You and your child are very excited about going to a birthday party. However, when you arrive there, your child will not talk to anyone. The child looks at the floor and clings to your leg. Does this sound familiar?
All children can be shy at times. Shyness is discomfort in social situations. It is common in young children. Shyness can sometimes run in families. It may also be due to past experiences.
Parents are often concerned that their shy child will miss out on activities or friendships. They may try to get the child involved in more activities. This is not always enough. It is also important to help these children overcome shyness. Many shy children adjust and feel more comfortable with others over time. However, some do not. They turn into shy teens and adults.
When Should You Be Concerned About Shyness?
Ordinary shyness may not need to be treated. But if the child does not speak at school or join activities, therapy may be needed. Children who are extremely worried about being judged may have social anxiety. This can develop into social anxiety disorder, especially as they get older. Social anxiety disorder often needs professional treatment.
How Can You Help?
There are a number of methods to help your child overcome shyness. Here are some ways you can help:
Try Not to Be Judgmental
Create a balanced, supportive environment. Try not to judge your child. If the child often feels judged by their parents, they may feel others judge them a lot too. Parents can sometimes be overprotective. Overprotectiveness can make children overly worried about dangers. This includes the dangers in social situations. Judging and overprotectiveness can increase the child's shyness.
Your child may like to play alone, read, or just listen. Support your child's many other strengths. Slowly work on building confidence to overcome shy behaviors.
Set Reasonable Goals
Set reasonable goals for children to overcome shyness. Help them to achieve these goals. It is okay if the child's progress is slow. Be supportive. Here are some steps:
- Plan for when a child will exhibit shyness.
- Set a goal that your child can attain. The goal may just be saying hello to a neighbor. Take small steps to help the child feel successful.
- Practice for different social situations. For example, if your child has trouble meeting people, practice introductions.
- Give your child a chance to practice the new behavior in real situations.
- Be positive and encouraging to help build the child's confidence.
- Slowly move to the next step.
Be sure to reward the child for meeting goals. If the child does not meet a goal, offer supportive feedback. Praise the child for any small progress.
Do Not Push
Do not be overly protective or overly pushy. Find a balance. Do not push you child into uncomfortable situations. This can make the child resistant to improving. The key is to expect gradual improvement.
Do Not Call Your Child "Shy"
When describing your child, do not refer to them as "shy." Using the word "shy" may encourage your child to think and act that way. Of course other people may make remarks in front of your child about their shyness. Tell them that your child is not shy—your child just takes some time to warm up to others.
Think About How Your Child May Feel
It is helpful to think about how your child may feel. Can you imagine being shy? If you were shy as a child and overcame it, share your story with your child. Remind your child that it takes practice to feel comfortable in certain social situations. Find children's books about shyness and read them to your child.
Work Together for the Best Results
Ask the child's caregivers and teachers for help. Share which techniques are working and which are not. Work together to slowly help decrease the child's shyness.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Mental Health America
Canadian Psychological Association
Mental Health Canada
Helping the shy ones. Illinois Early Learning Project website. Available at: https://illinoisearlylearning.org/blogs/growing/helping-shy-ones/. Accessed November 3, 2021.
How to help your child deal with shyness. Hand In Hand website. Available at: https://www.handinhandparenting.org/2013/08/helping-children-with-shyness/. Accessed November 3, 2021.
Shyness in children. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/Pages/Shyness-in-Children.aspx . Accessed November 3, 2021.
Social anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/social-anxiety-disorder. Accessed November 3, 2021.
Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 11/3/2021