Posts

Understanding Shyness: How to Help a Child Who Is Shy

Jake is that kid on the playground who waits for others to tell him he can join in the game. Sometimes, it seems it’s much easier for him to be alone in his own world than to talk to others. He definitely doesn’t enjoy talking to people he’s not familiar with. He’s quite talkative at home, though. He also doesn’t enjoy being the center of attention. And when he is, he hesitates to speak up; he tends to mumble and easily gets confused. He’s only comfortable talking about Math because he loves it. For anything else, even if he knows the answer, he seems afraid to say it. 

They don’t quite understand why.

Jake’s parents say he’s very shy.

“Shy”

Such a little word, a simple and familiar adjective, that carries so much meaning.

Shyness is often linked to anxiety, a lack of confidence, or low social intelligence. It is often connected to those experiences where you might have felt uncomfortable, embarrassed, or socially inadequate. It leads people to avoid situations in which they perceive some sort of a threat.

Many people have unproven but strongly-held theories that shy people don’t have much of a chance of succeeding in life. It seems as though the world favors dynamic extroverts who connect easily with others. Consequently, parents often seek professional help when they feel that their children might be behaving in a way they perceive as shy.

Where does shyness come from?

There are many theories which attempt to explain how shyness develops.

Some argue there is something “built in” that makes us shy and others claim we might have picked it up by watching somebody important to us act in a similar manner. Some might say that we are, from an early age, aware of our shortcomings, which makes us feel insecure in the presence of a group. Generally speaking, “shyness” could denote a feeling of inadequacy in regard to certain expectations (i.e. Everybody is good at sports. I am the only one who’s clumsy).

But we’ll take another path.
Let’s not look at the theories. Let’s focus simply on understanding each child individually.

How not to be supportive

Let’s start with how you certainly won’t show understanding.

Describing your child as shy everywhere you go and interpreting every single behavior that includes withdrawing from the group as shyness won’t help. Also, telling them not to blush every time they do might be a bad idea. Making excuses for them every time they stall, get confused, or refuse to talk to people might not be the best way to support them.

“He takes after his father. He’s not talkative either.” Comparing your child to someone else or speaking about their behavior as if it were a fixed trait isn’t going to be of much use. You want your child to believe they can change something they don’t like about themselves, right? So don’t make them feel they can’t.

Understanding ourselves as parents

Now, here’s how you can help.

Explore why it is that your child might be acting in a way you think of as shy.
Ask yourself the following questions so you can understand better.
It’s important to be aware of your own thoughts and impressions.

  • How do I know that my child is behaving shyly?

(Recognize the specific behaviors. It’s important to distinguish specific behaviors from our interpretations of those behaviors.)

  • When did I first notice my child acting this way?

(The behavior could be seen a reaction or response to a specific event in the past.)

  • Why do I think this might be a problem?

(It is important to acknowledge our own understanding of the way our child is behaving and what we see as the effects of that behavior.)

  • What do I think are the main reasons for my child’s shyness?

(We need to take into consideration the variety of different factors that might be influencing the child to behave that way.)

  • What are the consequences of my child not changing?

(Recognizing and understanding your own fears and worries is one of the most important steps.)

  • When is this shyness most apparent?

(You can try to recognize specific triggers by looking at specific situations.)

  • Are there any situations where the shyness eases?

(What is it about these situations which differs them from those in which your child is extremely shy?)

  • How do I react when I notice my child being shy?

(What we say and do has a significant bearing on how our children behave.)

  • How does my child respond to my reaction?

(The response is often a reflection of how the child sees our reaction.)

  • Is there anyone else in the family who acts the way my child does?

(“Shyness” is often a learned behavior.)

  • Have I ever asked my child why they are behaving like this?

(If not, why haven’t I?)

  • Do I understand how my child perceives the situations in which they are shy?

(How does the world look through the eyes of my child?)

Sometimes, we might be too emotionally invested to be able to answer these questions and reflect upon our answers. But that’s what Coaches are for. The Coaches navigate you through this exploration process with their questions.

Understanding your child

Now, all the above questions can be modified to help your child express their perspective, too.

What’s important is to understand that this “shy” voice inside your child, even when it’s quite dominant, is just one of the many voices inside them. Your child might take the lead in some situations, even though in many more they decide to stay on the side. Help your child recognize that part of themselves that keeps them stuck. Look at those situations where you see the same behavior and ask the child what they have in common. It might be that the common denominator is a trigger for that part of you that says “You’re going to embarrass yourself”, “You’ll fail” or “Nobody likes to be around you”. Don’t disregard or ignore that part. Try to understand why it’s there.

