“Go and play with other kids, honey!” mom on a playground is trying to encourage her son to play with kids he has never met. This seems normal, as we know that humans are social creatures. Playing with peers, making friends, working together, talking, laughing. It is hard to imagine how our life would look like without social interactions. So, parents should encourage their children to be part of social life. But what should they do if the child finds it difficult to interact with others?
It is important to distinguish shyness and introversion. Being an introvert means that you are more focused on your thoughts and feelings. Although creating meaningful relationships is a natural, not everybody has the same need for social interactions. Some of us feel great surrounded by people 24/7, while others are most comfortable with a few best friends. While introverts may find social interactions tiring, those who are shy feel scared or anxious about it.
Shy children need help not because they behaviour is wrong or unfriendly, but because they suffer. Just imagine – you want to talk to others, but you feel fear of social interaction. Shyness is holding them back, stopping from playing and making friends. With some help from adults – parents and teachers, shy child may become more courageous towards peers.
First of all, hold back from judging or criticizing your children. If it was in their power, they would willingly start interacting with other people. Criticism can only discourage them from trying and make the entire issue even worse. Instead of this, make sure that your child knows that you support them.
Instead of shaming, you should try to understand your child. Talk to them, let them explore and find out what makes them comfortable. Shy children feel the best when they are focused on their hobbies. This may be the best opportunity to connect with peers – working together on something, talking about their passions.
Secondly, you can arrange interactions with other children, e.g. playdates. Shy children tend to feel more comfortable while playing with one person than with a big group. Becoming friends with one person is a great opportunity to practice social skills: not only being nice and friendly, but also resolving conflicts or expressing their own opinion.
Moreover, you should help your child practice social situations and scripts. There are some things in an every-day life, that are patterns – once they master a skill it will stay with them. For example, you can practice keeping an eye contact while talking or accepting and giving compliments. Also, talk to your child about others’ perspective – especially about emotions. Why people feel sad or angry? Why do they behave in certain ways? Raise these topics during every day activities, while watching movies or reading books.
All in all, being shy can be an issue that needs a lot of time and practice. You need to be patient with your child and not push them too hard. Accept your children as they are, support them and be patient, as it may take awhile before you observe the changes.
Rudasill, K. M., & Kalutskaya, I. (2014). Being shy at school. Sex roles, 70(7-8), 267-273.
Magda Domańska is a master’s-degree student at the University of Warsaw, Poland. She is interested in educational psychology and family therapy. She is participating in a summer internship programme at Willingness.com.mt.