Quiet. Shy. Reserved. Drawn-in. Those were some of the labels I was sometimes called while growing up and I hated it.
Now I have kids of my own and I wonder if they will feel hampered by those labels. I certainly hope not, but my nearly 4 year old son clams up at preschool. As soon as he walks through those school doors, he goes from my talkative, funny kid changes to a much more “shy” and “quiet” one with his peers. My almost 2 year old daughter has an even harder time. She turns away from unfamiliar people or even closes her eyes: if I can’t see you, you can’t see me! It’s difficult as a parent to watch her shut down and not let people see who she really is, but she needs more time than other kids to bond with someone before she trusts them.
It’s also hard not to project my own issues around perceived shyness on to them. I want them to avoid any discomfort caused by those labels. I want their peers to see them for the fun, creative, lively kids they really are despite sometimes needing more time to warm up initially.
There are plenty of tips out there for helping “shy” kids come out of their shell. Some of the best I found are:
1. Don’t label them as shy. Don’t make it a label for your child to hide behind, or feel frustrated by.
2. Help them find in-roads to making new friends. This can be done through conversation or play. Teach them to observe other kids’ interactions and look for ways to join in, such as helping another child find something they are looking for. Help them realize something they have in common with the other child.
3. Don’t answer for them. Instead respond to the questioner “he will answer when he is ready.” By rescuing a child from their shyness too soon parents can inadvertently prevent them from developing coping skills.
Equally important is to teach introverted kids their own value and worth despite living in a culture that tends to value outgoing and extroverted people more. Never tell them not to be shy or quiet. Let them know that shyness is a normal personality trait and that many people are “shy.” There is nothing wrong with being quiet or shy unless it causes the person distress.
At this point my kids don’t seem distressed by their shyness. So, as with any parenting concern, I just need to stay mindful of the issue without projecting my own worries/concerns on them.