Understanding and Supporting Children's Shyness
As adults, we may look back on our childhood with nostalgia and fondness. However, many of us may remember feeling shy and nervous when encountering new people and situations. Shyness in young children is common and can affect their development and interactions with others.
What is shyness?
Shyness is described as a feeling of discomfort or awkwardness in social situations. While all children may feel shy at some point, excessive shyness can interfere with their ability to interact with others or go about everyday activities. Shy children may hesitate to try new things, avoid social situations, and have difficulty making friends.
The causes of shyness in young children can vary, but some common reasons include a child's temperament, experiences, and environment. Some children may be naturally more introverted and feel overwhelmed in social situations. Traumatic events and sudden changes in their life can cause children to feel anxious and withdrawn. Additionally, a child's home environment and caregiver's attitudes towards social interaction can significantly shape their social behaviours.
There are a number of interventions that can help children overcome shyness. These interventions may include social skills training, exposure therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy. With the right support, children can learn to manage their shyness and develop the social skills they need to succeed.
Identifying shyness in children
As babies develop their social skills, they encounter new social situations that give parents insight into their little one's personalities and social skills. Parents may notice signs of shyness in their child by eight months, such as hiding their head against their parent's legs and resisting new experiences.
However, it's important to consider that this could be a normal developmental stage, as separation anxiety often arises when children become more mobile and independent. Parents should not conclude that their child is naturally shy without first considering this possibility.
For older children, it is important to note that not all children who play alone are shy. Some children play happily on their own. Fear and anxiety are elements of shyness. Many have experienced awkwardness around others and felt insecure, blushing, or speechless.
These are common signs of shyness, but there are other signs of shyness which include:
Clinging to adults
Feel unsure when they come across children they don't know. They might not feel confident enough to approach them and try to make a new friend. Instead, they may feel more comfortable stepping back and not engaging with the situation.
Need some time to adjust to new people and places, and situations.
Being passive and unassertive
Physical sensations like feeling shaky or breathless
Shyness is most likely seen when a child is in a new situation or with new people.
When does shyness become a problem?
Shyness is a prevalent behaviour that many children encounter during their developmental stages, and understanding its impact is essential for parents. Children's social skills undergo growth, and they encounter more complex social experiences, which can trigger shyness. However, with the right support, this shyness can be a temporary phase that children eventually overcome.
Nonetheless, in certain instances, shyness may reach extreme levels, leading to parental concern. When extreme shyness persists, it hinders the development of appropriate social interactions and friendships, potentially affecting the child's social life well into adulthood. Thus, addressing and managing extreme shyness becomes crucial for the child's long-term well-being.
What is the difference between shyness and anxiety?
Shyness is a common personality trait that many individuals experience throughout their lives. Meeting unfamiliar people and socialising with them can push us out of our comfort zones, leading to feelings of shyness. Similarly, shy children may find it challenging to interact with others or talk to strangers, though they can manage if necessary.
It's important to note that shyness typically impacts only a few aspects of a child's life and rarely significantly reduces their overall quality of life.
In contrast, anxiety is a more severe condition characterised by overwhelming negative emotions and physical symptoms such as fear, stress, and embarrassment. Children experiencing anxiety may undergo emotional pain and tend to avoid situations rather than confronting and processing these emotions.
Anxiety can have a far-reaching impact, affecting almost every aspect of a child's life, including their social interactions, academic performance, and overall well-being.
Constant and severe shyness can lead to anxiety and reduce the quality of a child's life in many ways:
They avoid opportunities to develop or practise their social skills.
Have difficulties creating friendships resulting in having fewer friends.
Having difficulties creating positive, healthy relationships
They avoid participating in fun and rewarding activities that require interaction with others, such as sports, dance, drama or music.
They develop increased loneliness and feel unimportant, affecting and reducing their self-esteem and confidence.
Their fear of being judged restricts their ability to realise their full potential.
High anxiety levels.
They might experience embarrassing physical effects such as blushing, stammering and trembling.
As parents and caregivers, we greatly influence our young children's lives, sometimes more than we realise.
We must be mindful of the labels we give our children, especially regarding shyness. Children's social and emotional skills are continually growing and changing, and what might seem like shyness now could disappear over time. Labels strongly influence how children see themselves and behave, so let's be careful with the ones we use.