Frequently, when we detect a behavior that we “don’t like” to see in our children we try to find ways to eliminate it. However, every single behavior has its own internal logic and a purpose which needs to be understood. Shyness can often protect a child from getting involved in situations where they feel they might get hurt.

Again, our emotional bias sometimes makes this hard to do. We have the impulse to protect our child from feeling bad, which is why, when they share a thought such as “Nobody likes me”, we’ll try to convince them that’s not true. The Coach would continue with questions such as “How do you know that?” or “When did you notice that?”

Suggestions on what to do

Each segment in this section is a suggestion on what you could do.

Understanding is always the first step.

There are specific strategies on how to help a child open up and feel free to explore their actions in everyday situations. Feel free to use whichever seems to make the most sense for your child.

  • Give your child a chance to practice getting by in unfamiliar situations. This doesn’t mean you should expose your child to a frustrating situation unprepared, and show them over and over again how they’re not managing it. It means that you should take them with you, teach them and make suggestions, and then let them deal with the situations on their own, step by step. For instance, you could take your child to the park and tell them: “Why don’t you go up to that kid over there and ask: ‘Do you want to play with me?’ Mom can’t play with you now. It’ll be much more fun with another child. Just go over there and try it. I’ll be right here waiting for you.” Encourage your child to participate in interactions with others.
  • There’s no need to describe your child as shy in front of the child. A “shy child” can easily become a role children slip into and start playing without wanting to relinquish it. Any chance to adopt more easy-going behavior should be supported and rewarded. Help your child explore some other sides of themselves. The creative one? The playful one?
  • Show your child that you want to understand them. Try to understand the way your child sees other children in their peer group and how they think those children see them. In case your child tells you that they know other children are mocking them or that they see other children as evil and bad, try not to be defensive but consider other options you could take. How would your child like to be seen by other children? Why can or can’t they achieve that? Why do they think that the way they are is exclusively good or bad (depending on how they think of themselves)? Use the answers your child gives you as a way to continue the conversation and better understand, and not as a reason to attack another child or condemn other parents.
  • Check – maybe your child simply prefers playing alone as opposed to playing in a group. Try to understand why. What wouldn’t they have if they played in a group? What would they lose if they did this? What are the risks of playing in a group?
  • Ask your child without judgment: “It sometimes seems you’re avoiding other kids and don’t want to talk with people very much (describe the “symptoms” of shyness). Is there a reason you do this?”
  • Pay attention to the way your child perceives the situation in which they are usually shy. How do they describe it? What do they feel? While the child is telling you about this, be aware of your own expectations regarding your child’s behavior.

how to support your shy child

 

Bear in mind that every child is different.
That is why the path to helping your child is understanding them.

The reasons why somebody acts in a certain way are highly individualized. Don’t generalize.
We attribute so many meanings to that simple adjective  “shy”. Let’s understand those meanings.

by Ana Jovanovic

Coach at Nobel Coaching & Tutoring

DO CHORES HAVE TO BE A CHORE?

Children, and even adults, often consider chores a “burden” since they take away time we could spend on activities we enjoy doing and intrude into our “fun” time. However, while few people think ironing shirts is interesting and uplifting, it is something most of us will need to do at some point in our lives, even if only before those first job interviews because, let’s admit it – nobody really irons their clothes all the time.

The truth is chores don’t have to be all that horrible, especially if you start participating in them early on and without any negative associations. In fact, a good relationship towards them leads to developing skills useful in adult life and learning how to deal with responsibilities in constructive ways. This is what every parent would want for their child and the good news is there are ways to achieve it. It is possible to have your children help with chores without frustrating them or hearing the usual “Later” whenever you mention anything loosely associated with the household.

HOW TO MAKE CHORES NOT A CHORE

To help your child develop a good relationship to chores, the most important thing is to start young. A good way to begin having a functional household with all members participating in maintaining it is to have your toddler start caring for their basic hygiene. Teach them to brush their teeth and dress and let them have some independence while doing so. Yes, this means you don’t get to pick out that cute matching outfit, but let your child have a choice about what they wear, as long as it’s not a summer dress… in the middle of winter. When your child starts doing these as a part of their routine, you can gradually add other simple tasks: putting their toys away after playing, making their bed or helping set the table. As your child grows, feel free to add more chores that benefit the entire family, and always show your appreciation for your child’s engagement in them. This will help teach your child autonomy, and also that their needs are not the only ones and that all members of the household should participate in maintaining it.

