Labeling a child as shy or anxious or nervous or anything else is very counterproductive. A label by you, the most important figure in their lives, makes it more permanent and real than if said by thousand strangers. If someone said hello to your child and he doesn’t respond, don’t jump in and say “oh, he is always shy” or “he is nervous around new people”. In fact if possible don’t say anything at all, you don’t need to make excuses for your child. This shows them that you are treating him as an individual and gives him the confidence to tackle a social situation on his own.
Never force them into social situations
Some parents push their shy kids into social situations like competitions, birthday parties, talent shows etc. thinking that this will lower their inhibitions. It might work rarely but more often than not it will make the child clam up even more. Pushing kids into experiences or situations they are not prepared for is a blow to their self-esteem. So if your parents are visiting and you can’t wait for your little girl to show off her dancing skills, don’t spring it on her without any preparation. Give respect to your child by asking her permission like “grandma loves to see you dance, would you perform on your latest song for her”. This not only increases her comfort level but also helps her trust you.
Model confident behavior
I have said this time and again. Parents are their kids best teachers. So if you clam up in parties then you can’t expect your child to be the life of the party either. You don’t need to change your personality but be open to talking to strangers, mingling with everyone in a gathering and having a confident social interaction will help your child learn how it is done.
Don’t overpower them
But some parents go overboard with this. Especially if the parent(s) are extrovert and outgoing. They have no idea what goes on in the mind of their shy child, why he can’t be like them and how to fix this. I have often seen gregarious and outgoing moms talk in lieu of their kids, be their spokesperson and not let them be themselves at any time. Such kids will go into a shell in the presence of their domineering parents. It’s important that you don’t let your personality overshadow that of your child but let it coexist with yours.
Focus on Quality of social interaction rather than quantity
Some parents are focused on the number of friends their kids has which is quite pointless. The objective of social interactions is to have meaningful connections and heartfelt relations. One good, dependable and understanding friend is better than 15 friends your child doesn’t relate to.
Create a strategy for social situations
A good strategy is to accept the nervousness or anxiety that comes with a social situation and focus on what needs to be done. So if you are taking your child to a crowded birthday party then explain to your child what will happen at the party, how many kids will be there, what games might be played, what can the child do if he feels nervous or anxious to meet new friends. You can identify 3-4 kids your child can hang out with, what questions can he ask, how he can participate in various games etc.
Treasure your shy baby
You need to realize that you are blessed with a sensitive, caring, understanding, focused but cautious and reserved child. Your child is a happy person and the way you carefully help them navigate the world will mold their personality. Listening is a science and you need to master it to help your shy child blossom.
Here are a few great books that will be useful to help your shy child.