaming oneself when things go wrong.
- Mild chronic low mood, easily embarrassed, low energy.
- Failure to initiate social contact.
- Frequent sadness, loneliness or resentment.
- Use of alcohol or drugs to reduce social anxiety.
- Written work at school exceeds class participation.
- Excessive time spent on academic work or solitary professional activity to the exclusion of social interaction.
- Little to no expression of anger, sometimes punctuated by angry outbursts.
Temperament or Biological Influences:
- Withdrawn, avoidant, excessively emotionally reactive.
- Highly sensitive, when lacking adequate social support.
- Poor emotional "fit" with family members or some environments.
- Stressful Life Events.
- Shaming experiences.
- Major moves from one school or city to another.
- Abrupt changes or disruptions in family life.
- Negative family interactions.
- Frequent parental criticism and shaming to enforce behavioral compliance, high parental control with little expressed warmth.
- Chaotic family interactions or neglect.
- Stressful work or school environments.
- Highly competitive, critical, or hostile environments.
- Public embarrassment for poor performance.
- Dominance behaviors rewarded, and bullying or teasing ignored or encouraged.
HOW TO HELP
For starters, do not tell a child he or she is shy, don't call them shy. Don't put a label on it. If you label a child, you may only see his shy behavior and may tune out what is not shy. This affects the child's behavior and also affects your perception of him. Most people who are shy, or mistaken as shy because they are quiet, do not like to be told they are. Those who are shy usually know they are and don't need it pointed out to them, and can resent when it is pointed out to them. Instead, point out the child's strengths and compliment them when they aren't acting typically shy. Focus on the times when a child is being more social, rather than when he is being shy. Let them know you like the way they are when they are being more social and involved. Use descriptive words that accentuate the strong points of their behavior. For example, a shy person might be better described as being a cautious, careful or a deep thinker. Try to get them to talk about their feelings.
Create safe social encounters. Allow the child to invite a schoolmate over after school. Or let him pay a visit to the home of a child he seems to like. The more comfortable social experiences shy children have, the less anxious they become. Give your child opportunities to experience social situations. Let them spend time with people they are comfortable with to build up their self-esteem and social interactions and slowly move them toward more frequent and more populated social experiences.
Children often learn by watching and imitating their parents so be sociable and respectful yourself. Be sociable yourself. When your child is little, work on having people in the home. Invite friends for a weekend barbecue or a games night. Have another parent and her child over for lunch. This is often difficult in homes where both parents work, but a shy child needs to get used to an environment with other people in it, so it doesn't seem so frightening. Children who see their parents able to talk to others and not hide will be more apt to give it a try themselves. Don't force a child into a situation however. Stand by them and stay on stand-by with your child and let them adjust to their surroundings, when attending large functions and social gatherings. For a shy child, large gatherings can be terrifying. Don't just walk into a room full of people and leave the child standing there. Hold onto the child's hand until she gets established. Wait for her to let go. A recommendation is that you walk over to another child or a group of children and start talking to them until the child starts talking, too. Give them a chance to feel comfortable while knowing they have your support. A shy child needs to feel secure and to know you're there if she needs you.
Encourage your child to try new activities and to communicate how they feel about what they are doing. Follow the child's lead. Don't force your child into situations. Instead, listen carefully to what he says so you can help steer him toward activities and people he's shown an interest in. You're trying for gentle desensitization, and that only works if the child is doing something he really wants to do. Ask for their feelings. Rather than scolding a child for being shy, reflect back to them in a neutral way what they may be feeling. For instance, if your child is hiding behind your leg instead of playing with his friends, say, "It seems like you're not sure you want to play right now." Something like this might be an accurate reflection of the child's experience but not a negative label. Encouraging a child to talk in situations he or she perceives as safe will help them open up in other situations by realizing there is nothing to be scared of. By letting your child try different activities and hobbies, you are giving your child subjects they can talk about with other people, and introducing them to people who have common interests.
Add the spice of variety. You never know what activity can spark the interest of a shy child. So be sure to explore the variety of activities available in your community, from swimming lessons to children's theater. This will help you and your child learn where his interests lie. It's like food. You provide all the basic food groups and the child then can pick and choose.
