Each of us is different from the others. We have different lives and stories, which make us see reality in a unique and unrepeatable way. However, there are common patterns of behaviour and ways of perceiving the world. Although technically we don’t form our personality until after we’re past adolescence and have acquired our identity, some of our personality traits will be visible from childhood.
An example of this is the existence or not of shyness. Although this is not (contrary to what many people seem to think) a harmful trait in itself, it can make it difficult to express one’s feelings and thoughts and reduce the possibility of establishing affective bonds with one’s peers or reduce the quality of these bonds How to help shy children in their daily life? In this article we offer a series of proposals that can help to overcome this shyness.
What do we consider shyness?
Shyness is considered to a temperamental trait consisting of the tendency to withdraw, not express emotions and thoughts easily and to attract attention as little as possible. This is a trait that is especially linked to the level of self-esteem and security, correlating negatively with both and especially with the latter.
The shy child will tend not to express himself in the presence of strangers or people he does not trust, seek safer environments and avoid exposure or attracting attention from large crowds. In other words, the shy child is reserved and often more contemplative, although deep down he or she may want to actively participate in what is going on.
It is important not to confuse shyness with introversion : the introverted person needs lower levels of external activation than an extraverted person, requiring less social contact. It is not that he is asocial or has no friends, he simply needs less contact. However, a shy child may have an extroverted nature and not manifest it out of fear or insecurity.
As we have discussed this feature is not necessarily negative. On the one hand, it makes it easier for the subject in question to evaluate situations and act after analysing and checking how the situations work. On the other hand, if it is very accentuated, it may limit the interaction of the subject with the environment and make social relations more difficult . It is in this last situation, when the shy child starts to have problems derived from this trait, that we ask ourselves what we can do to help him overcome his shyness.
Tips for helping shy children
When trying to help a child overcome his or her shyness, it must be remembered that much of their situation stems from a lack of confidence and security. Also, keep in mind that even if you mean well, some of the classic ways that many people help their children overcome their shyness can actually lower their self-confidence and self-esteem. That’s why below are some ways to help the shy child that may be helpful.
1. Encourages their achievements
It is important for a child, especially if he is shy and insecure, to see how his approaches to acting are encouraged and lived as something positive by his parents or teachers . Praising and congratulating their performance will make it easier for the child to feel more confident and will facilitate and reinforce their future behaviour and expression. However, congratulations must be sincere.
2. Teach him to relativize and value his mistakes positively
Being wrong is not bad, but it gives us a chance to learn. Shy people are often afraid of doing things wrong and being judged for it. Show him that’s not true. It’s not a matter of pretending to do everything right, but of making him see that making mistakes is a good thing , because in the long run it allows him to improve his performance and that he won’t be disrespected for it.
3. Do not point out or criticize
Closely linked with the previous one. A child who feels insecure is not going to feel better because we tell him he is shy or criticize his lack of performance. It is a mistake that, although it may seem surprising, many people make in their attempt to spur on their little ones, as if in a fit of misdirected or even unconscious anger.
4. Increase positive self-instruction and self-reinforcement
Shy people tend to underestimate their achievements and maximize their mistakes , as well as not sufficiently reinforce themselves for the former. It is also common for self-instructions to be given with negative or hesitant tints, such as the typical “I can’t…” or “I don’t know…”. We must try to change these ways of self-direction, as well as congratulate yourself when you do things right.
5. Generates opportunities for socialization
A good way to try to help shy children overcome their shyness is to facilitate situations where they can test and confront their insecurities and meet people. For example, going to the park with him allows him not only to share time together but also to get in touch with his peers . It is important that at least initially the parent or a trusted figure is present or in the surroundings, and the child can seek support and feel more secure.
6. Don’t force it!
Although it may seem contradictory to the previous point, it is not. It is one thing to make it easier for the child to have social contact, but quite another to force him/her to do so when he/she does not want to or to force him/her to play with or approach children he/she does not know or does not want to know. This will be seen as an imposition and as something aversive , making it difficult to overcome shyness. It is about the child flowing naturally, not how or when we want it to.
7. Overprotection does not help
It is logical that we want our children, pupils or children in general to be safe and happy at all times. And, as we have said, criticism, pointing out and the experience of social action as an obligation do not help but harm the possibility of increasing their self-confidence. But putting them in a bubble where they do everything right, where everything is done for them and where nothing bad ever happens can also lead to the same thing: the child may feel incapable of facing real life , not knowing how to react to environmental and social demands or to possible aversive elements.
8. Give example
Little ones imitate what they see at home from childhood. One way to help them overcome shyness is to model interaction with others. If they see proactivity and socialization as normal, they will learn ways to make them observe and will be more likely to act in the same way.
9. Encourages your decision making and responsibility
One way to help your child feel more confident is to involve him or her in decision making. Suggesting that he decides things, however minimal they may be (for example where he feels like going or what he wants you to play), and making them effective allows him to see that his opinions are taken into account and that they have an effect on reality.
Another aspect that can help shy children to keep their character from interfering or even to diminish this trait is the performance of activities of their interest. Writing, board games, sports, painting, music, dance, or cooking are some examples of activities they may enjoy, and mastering them can increase their confidence. But again, we must remember that the child must like it and not be an element of pressure.
11. Theatre or role-playing
Although it could actually be included in the previous section, this element has been separated because in it the child must take on the role of another person or being, representing a series of characteristics and ways of doing things that do not have to be their own. The child can learn and observe other ways of acting. Interpretation also tends to favour the emergence of improvisation and to have a fast pace that, although demanding, does not usually leave much time to assess whether things are being done well or badly.
12. Encourages expression
It is important to note that shy children often keep things to themselves. Therefore it is useful to use techniques and activities that allow their expressiveness. Drawing, symbolic play or creating stories with them are good ways to do this.