By — Center for Effective Parenting
Updated on Jan 2, 2009

Shyness is something that all people experience at one time or another. In most cases it is a normal, temporary behavior. In children, some shyness is normal, especially when they are around 5-6 months of age, and then again at about two years of age. Shyness at these ages is considered a normal part of development.

Shyness becomes a problem in a child when it interferes with relationships with other people, with social situations, school, and/or other important aspects of a child's life. Problems with shyness are usually evident by the time a child reaches three years of age.

Shyness, which can be defined as a fear of, or withdrawal from, other people or social situations, can have many different causes depending on the individual child and the specific circumstances.

Whatever the causes of shyness in a child, it is a behavior that parents must not ignore. Shyness can be very painful for a child to live with, and it can have negative effects on other aspects of a child's life. These negative effects can follow a child into adulthood, too. For example, many shy children develop low self esteem and lack self confidence. This can make it very difficult for shy children to make friends. Also, many shy children are so quiet that they don't receive the help they need from teachers at school, which may result in school performance that is not as good as it could be.

Fortunately, shyness is often not a difficult problem to correct. Its solution does, however, take a strong commitment from parents.

Why Children Become Shy

As mentioned earlier, shyness can have many different causes. There may be a specific cause for shyness in some children, while in others shyness may occur for a number of different reasons. Here are some of the reasons why children become shy:

  • Difficulty with frequent exposure to new situations. Children, of course, don't have the life experience that adults do. For this reason, children are frequently exposed to new situations. Some children have trouble coping with new situations, and tend to withdraw as a result.
  • Heredity. Some research has shown that shyness runs in families. It has not been determined if shyness that runs in families is genetic in cause, or if it is due to learning.
  • Inconsistent parenting. Some shyness may be caused by parenting practices that are not consistent, for example, punishing for a specific behavior one day, and then letting it slide by the next, being overinvolved with a child some of the time, and uninvolved at other times. Inconsistency makes children feel insecure, which can lead to shyness.
  • Too much threatening, teasing, or criticism. Children who are frequently threatened, teased or criticized, either by family members or by other people may learn to expect only negative feedback from others. This expectation will lead to the avoidance of social situations and contact with other people.
  • Lack of parental involvement. Some parents may seem disinterested in their children's lives for a number of reasons. For example, parents may mistakenly believe that they will promote independence in their children if they let their children fend for themselves. Others simply may not have the time or the desire to be very involved in their children's lives. Whatever the reason, decreased parental involvement can lead children to believe that they are not worthy of others' attention. This will in turn affect social relationships. Children who do not believe that other people are interested in them will probably feel very uncomfortable in social situations.
  • Lack of experience in social situations. Children may become shy because they have not yet learned how to effectively take part in social situations. Thus, when exposed to social situations, these frightened children may withdraw.
  • Low self-esteem or negative opinion of oneself. Children who have low opinions of themselves expect other people to feel the same way, too. This belief can lead to shy behavior.
  • Overprotective parents. Children who are overprotected by their parents often don't have the opportunity to be independent socially. Because of this, these children often lack the confidence needed to make decisions for themselves. Such children are often insecure, which can then cause shyness.
  • Modeling or learned behavior. Because children learn from watching their parents, parents who are shy often have children who are shy. Shy adults may have few friends or social interests, thus their children have difficulty learning how to make friends and how to behave socially.
  • Shy temperament. Some children seem shy almost from birth. Sometimes these shy babies grow into being shy children.
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