Growing Up Shy: Tips for Raising a Shy Child

Leslie Orndoff
October 6, 2011
Filed under Mom Central, Parenting

Every parent has a vision of what their child will become.  Maybe she will be a successful doctor.  Perhaps he will grow to be a great artist.  Whatever the vision is, parents universally desire for their child to be well adjusted and happy.  Often times though, a parent is confronted by the realization that their child is not excelling in a vital area of development. He or she may withdraw from groups of children or be unable to express themselves clearly, if at all, to an unfamiliar adult.  Some may act confident and content at home, but when crossing the threshold into the outside world, become introverted and shy.  Children who do so need a little extra encouragement, understanding, and help developing into confident, self-assured individuals.

“First, make sure there are no neurological or sensory integration issues,” says Family Therapist Karen Katrinick, LCMST. “It is best to rule out anything biological before confronting the psychological.”  Though the theory of sensory disorders and the way they affect behavior has been circulating since 1970, it is an idea that is virtually unknown among parents today. A child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is processing sensory information incorrectly.  They may interpret the sensation of a tag on a shirt as painful, or the sound of a ticking clock may seem loud and frightening.  SPD symptoms can be misinterpreted or misdiagnosed as other disorders such as ADHD, or at the other end of the spectrum, as debilitating shyness.  A developmental pediatrician can either diagnose or rule out the possibility of SPD.

Once the possibility of SPD has been eliminated, there are a number of techniques a parent can employ to help a shy child maneuver in a world that demands confidence and assertiveness. “Don’t force your child to talk,” cautions Katrinick, “and don’t shame him; create an environment where he feels safe.” Make sure not to draw attention to the fact that your child withdraws or acts shy.  In doing so you are simply reinforcing the behavior, facilitating it instead of encouraging interaction.

Encouraging your child to interact with others is vital to helping her overcome her tendency towards shyness.  “Start by having one on one play dates, then gradually add more children,” adds Katrinick. This slow introduction allows your child to develop a level of comfort with one child so that as the new playmates are introduced she has one person whom she can lean on socially.  This support will hopefully, help her overcome her shyness with the other children. This slow approach will boost her confidence allowing her to develop the skills she needs to make new friends and maintain friendships.

A shy child may also encounter challenges within their classrooms. They may fall behind academically because they lack the confidence needed to engage the teacher. He or she may be fearful of asking questions and participating in classroom activities.  Be sure to talk to your child’s teacher and compare notes.  See how they react at home verses at school.  Take that information and work out the best way to assist them in dealing with their issues in the classroom.  If your child is young, preschool through third grade or so, you can visit his or her class.  Read a book or volunteer to help out with an activity.  Your child will view your presence as a treat, and will most likely experience a much needed boost in confidence as a result.  Role play can also aid in combating classroom anxiety. You can pretend to be the student and let your child direct the lesson.  You may be surprised to find issues that unmask themselves, such as the presence of a school bully or fear of failure with a particular activity or lesson.  You can then address the issue, devising methods of coping with it.

Role playing can be an invaluable tool to utilize when assisting your shy child with making friends.  Have him or her practice making eye contact and come up with methods of initiating play with others.  Guide your child in the best approach for joining in games at the playground.  Let them know that they should find their niche in a group by observing first.  Always model the behaviors you would like to see in your child; be outgoing, make eye contact, and act relaxed in social situations.  They will then sense your comfort and will hopefully, follow your lead.

Some children are born ready to soak up the limelight, while others need a gentle push.  Regardless of which category your child falls into, love, understanding, and patience are the traits parents need to guide a child through the difficult task of growing up.

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