6 Tips for Parenting a Shy Child

This is a guest post by Olga Mecking

I am a shy person and an introvert. I have three children one of which can be considered shy. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are six tips, both from my own experience and from what I read on parenting a shy child:

1)      Remember that shyness is normal. In fact, each and one of us felt uncomfortable or anxious in a social situation. Some people deal with this better than others. Some experience this more often than others. But everybody can be shy.

2)      Shyness can depend on culture. While Western cultures focus on the ability to speak up for yourself and be assertive and in Asian cultures it is a desired trait to have. So while shyness is normal and everybody has it, culture can intensify or ignore this trait. We someetimes overlook the shy and timid- and try to “cure” children who are shy. Even though there are many benefits to this approach (for example if it isn’t shyness that is the problem but an underlying disorder), we can learn from other cultures on how to approach shyness.

3)      Re-define shyness. While many books warn you not to label your child as “shy” (see for example Elaine Aron’s book, “The Highly Sensitive Child”), I believe that it is not the label itself that it negative, it’s the definition. In Aron’s book, shyness was defined as “a state of mind, a fear of being judged and found wanting, that happens to everyone”. But if your child refers to herself as “shy”, you can help her by either avoiding the label (see below for tips), or re-defining it so that it means something positive. For example, you can say: “Yes, you are shy. You like to sit quietly all by yourself and think. You enjoy having deep relationships with your best friend. You like to think deep thoughts. You prefer to take your time before making a decision. You like asking deep questions. I love this about you.”

parenting shy child

4)      Is it shyness or is it something else? “Shy” is a word that can apply to many children with different characters and personalities. Children can be shy for a variety of reasons. Some are born this way. Others have become shy. Yet others aren’t really “shy”, they’re just introverts and get their energy from being alone. Yet others are highly sensitive or have Sensory Processing Disorder which makes them avoid social events. Depending on which one it is, there is a lot you can do. Sometimes, all you need is to talk to your child. Sometimes, therapy may be needed (but not for shyness, but rather for sensory issues, anxiety- and only if the child seems bothered by his or her problems.

5)      If you want to avoid labels, consider these options: talk about “having a shy day”, or “feeling shy” rather than being shy. Don’t use the word “shy”, and just describe the situation: “Yesterday, you didn’t want to go to that event. There were so many people out there. If you want, we can try again next time, or if you don’t want to, we’ll just stay at home and read books.”

6)      What kind of parent are you? Shy people often end up having shy children. The upside of this is that a shy parent will understand what is going on in a child’s head. However, the parent could be very anxious about being shy. A friend told me that both she and her husband are shy so they wouldn’t want it for their child because of all the problems they had as shy children. However, I would encourage you to think of all the positive things that happened because of your shyness. Find these things and tell them to your child when she complains about being shy. If however, you didn’t like your shyness, show your child how to deal with it. On the other hand, a parent who isn’t shy wouldn’t always understand their child, but they may encourage their little ones to reach out more and take more risks. I mention this because I am a shy parent to a very energetic, social little girl and she makes me get out of my comfort zone all the time. It has the effect that I try more new things because of her and mostly find myself enjoying them. A social parent could have the same effect on their child. I believe my message here is: know when to help your child by giving them a little push, and when to retreat and try again next time- or not at all.

If you like books, here are some interesting books for you to read:

“Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Kurcinka (about more Intense, high-maintenance children who may fit into the “shy” category)

“The Highly Sensitive Child” by Elaine Aron (about children who are very sensitive and often labelled as shy)

“The Out-of-Sync Child” by Carol Kranovitz (about children with Sensory Processing Disorder)

I sincerely hope that you found these tips helpful. If I missed something, please let me know in the comments!

About the Author

Olga Mecking is a Polish woman living with her German husband in the Netherlands. Together, they’re raising three children with Polish, German and Dutch. Olga is a translator, trainer in intercultural communication and blogger at the European Mama where she writes about multilingualism, raising children abroad and her expat life. You can also find Olga on Facebook or followe her on Twitter.

6 Responses to 6 Tips for Parenting a Shy Child

  1. Olga: Great sensible and well researched tips. terrific post! My first is NOT shy (which always astounds me because I was very shy). My second (only 1) might just turn out to be like me. I’ll have to keep these tips in my “back pocket.”

  2. Thank you, Olga, for writing about this very important topic. I am, myself, an introvert person and when I was a child, people did constantly say that I was shy (“timida” in italian doesn’t sound as categorising as in English and German, “schüchtern”). I was not shy and, as you can imagine, I ended up being upset many times. – What I really can’t understand is when grown ups force shy children to become more active, to come out of their comfort zone, in public. I observed this at a school, where a teacher (!) did ridiculise the shyness of a girl in front of the whole class. It was so inappropriate! – I will try to read the books you recommend and hope that many teachers of preschoolers and primary school children will do too!

  3. Great post! I agree with Ute, too often shy kids are ridiculed or forced to be more extroverted. I love all of these tips, especially taking the time to understand what is behind your child’s shyness and whether it bothers him. My son can be very social but at the same time extremely shy in certain situations. We mainly focus on making him feel safe and that it’s okay to not want to be in large groups if he doesn’t want to be. My real worry is how this is going to play out once he starts school and will be forced to be in situations that will be uncomfortable for him – without us there to help him sort it out.

  4. I agree, Ute! Pushing a shy child to be more vocal will have the totally contrary effect! JUst let them be and when they’re ready, they’ll say something. Or not. That’s OK, too.

  5. I think my daughter is alittle like your son- sometimes shy, sometimes extremely social. But you are right, I also worry about her a little because I know how bad it is to speak in front of the whole class!

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