The shy child

Tips for helping a child overcome their shyness.

Shy little girl

Children’s personalities are never the same, even within the same family. Some children can be extremely outgoing and the life of the party while others may take a longer time, or perhaps never, warm up to social situations. Shyness is a trait that can be a result of environmental factors. These factors can stem from emotional abuse, ridicule and other forms of child abuse, but not always. Some shyness is inherited.

Michigan State University Extension recommends looking for the following signs of shyness in your child:

  • Feeling uncomfortable
  • Feeling self-conscious
  • Nervousness
  • Bashfulness
  • Feeling timid
  • Being passive and unassertive
  • Physical sensations like breathless

Typical shyness is feeling uneasy around others while extreme shyness can develop into a social anxiety disorder in young children. Parents and caregivers can help a child overcome their shyness by:

  • Telling them, as much as possible, what will happen that day and why so that they are prepared.
  • Letting them participate in activities they enjoy. If they enjoy swinging at the park but not going to the mall, then find a way to go to the mall without them. If that is not an option, take them to the park after a visit to the mall.
  • Gently encouraging their progress—overcoming shyness takes time and support.
  • Letting them proceed at a pace they are comfortable with when they try to overcome their shyness. Pushing too hard or ridiculing their attempts will only make it more difficult for them to try again in the future.
  • Being a positive, outgoing role model. This will show your child that being assertive can have its benefits, such as making new friends and being invited to outings and events.

Social anxiety and shyness are two very different things. Social anxiety is a mental disorder and goes beyond typical shyness. Anxiety in children, just like for adults, is a normal part of life. When it becomes out of proportion or overcomes their life, then it is more than likely a disorder. A professional diagnosis is required to determine the causes behind the disorder. More information about anxiety in young children can be found in “Social anxiety in children.”

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