Enlist the help of a teacher. A receptive, empathetic teacher can help lure your shy child out of the corner into the thick of things or pair him with a friendly classmate who is more outgoing. Be sure to let the teacher know you're trying to find activities that will help your child feel good about himself. And show your appreciation for the teacher's help. If you're really appreciative to a teacher who looks out for your child, she'll do more of it.
Have a dress rehearsal for stressful situations. Novel situations are a nightmare for shy people, because they generally tend to over-estimate danger. If your child is going to a party, starting in a new classroom or moving to a new neighborhood, talk about what is going to happen and go over some of the things he may see, hear or do. If possible, visit the new neighborhood or school with your child, talk to his new teachers and also have him meet the other children. The more you can familiarize your child with a new situation, the less there is to fear.
Remember children can pick up silent signals easily. If you are nervous yourself, your child will be able to notice, and will also become nervous - more so because if a parent is worried it must be something really "bad". Stay cool, calm and casual. Even if you feel anxiety about a new situation, don't reveal that to your shy child when preparing him for new situations. Many parents who were shy themselves are really worried their child will relive their unhappiness. They can get so tense that their anxiety is communicated to the child.
Encourage your child to talk at home. Establish a daily "good news" time. At dinner or bedtime, allow your child to share some good news of the day. Listen in a non-judgmental way to what he describes as the high point of his day and then acknowledge his feelings. You might ask what he enjoyed about the experience, but do not load him up with praise. This is not a chance to give him an "A" but a chance to share himself. Being listened to and acknowledged with respect helps build self-confidence. Share your experiences with your child. Since 93 percent of the population acknowledges feeling shy at least once in a while, you no doubt have a story or two to tell about your insecurities. And those stories help a shy child to feel more confident in similar situations. Let your child know you do understand how they feel. Everyone has had some moment in their life when they have been shy, nervous, or anxious. It's the human state. Share with your child the situation you were in, ways you overcame your own insecurities and how you handled it. Children need to see that this is just part of the everyday human struggle and that you can cope.
Do not demand perfection. One of the problems we frequently have to work on with a shy child is the belief that being good socially somehow means being perfect all the time. Shy children need to find out that they can make friends without being perfect. Some people think they need to act like movie stars, but children need to know that being friendly doesn't mean being perfect.
Finally, let your child know that being shy is NOT a character flaw. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Most situations are not as scary as your child may think. It is your job to help them understand this. Situations that make a child anxious or nervous can usually be simplified by explaining the situation to them. Let them know everything is ok, and what exactly is going on and invite them to join in.
Shyness doesn't have to be problem. Watch your child and encourage him or her to be more outgoing. If shyness becomes uncontrollable and nothing you do seems to help, contact a therapist or social worker for professional help. The experts agree: If your child's shyness is a real problem, the best time to start intervening is as early as possible. Here are some helpful techniques they recommend.
CHECKLIST FOR FAMILY, FRIENDS & MENTORS - WAYS TO HELP:
- Maintain Appropriate Expectations.
- Maintain appropriate expectations while communicating empathy for the shy person's painful emotions.
- Encourage them to tell you about their daily experiences and how they feel about them.
- Acknowledge the conflict between needs to belong and fears of rejection.
- Role play challenging situations with the shy person.
- Help the shy individual set specific, manageable behavioral goals, and agreed upon reasonable means to attain them.
- Help challenge the frequent negative thoughts about the self and others, and help them develop constructive alternatives.
- Avoid negative labels and intense pressures for social performance.
- Remember that shyness and social anxiety are common and universal experiences at all ages for most people.
MORE WAYS TO HELP:
- Give specific behavioral feedback.
- Tell the person exactly how the specific behaviors of avoidance, passive aggression, or inconsistency affect you, while communicating acceptance of the person.
- Ask permission for when and how best to offer constructive feedback (what might be done in the future to achieve favorable outcomes).
- Acknowledge the person's strengths and resources, while communicating your warmth and positive feelings toward them.
- Encourage the shy person to be more playful, physically looser, and to practice looking foolish while they try new things; do the same yourself. Lighten up, use humor.
- Arrange for shy children to play with, and mentor, younger children. Encourage group sports, acting and dancing classes in a supportive environment.
