Family

Coaching shy kids

There’s nothing wrong with being shy. It’s a personality trait, not a character flaw, and some children are simply born more introverted than others.

But sometimes being naturally reserved can make life tricky. Shy kids can miss out on activities because of their reticence to get involved, and may be left behind in the classroom, even if they’re intellectually capable of doing the work. They can also find it hard to establish friendships and may be seen as difficult, rude and unfriendly, by both adults and their peers.

As parents, there are some things you can do to help your shy child.

Work out why they’re shyChances are it’s simply who they are. They’re just naturally cautious and slow to relax around strangers. once a child feels comfortable, they’ll often come out of their shell and try new things.

If their behaviour is usually good – they can make eye contact and generally seem happy, albeit reserved – then they’re just shy by temperament.

But sometimes shyness can be an indication of a deeper problem, such as a self-esteem issue, a learning disability or an anxiety disorder. Social awkwardness can also be a sign of Asperger’s. often children with these problems won’t only find it hard to connect with people and tend to keep to themselves, but they’ll show other signs, such as obsessive behaviour or getting easily agitated.

If you suspect your child’s lack of social skills or tendency to be withdrawn is due to more than just their personality, then you should seek professional help. Start by talking to your family doctor or their school.

If your child has recently become shy for no obvious reason – starting at a new school, for instance- you may need to do some subtle investigating, as there may be something going on, for example bullying, that you don’t know about.

Teach social skills early Show your children how to behave properly in company – the earlier, the better. Make sure they know the basics, such as saying hello, goodbye, thank you and please in an audible voice, and making eye contact.

Don’t make a huge deal of it, but firmly let them know that even though they’re shy, they’re still expected to be polite, and that they are capable of these simple courtesies.

Practise these with them in role-playing situations. You can make it fun by pretending they’re in a shop buying their favourite treats, for example.

If there are certain situations they find particularly hard – for instance, arriving at a party or going to the doctor – practise these scenarios with them so they can feel comfortable when the real thing happens.

Support but don’t take overWhen your child is painfully shy there’s a strong temptation to step in and do things for them, such as answering questions directed at them or asking other children in the playground if your child can join in their game. But if you do this all the time they’ll never learn to do these things themselves.

Coach them beforehand on possible ways to behave and things to say and be there with them to show your support, but don’t do it for them. Getting them to speak up will help boost their confidence and show them they’re capable.

Don’t use it as an excuseWhile being in some situations can be genuinely difficult for shy children, they can learn to use their shyness as an excuse for not even trying things. While you don’t want to force your child into doing something that utterly terrifies them, neither do you want to let them off the hook because they may feel overwhelmed. Prepare them for what may happen, give them the tools to cope by practising how to deal with different outcomes and be encouraging.

Be a good role modelYour children learn by watching people around them and if you can demonstrate comfortable social skills, that may help them. Be polite and friendly in social situations, making sure you always greet people and introduce yourself if you’re meeting someone new – don’t make it seem like a horrible chore.

Find things they’re good atIdentify activities that take advantage of your child’s strengths. For example, if they’re good at drawing, going to art classes after school may help them to get used to mixing with new people, while doing something they enjoy. Encourage them to share their skills. Helping others will boost their confidence.

Shy children who grew into successful adults

Elvis PresleyAbraham LincolnBrad PittDavid BowieJulia RobertsNicole KidmanGloria EstefanAlbert EinsteinLucille BallDonny osmondRobert De NiroGeorge HarrisonRichard GereCourteney Cox

Related stories


Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.