Working with a Shy Child: 5 Tips for Parents and Teachers

Growing up as a shy child myself, I understand the problems associated with timidity and the issues that can develop as a result. I remember for instance often having to pry myself, with my mother’s gentle coaxing, outside to make friends with a group of children playing kickball in the street. To many children this would have been no hard task to accomplish, but to me opening myself up and making friends just didn’t come as naturally.

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Overall, shyness is a common emotion. Nearly fifty percent of the United States’ adult population is believed to be shy. Everyone has felt hesitant or self-conscious in a new social situation from time to time. But it’s a good idea to keep your child’s shyness in check and make sure that it is not interfering with their social development and learning.

A shy child is just as susceptible to failures and successes in their schoolwork as an outgoing child but due to their personalities, certain teaching and learning techniques are required.

Here are five techniques to responding positively to your shy child inside and outside of the classroom:

1. Change their environment- By regularly changing the child’s social environment they are forced to learn to adapt to different situations and become more comfortable in these situations. Although they may not be privy, immerse them amongst friendly and/or more outgoing children or assign them to a partner or small group.

2. Be responsive to the child and validate them- Make real contact with the shy child as much as possible. It’s easy for a shy child to fall through the proverbial cracks. The further they fall, the more difficult it is for them to acknowledge attention when it’s given. Make time to talk with them each day, even if just for a few minutes, and listen carefully and respond specifically to what they tell you.

3. Engage shy children in special activities- Give the shy child a special job. A lot like shy adults, shy children feel better about themselves when they feel like they’re making a positive contribution and have a reason to interact with others. Providing them with a designated role or activity will give them something to do and cause them to interact with others without retreating to the fringes of the group.

4. Point out success and compliment them- Although shy children may crave and dread attention at the same time, it’s still important for them to feel special. Posting their work in a prominent spot or commenting on their accomplishments in front of others will validate them. However, it’s also important to not make them feel uncomfortable. It’s best to offer a compliment and quickly move on as to not embarrass them or draw to much attention to them.

5. Teach them how to initiate contact with others- Suggest ways to initiate productive peer exchanges or to respond positively to peer initiations. Teach them to ask questions of others and to listen to responses. It’s never too early to teach a child to converse and communicate effectively. General social door openers and assertive requests such as “Would you like to play with me?” are easy ways for a child to start a conversation. Oftentimes shy children will pretend to not be interested or wait for somebody to approach them. It’s important for children to learn early that it’s OK and necessary to put themselves out there.

Shyness is common, it’s how the shyness is handled that dictates if your shy child will be able to live a full and rewarding existence despite it.

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