Help Your Child Overcome Shyness


kasey-rangan-author-banner-101613 A shy child is a common concern many parents have during their child’s development. Parents hope for their child to be comfortable in social situations and meet friends easily. As a nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, I see many kids walk through the hospital on a daily basis—some are outgoing, and some are shy and have difficulty interacting with others. When I researched for this blog post, I learned that shyness can be a temperament that a child inherits or a response to a stressful situation. “When shyness is so severe that it impairs everyday life for a child, or prevents your child from making friends, it may be a part of a social anxiety disorder that can improve with treatment,” said Caroly Pataki, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Help Your Child Overcome Shyness

Shyness and Children

Shyness is a normal response to what a child perceives as scary or overwhelming. These situations most often occur in new social settings. Children who appear shy tend to:

  • Look at the ground around unfamiliar people
  • Not speak voluntarily in a social situation
  • Watch but not join other children in play

Occasional shyness is an appropriate adaptive response that most children will experience as a normal part of development.  But in some cases shyness can be extreme and this is what can cause parents to worry. Extreme shyness can make it difficult for children to develop appropriate social interactions and friendships. If not addressed, these problems with social interactions can carry over to adulthood. Sometimes adults, who classify themselves as shy, have reported feeling less satisfied with their lives than their non-shy peers. Others have reported not reaching goals in their life as a result of avoiding certain activities such a speaking in front of a group due to shyness.

Help Your Child Overcome Shyness

Usually, shyness is not a big concern and is most likely a temporary behavior. The following are some easy strategies you can use, at home, to help your child overcome shyness:

  • Don’t label your child as shy, try explaining to others that your child is slow to warm up to others but do your best to not label the behavior.
  • Support your child’s social confidence by not pushing him or her into uncomfortable social situations quickly, or without warning. Start with small groups or well controlled social situations. It helps to role play before any social event that might trigger shyness.
  • Empathize with your child’s behavior and avoid shaming. For example, try sharing a time in your childhood where you can remember feeling shy, explain the emotions behind those feelings. Encourage your child to use their own words to describe their feelings.
  • Be responsive to their needs.
  • Model confident behavior with others—be friendly towards strangers in supervised settings and model a relaxed attitude about social interactions of all kinds.
  • Teach your child not to be afraid of all strangers, focus instead on teaching your child to stay with an adult that is responsible for their care (e.g. parent, teacher or baby-sitter).
  • Teach your child social skills. This can be as simple as arranging play dates or participation in play groups.
  • Teach your child social skills words such as “Can I play too?” When they are older, teach them social skills such as hand shaking and making good eye contact when interacting with others.
  • Provide positive reinforcement and praise for your child. Look for opportunities to build their self-esteem and confidence. Children who feel good about themselves tend to be more confident.
  • If your child’s shyness is persistent or severe enough to interfere with everyday life and friendships, seek help from your pediatrician to find a therapist who can provide treatment.

Shyness is a very common behavior that most children experience at some point of their development.  It is important to remember that it can be a temporary issue with the right intervention. Please discuss any concerns with your child’s emotional development with your pediatric provider. Please share this blog post with other parents.