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Question: My son has always been really shy. When he was a toddler, we thought it was just normal separation anxiety, but he hasn’t outgrown it yet. Now he’s in first grade, and it is painful getting him to interact with other people. How do we help him stop being so shy?
Answer: Parents often worry when their children are riddled with shyness. Although we commonly equate shyness with social anxiety, the two traits are actually quite different. (Parents may want to read this article, published by the Social Anxiety Institute, for more information about the differences between shyness and social anxiety disorder).
When shyness is a part of your child’s personality, try these tips for easing him out of his shell:
- Combine support and encouragement as you explore the feelings behind your child’s shyness. Is your son fearful of other kids? Is he embarrassed about something that happened last year? Or maybe he is lacking confidence in his social skills. Recognizing and acknowledging the underlying emotions can help kids move closer to stepping outside their comfort zone.
- Give examples of overcoming shyness when conversations about social distress arise. Let your son know the baby steps you have taken (or would have taken) to become more comfortable interacting with people. Don’t have any examples from your own experience? No problem! Check out these books to help kids overcome shyness:
- Practice interacting with people by acting out scenarios that your son is likely to encounter throughout his day. For example, you might pretend to be a classmate asking your son to play during recess. You can whisper some hints to him during the role play, offering ideas of how he might respond to the classmate. Repeating this exercise a few times can help boost his confidence and take away the uncertainty of what to say.
- Tap into resources that are designed for parents of shy children. Websites such as shakeyourshyness.com and the Shyness Research Institute provide education for parents to better understand their child’s shy personality.
- Stay tuned in with your child, keeping an eye out for abrupt changes in mood or behavior. Some kids are born shy; it is in their nature and has been part of their disposition forever. On the other hand, if a child suddenly becomes so shy that they struggle with day-to-day activities, parents may want to speak with their pediatrician, school counselor, or a mental health professional for additional guidance.
Lauren Ferguson, MS, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Conifer Play Therapy. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Child Development and a master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies. Lauren is a dedicated wife and mother of two energetic boys. She has enjoyed helping children and families thrive for over 20 years! For more information, visit www.coniferplaytherapy.com or call 720-323-9219.