HOW THE SHY PERSON CAN HELP THEMSELVES:
- Change Yourself.
- Challenge and counter maladaptive thoughts and negative emotional states that interfere with functioning, active exploration, and that lower your self-esteem.
- Set specific behavioral goals and practice desired actions in feared situations.
- Give yourself credit for taking social risks.
- Change the situation.
- Create cultures and group environments that work well for everyone, where all temperaments are acceptable. Encourage people to use their natural styles and forms of self expression. Enable all to participate, to share, listen, learn, explore, enjoy self-expression of thought and emotion.
- Collaborate in shared responsibilities with mutual group goals.
- Practice social fitness.
- Adopt a health- or sports-oriented model. Being socially fit is like being physically fit. Exercise makes you fit and keeps you fit.
A PSYCHOLOGIST CAN HELP:
- Group therapy provides a place to explore, experiment, test pessimistic hypotheses about the self and social interaction, and develop adaptive interaction styles.
- Successful therapy lowers barriers to action and increases appropriate risk taking and self-acceptance. Deliberate social "niche picking", or choosing situations that suit one's temperament, also increases.
- Individual therapy provides a place to explore one's needs, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors without pressure from others.
- Group and Individual therapy help clients develop more empathy for others and themselves by reducing negative self-thoughts, self-blame and shame while building positive perspectives and effective behavioral patterns.
- Medication may help clients enter feared situations.
CHILDREN & SHYNESS BOOKS
For Children to Read:
Buster: The Very Shy Dog -- by Lisze Bechtold (Illustrator)
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover - 48 pages (March 1999)
Buster, a shy puppy, is intimidated in his new home. Phoebe, the older dog, is bold and bossy. How Buster comes out of his shell is disclosed in three chapters. In the first, Buster and a shy girl help each other at a birthday party; in the second, Buster's sharp hearing saves the day; and in the last vignette, Buster and Phoebe team up to scare off some garbage-eating raccoons. More substantial then some easy readers, this has an agreeable, relatable story and above-average cartoon-style artwork that features the particularly appealing Buster. A good choice for kids just past the easiest reader stage.
The Shy Little Angel -- by Ruth Brown (For Christian Families)
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover - 32 pages (October 1998)
A shy angel refuses to greet the baby Jesus, even though Gabriel has said that all angels must go. She watches from above but is discovered and becomes the center of the action. Though the sentimental story's dramatic irony may be lost on some younger listeners, the earth toned paintings and the text gradually reveal that the angel is not in heaven but part of a school play directed by the principal, Mr. Gabriel.
Let's Talk About Being Shy -- by Marianne Johnston
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback - 24 pages (May 1998)
Introduces the concept of shyness and offers suggestions on how to deal with it.
The Woman in the Wall-- by Patrice Kindl
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover - 185 pages (March 1997)
A painfully shy girl retreats into the fabric of her family's big old house, building a series of passageways and secondary walls that allow her to share the life of the house unseen by her mother and sisters. When a mysterious message is thrust through a crack in the wall, Anna begins to think she might have a reason to emerge. "How Anna finds herself and her family again is a tour de force of extraordinary power and wicked humor. Kindl bends the prism of loss and isolation until the clear colors of self shine forth, for Anna, and for the enthralled readers."
How Kids Make Friends: Secrets for Making Lots of Friends, No Matter How Shy You Are -- by Lonnie Michelle
Paperback - 64 pages (March 1997)
Lonnie Michelle's book becomes a helpful guide for parents, teachers, therapists and others who enjoy helping children grow and make their way in this complex society... It is written in a relaxed and upbeat manner with lots of specific suggestions and strategies that children can adopt for meeting new people, learning what to say, and what to do. Ms. Michelle doesn't just give advise: she has many explanations for why she suggests youngsters do as she says.
The Blushful Hippopotamus -- by Chris Raschka
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover (September 1996)
Despite his older sister's bullying, young Roosevelt learns to appreciate his good qualities, with the help of his trusty friend Lombard, a bird who perches himself on the top of Roosevelt's head.
Shy Charles -- by Rosemary Wells
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback Reprint edition (May 1992)
Being painfully shy and timid does not stop a young mouse from rescuing his baby-sitter during an emergency, but despite his heroism, Charles continues to remain silent.
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