As parents, we want our children to be confident and brave in any situation that comes up.
It can be worrisome to know our children are shy or uncomfortable in social situations, and it can be disheartening to know that they lack social skills necessary for building friendships.
Shyness or introversion can lead to problems in many aspects of life – a shy person may be anxious in large groups; may be too scared to stand up to give a speech in class or at work; may be too nervous to meet new people and end up avoiding social situations all together.
Our jobs as parents of shy children is to help them gain confidence in themselves and to learn to be comfortable in interacting with other.
It may take some work to learn new social skills and they will likely need help.
Here you’ll find some ideas on how to help your child build confidence and step out socially to begin to become more comfortable meeting new people, going new places and doing new things.
1. Don’t Label
As Peggy O’Mara, former editor of Mothering Magazine, put it,
The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.
Words have power, and if we label our children as shy, as socially awkward, as introverted, that is how they will come to identify themselves.
While there is nothing wrong with having a reserved personality, putting that label on a child restricts their ability to see themselves as anything else or to develop into a more outgoing person.
We also don’t want to label our children as shy when speaking about them to others.
Labels stick and if we tell people that our children are shy, they will treat them as such.
Labeling a child in any way brings the focus to that label, to that part of them.
If we label our children as “shy,” everyone may fail to see all their other wonderful attributes.
You can reframe the shyness label by acknowledging the outward expressions, such as “you like to get to know people slowly,” or “she likes to listen before sharing her ideas,” or “he likes to think about things before rushing to decisions,” or “she’s more comfortable in small groups.”
2. Set An Example
Children learn to do by observing; how we relate to others is how our children will learn to relate to others.
Many children are shy because their parents are shy, and if this is the case for you, this may be the hardest step of all in this process.
You will need to build your own confidence to be positive about social experiences, and you will need to try to be more outgoing in order to set a good example for your child.
This could be as simple as smiling at passersby, happily going to events with large groups or greeting people calmly and confidently when out and about.
You may have to step out of your comfort zone, but so will your child when you ask them to do these sorts of things, as well.
And by stepping up and showing that you can do something that is hard, you’re telling your child that they can do it, too
3. Investigate The Why, Gently
If you can discover what specifically is making your child behave the way they are, you will be better able to help them.
This discussion should never take place in public, especially not in the heat of the moment when they are nervous from feeling shy; this will only seem like an accusation of wrong-doing and cause them to clam up more and feel more stressed.
Instead, pick a time at home when they are feeling relaxed and confident, ask them a few simple questions to see if you can discover why they have been feeling and acting shy.
You could start by reminding them of an example, like “I noticed that you were hiding behind me when Mrs. Smith was trying to talk to you today, can you tell me how you were feeling?”
Remember to try not to label their behavior, just ask gentle questions to get an idea of their perspective of how and why they act the way they do.
If the conversation seems hard for them, back up and let it rest for a bit, again, we don’t want to push the “shy” identity onto them even more by focusing on it too intensely.
If, however, the conversation goes well, you could also try asking them for ideas of what might help them be more confident in social situations.
Gaining their input can really help to guide your next steps.
4. Play Cheerleader
When discussing shy behavior or social skills with your child, it is important to always remain positive.
You can validate their concerns or acknowledge their shortcomings while still giving them the support and encouragement they need to step out.
Instill self confidence in your child by letting them see your confidence in them.
Never underestimate the power of telling your child you believe in them.
A simple “I know it’s hard to talk to talk to new people, but I believe you can do it!” can go a long way to making them believe they can do it.
5. Remind Them Of Past Successes
Nothing builds belief that you can succeed like knowing you have succeeded in the past.
Be sure to remind your child of ways they have been successful in social situations before.
If your child has trouble with talking to new people, remind them of a time they had fun with someone new.
If they don’t do well in big groups, remind them of something fun that you did as a family with a big group of others.
Remembering these positive experiences will make new experiences a little less intimidating because they know they’ve been able to handle them in the past.
This also goes for the future – as your child becomes more confident, praise each success and use those successes as reminders if their confidence is low again.
6. Teach Conversational Basics
Sometimes just knowing what to say can be a major hurdle in talking to people.
For children without a lot of social experience, it can be very difficult to come up with the right words when meeting someone new.
