How To Handle Your Shy Child?

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“Deep rivers run quiet.” ~ Haruki Murakami

As a behavioural trait that is much debated and often misunderstood, shyness is something that most people often misinterpret. Shy children very often get labelled as timid or even under confident. As parents, you can help your child overcome his or her shyness. Here is a handy guide.

Recognize Shyness

Shyness in children is rooted in temperament styles and often poses a challenge to parents on how my shy child will bond with others. To tackle the issue, a good way to begin is to understand the factors that make children shy. “For example, generally, children exhibit three kinds of temperaments: Easy, Difficult and Slow-to-warm-up temperament. Shy children exhibit slow-to-warm-up temperament where they have difficulty adjusting to transitions and new people or situations. However, their reactions are not as intense as those of the child with a difficult temperament. It is also important to understand that these patterns have biological and environmental basis to it. Biological contributions cannot be changed but the environmental influences can be checked by understanding few facts related to shyness,” says Priya Krishnan, CEO, Founding Years Learning Solutions. Dr Sameer Malhotra, Director – Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Hospitals, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist and Drug De-addiction Specialist opines, “shyness is dependent on one’s temperament and social context. There are some children who are slow to warm up. Children with anxious predisposition, low self-esteem or body image disturbance can present with shyness. Also, children with autistic trait can have difficulty in communication or in making eye contact or in social interactions. Undue reprimand and domestic violence can also trigger problems related to self-esteem and social skill development.”

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Bond Right

Bonding with others is always a natural phenomenon and there is nothing artificial about it. As a parent, please be aware that you can only set the stage for bonding, but cannot create bonds among children. So, to set the stage, please socialize yourself more and more. The more you interact with your peers, the more children open up to their surroundings. “You can also plan play dates among children but please be careful not to make it a crowded affair for children. Shy children enjoy company of very few, so a good idea is to let them create bonds with one or two of their favourites,” says Krishnan. Encouraging the child to develop a more social behaviour must be done slowly and be carefully monitored. “Don’t make your child go straight into the arms of a less familiar adult. Instead, encourage the adult to play with a toy near your child and use a calm voice. Stay with your child in social situations, such as playgroup or parents group, while encouraging her to explore. As your child gets more comfortable you can gradually move yourself away for short periods. Just come back before your child gets upset so her experiences of venturing out are positive,” says Dr. Anil Sethi, Motivator, Psychologist & Life Coach, www.siemservices.com.

Support System

The second need of children is to get engaged in constructive support system of parents. Studies show that shyness when targeted indirectly through encouragement and engagement leaves a child’s personality quickly. Encourage children to be responsible of their acts and enhance cooperation in children. The third step in addressing shyness is to provide autonomy to children to some extent. “Let children make choices, wherever possible and show respect for a child’s struggle. Don’t rush to provide answer and the final step is to praise only when it is praiseworthy. Do not over praise children, praise their behaviour instead,” advices Priya. Try to model confident social behaviour so your child can watch and learn from you. “For example, when someone says hello to you, always say hello back. Let your child know you are confident about her ability to handle social situations even if you’re feeling a bit worried she will get upset. If other people say your child is ‘shy’, gently correct them in front of your child. For example, ‘He’s not shy – he just takes a little while to get comfortable and then he’ll join in’,” advice Dr. Sethi.

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Take Care

In the bid to help your child overcome shyness, you may be falling into a trap. Take care and ensure that before jumping in to forcing your child to socialize, please stop yourself and never force to talk with strangers. Likewise do not compare your child with any other child of a same age and make sure not to offer many choices to such children as they get confused. Reinforce positive behaviour. If you see a positive change in your child, for example, if the child replies to someone’s morning wish, don’t react at that moment, but later when you are alone with child, tell him/ her that it was a great thing for them to do. “You can act like a friend with your child and teach them how to introduce themselves at the playground or school. So, next time the child won’t just watch others play, but would muster courage to initiate conversations as well,” advices Dr. Malhotra. Very importantly it is important to ensure that you so not raise your voice with your shy child as this can have a detrimental effect on his confidence level. Remember at the end of the day shyness is just a behavioural trait that you can change with your love and affection. As Sylvia Plath said, “So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.”

Parenting Tips

  • Listen quietly and attentively whenever the child comes and shares anything.
  • Acknowledge their feelings by using non-meaningful words like hmmm and aha.
  • Encourage social behaviour – for example, sports.
  • Avoid negative comparisons with more confident siblings or friends. Instead help to build your child’s self-esteem by focusing on even small steps towards being less shy.
  • Be calm and patient while dealing with kids.
  • Do not be upset and lose your temper in case there is a slow response from the child.
  • Take help of friends or family to make the child comfortable with new people.
  • Do not label your child.

This story appeared in the April 2017 issue of New Woman magazine here:

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