As your child starts taking on more and more chores, you’ll start noticing that some tasks suit their personalities and interests better than others. Encourage them to develop their own methods. As their skills improve, they will feel proud of themselves and chores can actually become a way for them to develop self-esteem. If you have more than one child, it would be smart to delegate different responsibilities to each one. This will not only help you have your house in tip-top condition but will help avoid competition between your children and let them all have a place of their own in the family dynamic. It will also teach them that there is more to being a member of the family than just being born into it. When delegating tasks, try to stay away from social norms about what girls and boys should do. Consider only your child’s individuality and go with that as your main criterion.

Another key factor in keeping the drudgery factor out of chores is your own relationship to them. It is completely understandable that you find some tasks tedious or that it is hard for you to clean the grout and hum upbeat tunes while doing so, but at least try not to be extremely negative whenever it’s time to do housework. Think about all the good you will do for your child if you teach them how to accept chores as a part of their everyday lives. Demonstrate that chores are just like any other activity we do daily and that there is no need to complain about ordinary tasks. If you need to occasionally fake enthusiasm for a chore you particularly dislike, it’s probably better than displaying a negative attitude. Maybe it becomes easier and you actually help yourself on your journey to teaching your child important life skills.

The third thing to keep in mind while delegating chores is the number of tasks your child has to do. As with any other good thing, moderation is key. Having your child help with chores is all well and good and beneficial for everyone involved, but keep in mind that children need time to study and play, and that chores shouldn’t take up most of their time. If you don’t want your child to become resentful towards all household tasks, don’t make him/her participate in them in all their spare time and try not to use chores as a form of punishment. This often leads to resistance and can have negative effects even later in life.

In case you have a child who has already developed a not-so-great relationship with chores, fret not – there are ways to make it better! Of course, take into account everything said in the previous paragraphs, but also show appreciation for any contribution your child makes to the household no matter how minor. If the only thing your child does is occasionally making the bed, mention how great that is that they did that instead of criticizing them for not doing more. Also, keep in mind that we tend to show resistance to activities that are presented as something we must do, so try not to make chores one of those as it will only make the child dislike it even more. And, most importantly, be patient. It might take some time for your child to realize that chores are just a regular activity that, in the long run, make life easier for everyone in the household.

CHORES AS A MEANS TO A FULFILLED CHILD

The first thing that usually comes to parents’ mind when they think about how their children could be doing more around the house is that it would make running the household easier, but this is actually low on the list of reasons why chores are good for your child.

When participating in household activities, children see themselves as important contributors to the family’s well-being, especially if they start while young. Other than that, chores can be a great way to bond with your child and make them feel more connected to everything that is happening within the family. Running a household is a team project, and getting your child to help with chores will prepare them for working successfully with others throughout their lives.

Another benefit for your child in doing chores is that it helps them become more responsible, teaches them self-discipline and gives them a sense of pride and self-worth once they complete their tasks. It also is a great way for them to start managing their time, as they will have to learn how to fit chores into their daily schedules.

And if all of this isn’t enough, think about the many ways chores can be useful in bettering certain skills. They can be great exercise and help your child develop both fine and gross motor skills. For instance, doing almost any type of outdoor work not only works up a sweat but can improve physical well-being. Drying the dishes can help them learn how to handle delicate objects. Chores can also help with your child’s numerical and even verbal skills. Ask your child to help write a shopping list, measure and count some ingredients for a cake, or sort the laundry by color to help with their classification skills. The list never ends. You can actually get very creative and make it fun for both you and your child. The case for chores is strong. All you and your child have to do is start doing them. It is never too late.

Resources:

  1. Albernaz, A. (December 8, 2015). Sparing Chores Spoils Children And Their Future Selves, Study Says.
  2. Paton, G. (February 20, 2014). Parents told ‘use chores to teach children basic skills’.
  3. Responsibility And Chores: Part I – The Benefits of Chores. (December 16, 2012).
  4. 4. 6 Big Ways Your Children Benefit From Having Chores (September 10, 2014).