At first glance, 10-year-old Amelia doesn't come across as shy. She raises her hand in class, doesn't mind correcting her teacher when he makes a mistake, and has performed in competitions with her dance class. But beneath Amelia's confident exterior is a painfully shy little girl who sometimes has trouble greeting a friend in the grocery store.
Shyness can leave most kids tongue-tied at times. But for some, it becomes a major social barrier. Sensitive children with a poor self-image seem especially vulnerable. They find it easier to withdraw, avoiding situations and people who cause discomfort. By the late elementary years, this withdrawal reflex can become deeply ingrained. To prevent serious pain later, take some proactive steps now.
Don't cater to your child's fears. Recitals, oral reports, show and tell?they're all part of life. Shy children need to get past these challenging situations. It's best not to request special treatment, such as a teacher allowing your child to give an oral report in private.
Nudge your child out of her comfort zone. Amelia pleads with her dad to order meals for her at restaurants. But he insists that she order for herself. "I try to push her a little in safe situations," he says, "because I know it won't help her in the long run if I step in."
Try to normalize your child's fears. Carolyn's daughter Lauren, a shy pre-teenager, was agonizing about having to read a prize-winning essay at a luncheon. Carolyn helped her daughter deal with her anxieties by putting the situation into perspective. Everybody is apprehensive before they get up to speak in front of a group. Knowing that others have similar fears helps the child feel "normal" and does much to reduce anxieties.
Help her feel safe. Sensitive children, especially, can be so afraid of getting hurt that they avoid risks. To counteract that, find personal, practical and concrete ways to show your kids they are loved and esteemed, no matter what happens. When they are secure in your acceptance, regardless of their successes and failures, they will have greater confidence to try something new.
Help your child focus on others. Visiting shut-ins or volunteering in a tutoring program can prompt your shy child to be less preoccupied with his own concerns. A second benefit is that he may find it easier to practice social skills on those who aren't his peers.
The big breakthrough comes when a shy child breaks out of his shell for his own reasons. "Shyness gets in the way of reaching out to people," says Lauren, the shy pre-teen. "I know I'm not going to be able to help others if I'm withdrawn. I'd rather be a little uncomfortable now and lot happier in the long run."
This coming from a girl who once hid behind her mother's skirts.
Freelance writer, educator and mother
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