“Hey, I want you to meet my boy,”
Says an eager and proud parent to friends and neighbours. The neighbour replies:
“Oh, he is so cute. If only he doesn’t hide his face that much.”
Have you been in one of these situations? Have you been in social gatherings and casual meet-ups where your kid refuses to leave your side, holds your hand tight, hides behind your back or just stays in one corner? Perhaps you then conclude that you have a shy kid.
Some parents do something about it immediately while some just wait for their child to naturally be more sociable. For the latter, it doesn’t help to know that half of teenagers still consider themselves shy, according to a US national survey by the National Institute of Mental Health.
People are not born shy, but some 15-20% of infants are born with an inhibited temperament, according to Dr. Jerome Kagan and his other Harvard colleagues. Babies with this kind of temperament kick more, have a higher heart rate, and cry louder and longer when exposed to unpleasant noise and other environmental stimulation. This is the reason why they are likely to hide between their parents’ legs when exposed in a different environment. This is what parents later on label as shyness, which according to Psychology Today emerges once a child starts to develop a sense of self, approximately at 18 months. When a child looks at the mirror and touches his/her actual face instead of reaching out to the reflection in the mirror, the child is beginning to have a sense of self.
But biology is not destiny. There is no guarantee that infants with a seemingly inhibited temperament will grow up shy. Whether they want to play with other kids and talk comfortably with other people is a decision they eventually have to make as they grow up. This only means that if parents want their kids to be shy no more, they have to help them out and boost their child’s confidence.
First of all, don’t give labels
The last thing shy kids need is for their parents to label them shy. If you are the type who always utters the line, “Oh, I’m sorry. My kid’s shy” whenever introducing your child to friends. Acknowledge how your kid feels, respond to their needs, empathize with them, and don’t shame them with negative judgment. Don’t give him the impression that something is wrong with him. Acknowledge his worries and tell him that while it takes him awhile before he could warm up in a situation, he would eventually get over himself and end up having fun with other kids.
Don’t volunteer for him
“My boy is a graceful dancer”
“Do you want to hear my girl sing?”
“My kid knows his multiplication table. Would you want to hear him recite?”
Oh c’mon, get over yourself. Try not to put your child in a situation that may make him feel awkward. Pushing your child to perform can make him feel like he is only valued WHEN he performs, which obviously does nothing to his confidence. Just enjoy your unique child and help him pace himself.
Go for one friend at a time
Clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham believes that parents do not have to push their kids into being accepted into a friendship group right away. Don’t worry if your kid is not the popular type in school. What is important is your child feels connected with someone. After all, even for grown-ups, it is not necessary to have lots of friends. Just a few good ones will do.
Practice what you preach
Remember that kids learn from watching their parents, so be a good role model. Show your kids that being confident is a good thing — be friendly to others, greet your neighbours with a warm smile, and offer help to others. This is the best way to teach your kids to be more socially relaxed.
Take your child outdoors
Have your kids tag-along when you go to the grocery, ask him to order food at a restaurant, and let him pay the cashier. Take him outside to walk the dog or go around the neighbourhood. Slowly exposing your child to environments different from his room and the comforts of your home will help him realise that there is a big world out there and that it is a nice, friendly world.
Create opportunities for your child to practice his social skills. Take him to the playground to observe other kids until he is ready to join them play. Do not let mobile technology take over your kids’ childhood because gadgets are amongst the reasons why kids don’t play outside as much as they used to. An infographic by playgroundequipment.com reveals that 72% of children use mobile devices, and not traditional toys and play environments, in playing games. What is even more alarming is that only 40% of kids would give up gadget time to play outdoors.
Convert your porch or backyard into a mini-playground and expose your child outdoors. Play with him and role-play how he should join a game and introduce himself to other kids in the playground.
Social skills 101
Make it a habit to teach your kids basic social skills every chance you get. Don’t go for long conversations right away, just how to make eye contact, shake hands, smile, and respond to chit-chat. Remind your kid that everyone gets nervous sometimes and there is nothing wrong with it. Teach him that it is not about being interesting but about being interested. Thus, teach him how to listen so he will know how to respond. Run through “what to do” situations and show him how to address them.
Let your child stand up for himself
It is difficult for parents to see their children struggle to being more sociable kids. Looking at how hard a child tries to fit in and get rejected each time is heartbreaking. However, parents should refrain from rescuing their child often. Guidance is different from restricting them from discovering their strength. When peers tease or reject them, let them stand up for themselves. It will help boost your child’s confidence if they can handle situations on their own.
Never underestimate your child. Empathise with them but don’t do things for them. Teach them how to be around people, show them how to do it, take time to practice social skills, and assure them that the world is a kind place to be in. Guide them in their social journey and let them discover who they are and what they can do. Who knows, they might end up surprising you.
Peter at Tuckpointing Chicago
Friday 31st of July 2015
My oldest tends to bounce between crazy off-the-walls or so shy I can't pry him away from my side. It honestly surprises me the instances where he gets so extremely shy that he doesn't even want to participant in an activity or play. I used to make a big deal of it when he'd get shy and try to get him enthused enough to relax. Eventually I learned to not make such a big deal out of his shy moments and learned how to ask questions and find out what in particular was making him so uncomfortable. Sometimes the best thing also is just to let it go and move on to a place where he/she is comfortable.
Your point about not assigning labels is a really good one. I have to remind myself to not be too judgmental and realize he's just a kid. Like you said, social skills can take time to master.