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Shyness (page 3)

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

Intervention

Sometimes despite the best efforts on the part of parents, children become shy. Here are some things that parents can do to help their children overcome shyness.

  • Encourage changes slowly. Any teaching parents do to help their children overcome shyness should involve gradual steps. Parents should ease their children into learning non-shy behaviors, teaching in small steps. Parents must take care to give their children time to approach each new situation at their own pace.
  • Be careful not to reinforce shyness. Parents who pay too much attention to or punish their children's shy behavior may end up reinforcing it. Instead of trying to get shy children to speak or punishing children for exhibiting shyness, parents should try not to overreact. They should remain calm and treat shyness matter?of?factly.
  • Don't tease or let other family members tease shy children. Teasing, even if no harm is meant by it, can do serious harm to children's self-esteem. Children who are frequently teased may withdraw from others to avoid being teased. Parents should be careful not to tease their children and not to let others do so, either.
  • Don't let shy children isolate themselves. Since shy children are so often uncomfortable around other people, they have a tendency to withdraw from others and as a result spend a lot of time alone. Parents should not allow their shy children to spend long periods of time alone. Instead, parents can encourage their children's friendships, encourage activities with others, and praise their children for their attempts at being sociable.
  • Don't speak for shy children. Shy children need to learn to speak for themselves, and they can only do this if they are given the chance. Parents who answer questions for and speak for their shy children may reinforce shy behavior.
  • Praise non-shy behaviors and advances. When children take steps to overcome their shyness, parents should provide ample amounts of praise. Behaviors that are rewarded with a smile, a pat on the back, or a good word are more likely to be repeated. Parents should remember to focus on their children's improvements, not their failures. Parents shouldn't criticize, nag or threaten their children when they act shy, nor should they force them to do things that they aren't ready to do. Instead, parents should provide opportunities for their children to socialize and encourage them to do so, but should respect their children's feelings if situations become overwhelming.
  • Don't expect too much or too little from children. While parents shouldn't expect their children to always be outgoing and talkative, it is not asking too much to expect children to respond when someone speaks to them, or to participate in normal social activities. Parents should make sure their expectations for their children are neither too high nor too low, keeping in mind their children's ages and their individual personalities.
  • Desensitize shyness. Parents should take steps to expose their children to other people and situations that usually elicit shyness. Parents should be very careful to do this slowly and gradually, and to offer lots of support. To help their children prepare for such situations, parents can practice behaviors and responses with their children before attempting the real thing.
  • Encourage and teach responsibility and independence. Many shy children have learned to be too dependent on their parent(s) or other adults in their lives. Children who are overly dependent are often reluctant to take the risks involved in making friends and taking part in social activities. Parents must start early and provide their children with responsibilities that are within their child's capabilities. Responsibilities help children feel capable. Parents must also take steps to teach their children to be independent. This does not mean that parents should require their children to behave like adults. Independence comes in gradual steps. Parents can encourage independence in their children by letting them do things for themselves when they are able to, by encouraging them to make decisions, and by encouraging them to solve their own problems. Again, parents should keep in mind their children's ages and ability levels. It is a great boost for self?esteem when children see themselves as responsible and independent.
  • Practice and role play non-shy behaviors. Parents can help their children practice non-shy behaviors by role playing. Parents can play the part of a peer or classmate, and children can practice, for example, starting a conversation, asking to be included in a game, etc. Another way to role play is role reversal. Parents can play the part of the shy child, and the shy child can play the part of a non-shy peer or classmate. Practicing non-shy behaviors helps give children the confidence needed to engage in these behaviors in real life situations.
  • Teach assertiveness. Parents should teach their children how to ask for the things that they want. Teaching assertiveness also involves showing children that they do not have to give in to peer pressure. They can refuse to do things that they don't want to do. Parents should teach their children how to behave in an assertive manner and then leave it to them. They should avoid fighting their children's battles for them.
  • Encourage involvement in activities where children can excel. Parents should help their children find activities, such as sports or hobbies, at which they can excel. Being able to do something well is an excellent booster for self-esteem. Parents should be careful not to force their children, though, to participate in activities in which they are not interested.
  • Communicate with children's teacher(s) and/or school. Parents, being careful not to label their children as shy, should discuss the situation with their children's teacher and other school personnel. Parents should enlist their children's teacher's assistance in discouraging shy behaviors and encouraging appropriate social behaviors.
  • Set up a reward system. Parents can set up a reward system to encourage their children to behave in nonshy ways. Specific behaviors should be selected, for example, inviting a friend over to play, responding when an adult speaks to them, making eye contact, etc. Children and parents should make a chart and hang it in the home. When non-shy behaviors occur, it should be recorded on the chart (for example by using a sticker, drawing a smiley face, etc.) When a certain amount of the targeted behaviors have occurred (a number decided upon by parents and children), a reward should be given. Rewards should be decided upon by children and parents together. Parents should keep in mind that material rewards such as toys or candy don't work as well as non-material rewards such as activities. Some examples of effective rewards include being allowed to stay up an hour past regular bedtime, going to the park to play, going on a picnic with the family, etc.
  • Teach positive self-talk. Positive self-talk is saying positive things about one's self to one's self. Positive self-talk is a very powerful tool for children to have. The more children repeat good things about themselves to themselves, the more likely they will be to actually believe them and incorporate the positive feelings that go along with them. With regard to shy children, parents can teach them to use positive self-talk aimed at convincing children that they are not shy. For example, when a shy child gets up the courage to ask a friend over to play, he or she can say to himself something like, "I'm not shy. I can talk to people and make friends." Shy children often believe that there is nothing they can do about their shyness; that it is a part of their personalities that will not change. Parents should use positive self?talk to help teach their children that this is not true.
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