Parenting a shy child
Do you consider yourself to be shy? In the Huffington Post's Parenting series they asked for some tips to support parents with a shy child. In this post, I look at where shyness might come from, and offer some strategies for parenting a shy child. And remember, it's not about judging or criticising our children or our parenting styles. It's about acknowledging who we are, what's made us this way, and recognising strategies that might be helpful. To quote Morrissey: 'shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life that you'd like to'.
First off, it's important to distinguish between shyness and introversion. I'm not an expert on this - but Susan Cain most definitely is. Her book 'Quiet' is all about the power of introversion. On her website she distinguishes between introversion and shyness, explaining that shyness 'is the fear of negative judgement'. Armed with this knowledge, what do we need to consider about parenting a shy child, so that we can encourage them to feel more confident?
Where might shyness originate?
Messages from early caregivers. It’s one thing to instil manners in our children, and to ask them to be quiet or polite. But some children learn to be afraid of expressing themselves. Maybe they’re surrounded by domineering outspoken personalities. Or maybe they are explicitly criticised for their views.
‘People pleasing’. We sometimes see this among children who are caregivers themselves, or who exhibit ‘people pleasing’ tendencies. They are so used to looking after others that it becomes difficult for them to tune into their own needs. This can lead to shyness, as it’s tricky for them to express what they want.
Low self-esteem. Sometimes children with low self-esteem might appear shy. If they lack self-worth then this might mean that they feel undeserving of attention, of having a voice.
Fear of failure and ridicule. It feels instinctive to praise children for success and achievement. But sometimes this contributes to shyness if children become embarrassed or afraid of trying something new. And peer pressure adds an extra dimension to this, particularly in a world where our every move can be captured and broadcast to the world.
Strategies to consider when parenting a shy child, so that you can encourage them and build their confidence
Role modelling. Children learn from what we do, not what we say. Show them that you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone and try new things.
Praise the failures. Praise your child for their efforts rather than for their achievements. Resist the urge to step in and help when they try something new.
Explore the shyness. Make sure that you take time to understand what’s going on. Are they holding themselves back because they are frightened of negative judgements? Or are they displaying introversion? If they are frightened of negative judgements, be curious and compassionate about what has triggered their fear.
Examine your motivation. Notice how you feel about the idea of ’shyness’, and what’s driving you to encourage your child. Most likely you just want to support your child to be comfortable and confident. But it’s also possible that you’re driven by your own judgements or triggers around ’shyness’ and social interaction.
Keen to explore more? In counselling we can take a deeper look at your upbringing and relationships with those around you. Click here to contact me, or click here to book a 30-minute introductory call.