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Nurturing shy children

SHYNESS CAN be a normal, adaptive response to social experience. By being somewhat shy, children can withdraw temporarily and gain a sense of control. Generally, as children gain experience with unfamiliar people, shyness goes away. Like adults, children too have their own unique character. Some are courageous and friendly. Others are fearful and reluctant to getting into contact with strangers.

india Updated: Oct 10, 2006 15:59 IST

SHYNESS CAN be a normal, adaptive response to social experience. By being somewhat shy, children can withdraw temporarily and gain a sense of control. Generally, as children gain experience with unfamiliar people, shyness goes away. Like adults, children too have their own unique character. Some are courageous and friendly. Others are fearful and reluctant to getting into contact with strangers.

Identifying shy children
If you agree with more than four of the statements written below, there is strong probability that your children are shy.
1. They stick to you whenever you talk with other adults or when you go visiting.

2. They become restless when you or people for whom they deeply care, such as their grandparents, are missing.

3. They rarely speak and use simple words, may even stammer.

4. They cry easily when you scold them.

5. They ask you to solve their problems.

6. They do not make friends and they find it hard to start a game or a conversation with other children. Therefore, they will rather play with younger children so that they feel in control.

7. They are afraid of objects and situations which most children are normally not afraid, such as animals, insects, and storms.

8. They wake up many times during the night.
Causes of shyness

The possible causes of shyness
may be:

1. Genetic.

2. Not a firm attachment bond between parent and child.

3. Poor learning of social skills.

4. Parents, siblings, others harshly and frequently tease or criticise.

5.  New social settings, especially if the child is the focus of attention.

6.  If parents are too busy, hence not being able to meet the child’s basic emotional needs by not spending enough time
with him.

7.  Sometimes the child has an inferiority complex and feels inadequate in comparison to a sibling who might be smarter or better looking than him.

8. Some children are basically timid and fear almost everything around them.
Helping overcome shyness

There are many strategies that can be used to help children overcome shyness. Some strategies may be more effective with some children than with others. Recognise when a child’s shyness is becoming a problem and act accordingly.

1. Help him feel understood and accepted. Help identify and talk about emotions, assure him that shyness is not a character flaw.

2. Do not label a child ‘shy’ as those who are told so, tend to start thinking of themselves as shy and stop making any effort to change.

3. Set goals for more outgoing behaviour and keep a check. For many shy children, a realistic, challenging goal is to say at least one word to one new person every day. Other goals might include speaking in front of a whole class, or asking a teacher a question.

4. Set an example for the child. Children learn a great deal through observing the behaviour of parents and others. Parents who want their children to be outgoing should themselves be outgoing in front of children.

5. Exposure to unfamiliar settings and people. The more practice they get interacting with unfamiliar people the faster the shyness will decrease. Prompt the child to interact with others.

6. Help the child practice interacting what to say in certain situations, such as when they meet a new child. Help shy children by encouraging them to practice social skills.

7. Accept the child and be sensitive to his interests and feelings. This can make the child more confident, less inhibited and also help build his self-esteem.

8. Do not push a child into a situation, which he sees as threatening. Help the child feel secure and provide interesting materials to help him participate in social situations.

9. Share your experiences of being shy with the child.

(The author is a psychologist and a professor of psychology and social work at BSSS. He can be contacted at
drvinaymishra@rediffmail.com)