How to Deal with Extreme Shyness

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I have worked with a number of children who would be described as extremely shy.  More and more nowadays, teachers and childcare workers are seeing an increase in anxiety in young children.  One form of anxiety is stranger anxiety.   Being wary of strangers is a natural phase that young children go through when they realize how small they are compared to the big wide world.  For some children, the fear of strangers gets magnified into anxiety towards almost everyone outside of their core family group.

Anxiety is a challenging condition to deal with for a caregiver because often the source of the anxiety is beyond our control.  Even if we could eliminate the anxiety-causing environment, it wouldn’t help the child deal with their strong emotional response.  When anxiety is present in a child, it will often take a variety of forms.  Therefore, eliminating one type of stimulus won’t solve the problem.  You need to address the root of the anxiety.

Children who experience extreme shyness in social situations have a fear of being in the spot light.  They often don’t want to be seen or looked at.  In most cases, these children don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of strangers.

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Shy kids have a different meter stick on how they assess a social situation.  They all differ in the length of time it takes for them to warm up to a new situation or a new person.  The best advice you can give a new person who is meeting a shy child is to follow the child’s lead.  I have found the fastest way to engage a shy child is to ignore them.  At first, that seems like rude behaviour but if you look at it from the eyes of a shy child, it is not rude at all.

A child wthl social anxiety doesn’t like to be singled out or have attention brought to them (especially when the person is brand new and they don’t know what to expect of them).  If you avoid eye contact and verbal interaction, you are sending a signal to the child that you don’t expect them to fulfill a role that you have created. This will immediately bring down their anxiety considerably.  The child doesn’t have to worry about saying hello or answering any questions.  You don’t have expectations that they need to live up to.  They can simply be themselves.

Children who are shy hate the limelight but they possess natural childish curiosity.  It won’t take long for the child to become curious and peek out of their hiding spot if they are hiding.  They will test the waters slowly and the more you ignore them the safer they will feel.

Once they are convinced you have no interest in seeing or talking to them they will emerge and listen to the conversation.  It depends on the child but eventually they will want to engage with the new person if that person is amusing and interesting.  Keeping your eye contact quick and never requiring a verbal response are two important points to keep in mind.  Shy children are often very observant and sensitive to their environment.  Accept their non-verbal responses as valid exchanges of communication and you will win their trust.

The child will decide when they categorize you as a ‘safe’ person.  Once you are labeled ‘safe’ in their minds, they will chat and talk with you.  The shy behaviour will evaporate and the inner child will shine outwards.

Comments

  1. Shyness is something both me and my children deal with, and it can be very painful for everyone. It’s not something that is very ‘acceptable’ in today’s outgoing society but it’s important to remember everyone is different and has something to offer; we just need to feel comfortable and secure. Thank you for linking up to Mom’s Library, I’ll be featuring you tomorrow at http://www.crystalstinytreasures.com. Drop by to link up more great posts and pick up your featured badge.

  2. Thank you for such great information. I know from experience that the strategy you talked about would work. My oldest daughter was painfully shy when she was a toddler and would cry if anyone she did not know tried t talk to her. Then they would look at me as if to say, what is wrong with your child? They would often get closer to her or pat her on the back trying to comfort her and of course she would cry louder! She is now 11 and very outgoing. I am currently going through the licensing process to open my own in home daycare so I will try to be very sensitive to children who are shy.

    • HowToDaycare says

      Jenny, Thanks for your comment. So your daughter is 11 yrs old now and very outgoing, I love how kids develop into the people they are meant to be with the loving support of a parent/or caregiver. She’s a lucky girl to have you as her mom. Good luck with your new home daycare business. I wish you all the best.

  3. My son just turned 5 and hides under my shirt in every social situation. I was a very shy child and still shy as an adult. My husband is very outgoing and disappointed that our son acts this way. I know that my son will grow and deal with it in his own way but how do I explain it to my husband and help my son navigate?

    • HowToDaycare says

      In my experience, the best thing to do is the model appropriate social behaviour and give him time. Five is very young. Sometimes outgoing parents feel the urge to push their child to be more social, unfortunately, this often makes a shy child cling and hide more. It’s difficult to feel comfortable in a social situation if you don’t know what is expected of you. I suggest you remove as many expectations as you can on your son in social situations and make sure he knows you don’t need him to talk/say hello/etc. After 6 months he just might decide to say something! The first time my shy kids talk socially is when I’m retelling a story about an event they are passionate about and I leave out an important detail. They can’t help themselves, they correct me! With time, you can talk about why we say ‘hello’ when we meet people. How it makes the other person feel welcomed. Let your son decide when he feels comfortable saying ‘hello’ to a familiar person. Shy children tend to take more risks when they feel in control of a situation. Maybe you can reassure your husband that his son’s social skills will develop, patience and acceptance of his personality are key. You were shy as a child, shy as an adult and he thinks you are pretty great!

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