Shyness involves anxiety and behavioral inhibition in new social situations such as meeting a stranger or encountering a new event. Almost all children will experience some degree of shyness at some time, but some children will experience shyness to such a serious extent that it affects their social development hugely.
They may also develop anxiety problems, have a lower self-esteem when they grow up and may find it difficult to reach their full potential because they fear of being judged. In this article, we will deal with the latter group of children.
Causes of shyness in children
The causes of shyness have not been firmly established by the researchers or scientists, but experts in the field believe that there are five possible causes that result in shyness in children.
Genetics is a factor in causing children to be inclined to be shy in new social situations.
2. Loose bond between parent and children
When the children do not feel securely attached to their parents and parents are inconsistent and negligent in caregiving, they may feel anxious and are prone to shy behaviour.
Children who were emotionally sensitive and easily intimidated babies are more likely to grow up to be shy children.
4. Poor acquisition of social skills
The poor acquisition of social skills is due to a lack of social interaction with people other than with their parents. This results in shyness in the children. Children who have been isolated from others for the first few years of their lives may not have the social skills that enable easy interaction with unfamiliar people. For example, when they are stepping out to meet new people for the first time when they enter kindergarten, they may shy away from people and be fearful of the entire event which is totally new for them.
5. Teasing and criticism
Children can become shy when their parents, siblings or others tease or criticize them harshly and frequently.
6. Lack of role models
If parents themselves are not socially active and adept, their children may become shy as well. As children learn their behaviour through observing their parents and those around them, they may imitate their parents' shy and reserved behaviour.
Why you should be concerned about your child's shyness
Shy children often obtain less practice on improving their social skills and have very few friends. They will, therefore, tend to feel lonely, unimportant and have low self-esteem. They will tend to avoid group activities such as sports and drama. Shy children will tend to become anxious teens and adults which may then have a smaller social network.
They may also be less able to reach their full potential because of their fear of being judged.
How to overcome shyness
1. Be a role model for outgoing behavior
Children learn a lot from their parents through observing the behavior of their parents. If the parents do not invite anyone to their house, talk to strangers or attend any social event, it is very likely their children will tend to be shy and unsociable. Parents can try to interact with their neighbors, invite friends over, talk to strangers in the lift or the shopping mall.
This is because children tend to imitate their parents’ behaviour and will learn through watching how they behave. Experts also recommend that parents talk to their neighbors or friends' kids. Through that, parents demonstrate to their children how to interact with others confidently and the children will also learn that being outgoing and proactive in talking to people is something natural and part of the life.
2. Expose your child to unfamiliar situations and people and help him or her to prepare for it
Parents should create opportunities to expose their children to unfamiliar situations and people. The more practice they have, the faster the shyness will vanish. Most importantly, parents should help their children to prepare for these unfamiliar situations like telling them what kinds of people that they will meet, what will happen during the event, and teach them what to say during the situation. It is also important to note that parents should give their children sufficient transition time to adapt to the new situation before encouraging them to interact with others.
3. Reward or praise your child for outgoing behavior
When your child is outgoing and interacts with others, you should praise the child or reward the child with something special. Expecting a reward can motivate the child to overcome his or her fear and start interacting with others.
4. Show empathy when your child is afraid to interact with others
When your child is afraid to interact with others in a social situation, you should not scold him or her. Instead, you should show your empathy. By showing that you know how he or she feels, your child may start to talk about his or her fear and start searching for a way to control it.
5. Don’t label your child as shy
You should never say that your child is shy, especially in front of him or her. When your friends or relatives comment that your child is shy in front of him or her, you should try to disagree and offer an explanation such as your child needs time to warm up.
By labeling your child as shy, she or starts to think that he or she is indeed shy and fulfill the description. This will make it even harder for them to change later on.
6. Avoid teasing your child and teach him or her how to deal with others' teasing
Teasing can often lead to shy behavior. Do not tease your child or allow anyone else to do so. If your child is ever teased, you can share your experience of being teased and this will help your child feel better. You can teach him how to deal with the teasing and speak for himself or herself when he or she is being teased again. Tell him to think about others’ criticism and to ignore them if it is merely mean and untrue.
7. Train your child to be confident and independent
Do not overly cushion your children from failures so they can learn to be more confident and also solve their own problems. With a higher confidence and thinking skills, they are also able to know what to say in different situations better. Raising your children up to be independent also means you do not need to constantly hold their hands in every situation and they are not afraid to speak up for themselves and with other people when you are not there with them.
8. Consult a psychologist or counselor
If you find that the above methods cannot help your child and your child is too shy such that it affects their social development and self-esteem, you can consider visiting a psychologist or counselor.
However, do not worry too much about it and give time for your child to slowly open up. Furthermore, some children who are initially shy will slowly learn to open up and speak more when they start schooling. Nevertheless, these children will have a more difficult journey in adjusting to the foreign experience of talking to other people in school if they are not encouraged or given opportunities to talk to other people at home. Remember not to give up on leading by example and creating opportunities for your child to speak to other people proactively.
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