In addition, it is also important to not allow other people to label your child as shy, either. Of course, they may make remarks about their shyness in front of your child. So be sure to tell them your child is not shy—they just take time to warm up to others.
Labelling can have a negative impact on children, as it is a simplistic view that may prevent you or others from seeing other aspects of your child's personality. It also minimises their ability to learn to reason with themselves about social experiences that may turn out to be positive and rewarding—and developing self-coaching skills that will help improve their shyness over time.
Encouraging confidence in our children
Nurture your lifelong bond
A strong and positive relationship with your little one can do wonders for their confidence.
Parents and carers are an essential part of a child's life, and every moment you spend holding, playing with, and talking to them is critical in nurturing their self-esteem. Doing this, you're helping them feel comfortable, happy, and secure as they build relationships with others throughout their life.
Praise their achievements
From the beginning of their life, your little one has been working hard to learn about the world around them and mastering new skills almost daily.
Encourage self-expression and boost confidence from a young age by praising your little one for all the hard work! For example, if your baby makes any sounds or vocalisations, smile and compliment their "wonderful talking".
If your little one is older, comment on what they are doing and use encouraging words, "Wow, you are building a tall tower; I love the way you are putting. one block on top of the other, great building."
Celebrate their uniqueness
All children are unique, and we mustn't compare our children to others. They all learn and develop at different paces and have different personalities, abilities, and skill sets. Remembering this will help you avoid setting unrealistic goals for your baby and children or expressing disappointment at their progress.
Offer your listening ears
Even if children are too young to make decisions or express opinions, they still have feelings. They have their own experiences and desires. Therefore listening to them is essential!
Get down to their level when talking to them so they can see you are giving them undivided attention, feeling important and that their words and thoughts mean a lot to you and others, building confidence and self-esteem.
Even babies need to be listened to; they communicate using their cries and making sounds. Paying attention to those 'goos' and 'gagas', listening to what your baby has to say, will show them that you are listening and that what they say is very important to you.
Enjoy uninterrupted play
Children need to feel accepted and loved, and this most definitely begins at home with their family and extends to other groups, such as school friends and their community, as they grow.
Make time in your schedule for uninterrupted play with your children. Laugh, sing, and talk to them, and show them that spending time with them is important to you.
Instil independence and awe
Self-confident children are willing to try new things without fear of failure. To allow them to develop this independence, set up open-ended play situations that enable your little ones to do things for themselves.
For young children, Heuristic play (where your child is given a box of safe everyday objects to explore), messy play with food materials or non-toxic paint, or sand and water play are all open-ended activities that place your child in control.
When your little one is in charge of their playtime and can choose how objects, toys, or materials are used, they build the confidence to problem-solving skills.
Be a positive role model
To fill our children with confidence, we must first look at how confident we are in our abilities and set a powerful and sparkling example for the tiny humans who look up to us.
Young children learn the most from their parents and carers. If the adults around them use negative language towards themselves or others, they'll think this is normal and copy it. Always use positive language when talking about yourself: "My arms are strong enough to carry you" or "My eyes are so shiny today."
Allow them to make choices
Give your child the freedom to make their own choices; of course, you will need to limit these choices according to your little one's age!
But whenever you offer them something to drink, wear, play with, etc., give them two options. This will support their growing self-confidence and allow your young child to gain control over what they do.
Think about how your child may feel
It is helpful to think about how your child may feel. For example, can you imagine a moment when you felt shy?
Share your story with them and remind them that feeling comfortable in certain social situations takes practice.
Know that overcoming shyness takes time, and reinforce that it's OK to feel uncomfortable sometimes.
Children's books are a fantastic resource to share with your little one. Books such as those listed below provide excellent conversation starters about being shy, feeling scared of trying new things and emotions!
The Koala who could, Rachel bright
The Bear Who Stared, Duncan Beedie
Shh! We have a plan, Chris Haughton
You are (not) small, Anna Kang
The Invisible Boy Hardcover, Trudy Ludwig
Also, try singing! Silly songs with actions are great to help a nervous child and can help build confidence and release feel-good endorphins!
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