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ScienceSocietySpiegeloog 414: Rise

Shy and Successful: What Empowers Timid Children

By November 8, 2021December 8th, 2021No Comments

Parents of shy children might worry that they will have trouble making new friends, that they will fail to stand for themselves in unfair situations, that their abilities and talents will go unnoticed, that others will take advantage of their passivity, or opportunities will pass by unexploited. There are many reasons to step in and support shy children. There are things to do so that this does not have to become their story. In this article, we look at ways to empower them, while understanding and accepting who they are.

Parents of shy children might worry that they will have trouble making new friends, that they will fail to stand for themselves in unfair situations, that their abilities and talents will go unnoticed, that others will take advantage of their passivity, or opportunities will pass by unexploited. There are many reasons to step in and support shy children. There are things to do so that this does not have to become their story. In this article, we look at ways to empower them, while understanding and accepting who they are.

Illustration: Chitra Mohanlal

Shy behavior comes in many shapes and sizes. A child might too often take the role of the observer during play, remaining unoccupied and distant. She might not want to greet a stranger who is visiting the house. Despite the teacher’s encouragement, she might sit quietly in the class during question time. She might find it difficult to ask for information from strangers, such as asking the price of an item in a store or asking for the menu in a restaurant. From being restrained and quiet during group activities to avoiding birthday parties, there are different degrees of being shy. Most people experience situational shyness (they are shy on particular occasions) and are therefore familiar with some of the feelings shy children go through on a daily basis. For them, shyness is a personality trait. It is a communication difficulty that children experience when they expect their social interactions to be negative and when they fear being judged or scrutinized by others. The American Psychological Association (2021) defines shyness as responding to social situations with inhibition and apprehension and lists three common manifestations: physiological arousal (blushing, sweating, heart palpitations), negative self-talk regarding one’s social reputation, and avoidant behavior (withdrawal, gaze aversion, quietness). Shyness is not to be confused with unsociability. There are children who prefer to play alone and who tend to initiate fewer interactions with other children, but they are not afraid of doing so and they have no communication difficulties when they choose to participate in group activities or start conversations (Kimberley & Coplan, 2007). It is also important to recognize when shyness is not disruptive enough to become an anxiety disorder. Shy children experience discomfort and would rather avoid social situations, but they experience milder anxiety compared to a child who has, for example, social phobia. If a child shows selective mutism (unable to talk to certain people), has panic attacks, frequently refuses to go to school because of physiological discomfort, he or she would benefit from receiving clinical attention.

The fears of shy children’s parents are partially justified. Being shy can keep a child in a vicious cycle: being afraid to speak to others means less practice of social skills and more sub-optimal learning experiences. This, in turn, makes the child feel less prepared for integrating socially, therefore more afraid to communicate. Low self-esteem is typical for shy children. It is known that shy children view themselves as less attractive and less skilled (Rubin et. al 2009, cited in Kalutskaya, 2015). They self-report more depressive symptoms, social anxiety, negative feelings, loneliness, and they label themselves as less sociable than children who are not shy (Kingsbury et. al, 2013). The tendency of shy children to regard themselves poorly is unfortunately reinforced by how other people choose to deal with them. Shy children are at risk of experiencing additional socio-emotional difficulties because their teachers incorrectly perceive them as less intelligent (Coplan et. al, 2013) and less competent (Evans, 2001) than non-shy children, some teachers might not pay that much attention to them because they are obedient and less disruptive  (Crozier & Perkins, 2002; Evans, 2001) and they might be marginalized and excluded by peers (Rubin and Coplan, 2004; Vitaro et. al, 1990).

Bearing in mind that shyness is a temperamental tendency, it seems that the best way to support timid children is a combination of accommodating their needs and prompting them to develop social skills, find healthy coping mechanisms against their anxiety, and reduce their avoidant behavior. Because shyness is a relatively stable trait, it is too much to expect that these children can be transformed into an exuberant, heart of the party person in the long run. As long as their shy character does not pose significant limits to their development, shy children should be cherished and accepted for who they are. That being said, what are then, the things that can be done to empower shy children?

