The beginning of the new school year not only brings excitement and new adventures but also anxiety for some kids. If your child has just started school or is trying to get back into the swing of things after the long summer break, you may be finding yourself trying to help them navigate their feelings of shyness.
The reality is that shyness isn’t necessarily a bad thing It simply means your child needs some extra help getting comfortable in social situations. Add in the pressure of not having you around as their safety net and it’s understandable that your child is feeling nervous.
Here are our tips for helping your child enjoy the school year in spite of their shyness.
Focus on their strengths
Rather than encouraging your child to focus their mental energy on changing their shy behaviours, focus on their strengths and build their inner confidence.
Shy kids are often introverted and can be highly intelligent, creative and intuitive. They’re also good listeners who care deeply about their friends.
Shy children tend to have a wider range of interests than their more outgoing peers do—shy children may like reading books and solving puzzles while more extroverted children prefer playing sports. Shy children will often excel at school because they’re very detail-oriented when it comes to whatever they’re interested in learning about.
Identify what your child excels at and make sure they know that you admire them for it.
Don’t let them know you’re worried
We all worry about our children, it’s only natural. However, letting your child know that you worry about them having no friends, being lonely, and being left out, will only add to their own anxieties, as well as the added pressure of feeling responsible for your negative emotions. They may start to have thoughts like “if I don’t make a friend today then Mammy will be sad”.
Our children are constantly looking for feedback from others about who they are and how they are perceived, so any label we give them can become ingrained in their personalities. If we tell them how shy they are, they become more shy.
Be mindful of what you say to others about your child’s shyness, if you introduce your child by saying something like “he’s so shy he never wants to play with the other kids!” they will be less likely to join in later. Instead, say things like “he might join in later”, leaving the option open for your child.
Relate to their shyness
We have all experienced shyness or social anxiety at one stage in our lives. Tell your child about a time when you felt shy and how you overcame it and the positive things that happened afterwards. This will make them feel more understood by you and also make them more confident that they can overcome their own anxieties.
Try to model confidence
Shyness is often genetic or learned behaviour, so your child may have learned their shy behaviours from you. Assess your own body language, tone of voice and how you interact with others. You may find you exhibit the same behaviours that you worry about in your child. Show confidence by standing up straight, speaking in an assertive manner and having friendly body language.
Set achievable goals
Talk to your child about whether they would like to socialise more with others. If their answer is yes then you can think of small goals together. For example, saying hello to one person each day. Avoid setting vague goals that your child doesn’t have complete control over, like “make one new friend”.
Avoid shielding them
If you have a sensitive and nervous child your first instinct might be to shield them from any situations which have the potential to knock their confidence. However, trying to shelter them will only make them feel less capable. Encourage them to try new things even when it’s scary. Reassure them that although they may feel scared, you’re sure that they’ll overcome those feelings and have a great time. Your confidence may rub off on them!
When to get help
Ask your GP for guidance if your child’s well-being is being significantly impacted by their shyness, if they retreat from all social activities or if their shyness has developed or worsened suddenly.