7 Ways You Can Support Your Shy Child
In this article, we'll show you seven ways you can support shy children and encourage socialization without making them feel overwhelmed
Teacher and Copywriter
Shyness is one of the many personality traits that makes your child unique and special. While it’s perfectly normal for kids to be shy, it is sometimes a source of concern for parents, who may be worried about their child’s social growth. But introverted or naturally quiet children have their own superpowers, including exceptional listening skills, empathy and thoughtfulness.
It’s time to shift how we approach supporting shy children. Below, we’ve outlined seven strategies to help your shy child thrive.
1. Avoid Labeling
Outgoing people are social butterflies, but introverts are often called ‘hermits’, ‘homebodies’ or ‘loners’. Nicknames for shyness tend to make negative judgments, and these associations start early in childhood.
We suggest making a pointed effort to avoid these kinds of labels. Parents act as the ultimate role model, and children develop their first sense of self more from their parents than anyone else.
Using phrases about your child’s behavior like, “She’s just shy” or “He’s always quiet” can be discouraging and carry a negative connotation. Try replacing outdated labels with empowering phrases like “He’s quietly confident”. Better yet, make a habit of highlighting your child’s actions to celebrate the full spectrum of what they can be.
2. Celebrate What Makes Shyness Unique
Considering nearly 50% of the US population identify as introverts, it’s ironic that shyness can still come across as a problem that needs to be solved. There are many positive things about having a quieter nature.
“Introverts think before they act, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately,” says Susan Cain, a leading expert and author on introverts.
Shy children aren’t doomed to go through life alone, either. Children who are hesitant around social interactions tend to make deeper connections with a smaller number of people. They're also more likely to grow up to become high-quality partners in relationships and compassionate leaders.
3. Avoid Unnecessary Overprotection
Your shy child doesn’t need to be rescued. If anything, resilience-building and modelling social behaviors are better proactive alternatives. Overprotecting your child in the moment can backfire and often reinforces the idea that socializing is scary.
Try to remember that your child’s strategies in a social setting aren’t always an indication of despair. We all take a back seat in social settings sometimes. Some days your child will be the one telling the story; other days, they’ll be the one listening.
4. Practice Socializing Strategies
One of the best ways to approach social hesitance is to practice ahead of time. Social interactions can be challenging for shy children, but most things get easier with practice.
Start by practicing skills like making eye contact or speaking in a clear voice. One-on-one interactions are usually less intimidating than big group functions, so look for opportunities where your child can connect with individuals. An example might be a simple trip to the grocery store. Encourage your child to ask an employee where an item on your shopping list is, or to ask them how their day is going.
Encouraging your child to be on the lookout for signs of friendliness pays off, too. A study from the University of North Carolina found that children who responded warmly to the friendliness of others had fewer social challenges. Introduce the idea of looking for signs of courtesy such as smiling, waving, or compliments. You can model appropriate responses like saying “Thank you” or return friendly sentiments to demonstrate how your child might act in the same scenario.
5. Create a Family & Friends Photobook
Getting to know friends and family can start before you interact face-to-face. Creating a photobook lets your child get familiar with whoever might be at a Thanksgiving dinner or the neighborhood park. Children are naturally curious, so sharing fun facts and quirks will pique their interest. Perhaps a family friend has photos from their snorkelling adventure in Hawaii on Facebook. Talking to your child about different people they may meet is a great way to encourage them to ask those questions in person when the time comes.
6. Teach Coping Techniques
Whether you're a child or an adult, coping techniques for social situations are vital. A crucial takeaway is to avoid advising your child to “Just get over it” or to “Toughen up.” First, these kinds of phrases are vague and don’t provide children with enough instruction. Second, they tell a child to hide or avoid their own emotions.
As adults, we know how beneficial it is to understand when we need breaks to recharge. Children won’t always know this though and, as a result, may begin to associate prolonged social interactions with negative feelings.
No matter their age, talking to children at their level about coping with discomfort builds resilience. Sometimes, this is as simple as learning to notice how our bodies feel when we’re nervous and taking some deep breaths. Other times, it means taking a break by ourselves with a soothing activity.
It’s important to let your child know that needing to rest after a social engagement is perfectly fine. You can model this behavior by saying something like “Wow that was a long dinner! So many people talked to me. I think I am going to enjoy some quiet time now, by reading my book." By showing how you manage social situations, you’re demonstrating that it’s ok to take some time out to decompress.
7. Encourage Expression in Other Ways
Shy children often have vivid imaginations and many passions. Parents can follow their child's lead by taking an interest in the activities that bring their child the most joy.
We encourage you to make an effort not to make assumptions about the type of activities your child will enjoy. Some of the world’s most famous performers are introverts, so shyness doesn’t necessarily mean they want to do everything quietly. Arts and crafts, as well as drawing or designing, are ways your child can express themselves visually. Young readers may be drawn to creative writing or journaling.
Try not to think of hobbies as black-and-white, either. Your child’s leisure activities don’t need to occur in either a big group or solo. Instead, think of all pastimes falling along a spectrum. After all, musicians can play as a duo or as part of an orchestra. If your child tells you they aren’t interested in joining a baseball team, it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy hitting a few balls with one or two kids down the street.
We hope the ideas above have given you a starting point from which you can better support your shy child. It's perfectly normal to worry as a parent, but we must remember that introverts have much to offer the world. By making an effort to understand and appreciate what makes your child unique, you’ll be setting them up to gain more confidence in their own abilities and personality down the road.
Natalia is a classroom educator turned copywriter and content writer. With a passion for teaching and writing, she happily splits her time between the classroom and the keyboard in the spectacular Pacific Northwest in Vancouver, Canada.