How I’m Helping My Children Overcome Shyness

I have two shy children. One is more shy than the other, but they both lean towards bashful and have a hard time speaking to or even looking at people in the face. This happens even with people they see every week, like our friends at church. I suppose I was the same way as a child, but I still find it a little baffling how difficult it can be for them to say a simple a hello.

I don’t want to push my children or make them feel uncomfortable, but I also don’t want them to be rude or miss out on opportunities in life. There have been plenty of times my child has wanted to participate in an activity but refused to even raise his hand, so he missed out. There have also been plenty of times when I’ve felt the need to apologize on behalf of my child because he didn’t want to speak to someone who was trying to speak to him. It’s a fine line to walk. I understand that I should respect my child’s boundaries. I never force either one of them to hug or kiss someone if they don’t want to. I have even taught them that they can wave at someone if they don’t want to give an audible greeting.

The older they get, however, the more I want to see them grow into themselves. I want them to feel at ease. I want them to know that if I say it’s okay to talk to someone, they can and should. I have often wondered what I can do to help my children overcome their shyness in a healthy manner.

I consulted with child psychologist, Dr. Liz Matheis, who happens to have two shy and sensitive kids herself. “For children who are shy, many times, it is the fear of not knowing what to say that makes it difficult to say hello or ask for a cup of water when at the diner or restaurant. For my very own children and the children with whom I work, I create a script given the type of situations that they fear being in. For example, a child asks for a play date or asks to sit next to your child at the lunch table. Your child does not want to do so, so we create a script.”

In my years as a mother I have learned that it is best to prepare my children as much as possible for situations they may face. My son is the kind of kid who wants to know what to expect. Creating a script for him makes a lot of sense in helping him prepare. I shared with Dr. Liz Matheis that my son, for example, had a hard time asking the cashier at the grocery store for stickers. He loves when the cashier gives out stickers but was afraid to ask him for them outright. She says, “For the child who does not want to ask the cashier for a sticker, I would encourage you to create a script while you are in the car. ‘Do you think you’ll want a sticker today? What do you think you can say? Are you afraid the cashier will say no? Has she ever said no? What if the cashier said she ran out – what would you say?’” I have begun using some of theses techniques with my children, and while they’re not super chatty it has helped them a little. They’ve been able to squeak out requests in tiny barely audible voices which I then need to translate for the person listening. It’s a start!

I have also started asking my children an important question, “What do you think will happen?” I realized that part of their shyness based in a fear that the worst could happen. That someone could be totally mean to them or that they would be disappointed somehow. I try to talk them through some of their fears and ease them when I can. I also let them know that no matter what, I am there to guide and encourage them. Dr. Liz went on to share, “Parenting a shy child requires a delicate dance between encouraging social interactions but yet letting our child know that you will be there to guide and go over the script until he can do it alone. Practice, practice, practice until these types of interactions become easy.  I can tell you that it has taken both of my children a few years and they still hesitate when I encourage them to order their food in a restaurant or ask for ketchup, for example.”

It helps me put my worries at bay when I hear that other parents have these same stuggles with their children and that these issues don’t go away overnight. It has helped me accept my children for who they are instead of trying to “fix” them. They will probably never be boisterous and loud and outgoing like some of their friends, and that’s okay (I’m not that way either!). But I am hopeful that little by little I can give them the confidence they need to go for what they want and speak up for themselves.