Shyness is often viewed
as a problem. Many people believe it is an undesirable trait, one
that reflects a poor self-image. Actually, it’s only a problem when
people perceive it as one. A reserved child who is not taught that
something is wrong with her will be just as confident, happy, and
involved as her more outgoing peers.
One woman who was shy as a child had parents who never made her feel
bad about her quiet nature. As a result, she’s a reserved adult who
moves confidently through life. Another woman remembers being
chastised for her shyness. Her parents constantly tried to change
“Why don’t you act like the other kids?” “Why are you so
anti-social?” She still feels self-conscious and uncomfortable and
imagines her mother saying, “Talk! Just go ahead and talk to them!”
The way a child perceives her shyness depends mostly on her parents.
If they accept her personality and don’t focus on shyness as a
problem, she also will be matter-of-fact about her shyness. She will
see herself as able to do and enjoy the same things other children
do. But if her parents try to change her or focus too much on her
shyness, she’ll become self-conscious. It’s a fine line between
acceptance and feeling bad about having this trait. The more parents
concentrate on shyness as a problem, the worse their child will feel
Shyness is a personality characteristic and should be accepted as
one, not as a flaw. Reserved children are often nice, well-behaved,
and generous. They are usually good listeners and enjoy and respect
privacy. They also can enjoy watching other children participate in
activities. Although they are shy in some circumstances, they may
handle other situations well. They’re often fine in small groups of
two or three children or in one-on-one conversations with an adult.
A shy child who is involved in an interesting project won’t appear
shy. It’s only when she becomes the focus that her shyness becomes
While shyness should not be seen as a problem for a child, it can be
frustrating for parents. They may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed
when she doesn’t respond as other children do. They may feel judged
and they may see her ignored by adults who engage with other, more
Parents can help themselves and their child by avoiding
uncomfortable situations and protecting her when necessary. For
instance, many shy children don’t like to be put on the spot to say
hello or otherwise talk on demand. If she appears unlikely to
respond to an adult’s questions, her parents should matter-of-factly
respond for her and then quickly steer the discussion away from her.
The alternative, trying to force her to talk, will only make her
feel worse and will probably be ineffective.
Parents can sometimes help their child by role-playing uncomfortable
situations with her: “Let’s pretend you meet Jackie in the hall at
Sunday School. How could you say hello to her?” “Imagine Aunt Karen
asking you, ‘How’s school?” Practicing may be useful. However, when
she is actually confronted with an uncomfortable situation, she may
not respond as she had rehearsed.
If parents expect guests at their home, they can prepare their child
or make special arrangements for her. She might feel more comfort
able if she has a friend of her own over. She might prefer helping
before the guests arrive rather than when the visitors are in the
house. If parents generally arrange situations so she doesn’t feel
focused on, everyone will feel better.
Parents often wonder how to approach the subject of shyness in
school. If that’s a concern of yours, wait and see how comfortable
your child is in class. Don’t begin the school year by telling the
teacher your child is shy; the teacher may treat her differently or
anticipate problems. If your child feels self-conscious about being
made to speak in class, schedule a conference at school. Let the
teacher know you don’t want your child to receive negative messages
about shyness. You have to correct any adult who believes she can
change your child’s personality
Many teachers prefer quiet students. Your reserved child may be
rewarded for her behavior, perhaps more than you would wish. One shy
first-grader received stickers at school for being so “good” and
quiet. Then, during a school conference, the teacher told the
parents the girl was very shy. “But you reward her for being quiet!”
her parents replied. They asked the teacher to stop reinforcing her
shy behavior and instead reward her for finishing her work or
participating in class.
Sometimes your child will come home from school or play feeling
frustrated because she couldn’t participate comfortably She may
become whiny or demanding. Accept that she needs understanding and
an outlet for her feelings. If she feels comfortable enough, she may
talk to you about shyness and how it sometimes interferes with
activities. Certainly as she gets older, an accepting atmosphere at
home will make it easier for her to share her thoughts.
You may be convinced that she will always be shy, but it’s hard to
predict the paths she’ll take. Some kids who are extremely shy
during the elementary years may gradually become more outgoing. In
any case, your job is to accept her as she is and help her find
activities and situations that make her feel good.