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 her: “Why don’t you act like the other kids?” “Why are you so quiet?” 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 will also be matter-of-fact about her shyness. She’ll 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 badly about having this trait. The more parents concentrate on shyness as a problem, the worse their child will feel about herself.
Shyness is a personality characteristic and should be accepted as one, not as a flaw. Reserved children are often nice, well-behaved, and generous. When they get older, they usually become good listeners and enjoy and respect privacy. They also can enjoy watching other children participate in activities. Although they’re shy in some circumstances, they may handle situations well. One five-year-old who wanted to try a hula hoop that another child was using told her mother, “At first I was shy, and then I just asked her if I could use it.”
Shy children are often fine in small groups of two or three children, or in one-on-one conversations with an adult. A shy child who’s involved in an interesting project won’t appear shy. It’s only when she’s being focused on that her shyness becomes apparent.
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 their child doesn’t respond as other children do. They may feel judged, and they may see her ignored by adults who engage with other, more talkative children.
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.
If parents expect guests at their home, they can prepare their child or make special arrangements for her. She might feel more comfortable 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.