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Child speak

What should you do if your kid is not gregarious, outgoing and outspoken? We asked experts to help.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2010 20:03 IST
Mignonne Dsouza

We’ve all heard of the maxim that children should be seen and not heard, but these days, most parents want their kids to be both seen and heard. Gone is the period when being shy was seen as a virtue – now most parents get upset if their child is not gregarious, outgoing and outspoken, and are not above seeking professional help in such a situation. So what can you do if your child is shy?

Don't be pushy

Dr Prasanna Tendulkar, consultant psychiatrist at Sanjeevani Hospital, Andheri, Mumbai, agrees that parents these days are less likely to be content if their child is shy or introverted. “Because there are fewer kids in families these days, there is a lot more focus on children right now,” explains Dr Rachna Singh of Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon. “Also, since kids these days grow up more or less without the benefit of siblings or extended families, they have no real role models. A child who lives alone at home with parents cannot observe and copy an older sibling when it comes to social interaction. Also, in a nuclear family, kids tend to cling to their parents, and that makes them shy in social situations.”

Both experts agree that they do come across parents who approach them with the complaint that their kids are too introverted, do not mix socially, or speak up and interact in school. However, Dr Tendulkar adds, “We must make a distinction between kids who are inherently shy and kids whose shyness is apparent only in social situations. Intervention is needed only when pathological depression, expressed as extreme shyness, is diagnosed.”

Dr Singh has a word of advice to offer. “Never mention to your child that shyness is a negative trait,” she explains, “This will discourage children – the idea is to create subtle changes in the environment so that a child’s personality gradually changes.”

Set good examples

Before one begins to change any facet of a child’s character, Dr Tendulkar cautions, “Remember that a child’s personality develops over a period of time. Until that happens, it could be counter-productive to push a child.”

What parents can do, advises Dr Singh, is create an healthy environment for the child at school and at home. “In today’s environment, it is not desirable for anyone, and particularly a child, to be a backbencher in any respect. Being shy prejudices you with regards to family and work life as well,” explains Dr Singh, “So, work on developing the child’s personality by providing the correct inputs.

Firstly, says Dr Singh, set a good example. “If the parents are socially active, the kids will also grow up to be social. Next, create a conducive environment for the child – let them play with other kids, introduce them to new people on a regular basis, and keep exposing them to new situations.”

She adds, “Also, sign up your child for a group class that they will enjoy. For example, if they like sports, choose football over tennis, as that is strictly a group activity. This will teach them team building and force them to interact with others.”

Words of Advice

According to Dr Singh, there is a lot that parents can do for their kids. “Don’t be helicopter parents, and hover over your child 24/7,” she says. “Give them space as it aids the development of their personality, and identify their likes and dislikes – otherwise a child’s parents and friends determines that for them. Let your child spend a certain amount of time in her or his own room or in a corner of a room for a certain length of time everyday.”

She adds, “Introduce your child to new environments repeatedly. Allow the child to be in the forefront – let kids do stuff on their own. Also, give the children certain responsibilities – let them run errands on their own, order things on the phone etc. Allow kids to be part of the decision-making process, say, while planning a menu or party, and let them develop opinions of their own.”

Dr Tendulkar’s advice is, “Don’t panic. Instead, focus on creating a healthy environment for the child.” He adds, “I find that a lot of parents these days don’t know their own kids. We find that very often, we need to redirect parents’ efforts. For instance, if you realise your child is better at sports than academics, give him or or her all the encouragement to do well in sports. This will boost the child’s self-esteem, and then, you will find that their school scores will improve also.”

Much too shy?

How can you tell if you have a shy child? This is what Dr Singh says: If you have a child of school-going age who has to be coaxed to interact with kids in class, then he or she is extremely shy.

If your child does not want to interact with a child of the same age who has come to your home, or leave your side when you’re in the company of family or friends, then she or he is also extremely shy.