Teaching your child some basic conversation openers to use when talking to someone new can give them the confidence to try it.
Here’s an example of some things people say when meeting new people:
“Hi, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Hello, my name is ____, what’s yours?”
“Pretty day, isn’t it?”
“Hi, how are you today?”
Now, these might seem like really simple greetings to an adult, but to a child who is afraid to talk to new people, having a few easy phrases in their back pocket could be a lifesaver!
7. Teach The Importance Of Eye Contact
A lot of shy or introverted people tend to keep their eyes low; direct eye contact can be unnerving if you’re not comfortable interacting with people.
But eye contact is important, it shows confidence, conveys your interest in the person you’re speaking to and invites them to reciprocate that interest.
Eye contact, with a smile, can speak, without words, almost as much as the conversational basics your child will also be learning, and together, they will set your child on the path to projecting confidence in meeting new people.
8. Practice Makes Progress
The old saying is “practice makes perfect,” but perhaps a better one is “practice makes progress.”
Aiming for perfect social skills in a shy child can set you both up for disappointment.
The goal should not be to completely change the child’s personality, but to help them navigate social situations better.
With that in mind, practicing social interactions is a great way to help your child progress to exhibiting positive social skills.
The best way to practice this is to make it a game.
Have your child pretend they are meeting you for the first time and ask them what they would do.
Remind them of the conversational basics they’ve learned, and the importance of eye contact – practice all of those.
Play the role of the “new friend” to the fullest extent and make it fun, maybe even try a new voice and create some silly characters for your child to meet!
And when they do a great job, don’t forget to point it out!
9. Arrange One-On-One Interactions
If your child has had a positive interaction (even a small one) with another child, see if you can encourage more interaction with that child.
Set up a playdate or invite the child (and their parents depending on age) out to a meetup at a park or other local children’s hangout.
Interacting with another child one-on-one, especially if it’s someone they’ve enjoyed spending time with before, will give them a chance to get more practice under their belt in a slightly more comfortable situation than meeting someone brand new or in a large group.
If your child is not yet to an age where being seen with your parents is uncool, it may be a comfort to have you and the other child’s parents around to help ease the pressure a bit.
It will also give you a chance to practice being a model of positive social behavior.
Be mindful that your child isn’t falling into old habits and relying on you or hiding behind you too much, encourage them to practice their new conversational and social skills, and for your part, don’t step in and “rescue” them, step back and give them the opportunity to step up.
10. Build On Interests
If your child has a particular interest, use that as a basis for where to seek social interactions.
If they like art, see if there’s a children’s art class you can join or see if your nearest art museum has a children’s day.
If they like reading, get some books on building confidence or look for a book club they can join.
If they like sports, have them join a team.
By getting together with other children who have the same interests, your child will have built in topics of conversation to lean on when they’re lost for words and feeling shy.
By meeting kids with common interests, your child will have a basis on which to build new friendships without having to start from scratch.
11. Plan Ahead – Give Warnings
While your child is learning new social skills and building up their confidence, it will be important to keep them informed when uncomfortable situations may be coming up.
If you have an event to go to where your child will be meeting new people, talk to them about it ahead of time, give them some ideas of things to say to the people they’ll meet or just give them an encouraging pep talk and be their cheerleader.
If you know you’ll be going to a place with big crowds and that’s something that makes your child nervous, warn them.
Give them some ideas of self-calming techniques they can use if they start to feel scared and reassure them that you will be with them (if you will be) and can help calm them down if things get overwhelming.
12. Embrace The Positives Of Your Shy Child
Being shy or introverted is not the end of the world.
Many shy children grow up to be shy adults but still manage to lead very successful lives.
There are some positive aspects to having an introverted nature, also.
Many introverts are very perceptive, thoughtful and empathetic. Just because a child is shy doesn’t mean they won’t have friends, either.
They may not be the most popular child in school, but a shy child is just as capable of making a few close friends as an outgoing child, it may just take them a bit longer and a bit more effort.
Remember to embrace your child for who they are and celebrate all of their positive traits.
While you may hope to help them build confidence to be more outgoing, the most important thing is to build their confidence in their own self-worth, no matter how social they may be.