“Instead of 'Jim, what is the answer?', the teacher can make a comment while facing him, as in 'Hm, now, we need to find out why this happens…'”

For most children, school is the place where they have to interact with others and perform in front of others most frequently. Research has uncovered some of the ways teachers can encourage children to participate in the classroom. Shy kids feel more comfortable when they know what is going to happen next because they spend less time having anxious thoughts about it, therefore teachers should discuss changes in advance and support transitions to new environments (Kalutskaya, 2015). Moreover, having a commanding manner of asking questions inhibits shy children, therefore personal comments are preferred to direct questions (Evan & Bienert, 1992). For instance, instead of “Jim, what is the answer?”, the teacher can make a comment while facing him, as in “Hm, now, there should be a reason for this, or, we need to find out why this happens…”. When shy children are involved in a quarrel, the teacher can guide them towards problem-solving coping (what can be done to settle the argument), because it is known that shy children are more likely to solve disputes by giving in, withdrawing or crying (Kingsbury et al, 2013). Lastly, pairing shy children with more sociable peers and choosing games/tasks that require speaking in turns could help them integrate and feel supported during group activities (Coplan, 2008). In terms of larger-scale interventions, programs that are shown  to be effective for groups of shy children involve: social skills training (Kalutskaya, 2015), cognitive restructuring, parenting assisted exposure and peer support (Shortt, Barrett, & Fox, 2001; Nadiv & Ricon, 2020), systematic desensitization and modeling (Harry, 1982), teaching problem-solving coping (Kingsbury & Rose‐Krasnor, 2013).

Popular science books have used the findings from the classroom-based interventions mentioned above to teach parents how to support their shy children, although some of the advice that can be found is sometimes two-edged. As explained before, shyness is a delicate issue because it is a personality facet that on one hand is part of who these children are, but on the other hand, can hinder their development. It is important to pay attention to children’s needs and respect their boundaries when addressing shyness.  Namely, one should focus on reducing anxiety, empowering children to express themselves, reducing avoidant behavior that makes them miss opportunities they would wish to have, helping them create a network of friends they want to be with or creating a realistic view of themselves. One should not try to change aspects that sometimes come with shyness but are not a problem, such as being introverted, and one should definitely not push children into social situations which they would want to avoid even if they were not shy. Moreover, empowering shy children should look like a partnership between the child and the helper, not a treatment done to the child.

Strategies for helping the shy child

In Silence is Not Golden: Strategies for Helping the Shy Child (2010), parents are instructed to launch a fully-fledged attack against shyness. Most of the advice is sensible and could come in handy for parents. It includes:

  • Making a hierarchy of social tasks that are difficult for the child and slowly persuading the child to face social fears starting with the easier ones
  • Involving children in parents’ activities: for instance, letting the child give the money to the cashier in a supermarket, or going together with your child to ask a favour from the neighbours
  • Give socially-based gifts to your children (or rewards for handling a difficult social situation) such as movie tickets for themselves and a friend, a day trip with friends, a workshop, a sleepover at their best friend, a visit to a beloved relative
  • Modeling and teaching social skills: give children the words for accepting invitations from friends, initiating conversations, introducing oneself, being assertive in saying no, giving directions to strangers, or answering the phone
  • Avoid saying “do not worry” and “everything is going to be great”. Instead, help children to develop more realistic thoughts using the STOP method (S = scary situation; T=thought; O= other thought; P = praise oneself for finding a more realistic thought). For instance, being scared to eat in the school cafeteria (S) can be supported by the worrisome thought “everyone is going to stare at me” (T), but an alternative thought can be “some people might look at me as they pass by, but it is likely that this will not take long”. The praise part involves recognizing the feeling one gets if one accepts the alternative thought based on a more likely scenario.

However, one important limitation of this book is that overcoming shyness is described as a project to be done to children, not done with them. The book does not talk much about discussing your plan with the child or asking his or her opinion about all the tasks that are supposedly going to help them. If the child does not feel that this is something he or she is working on (rather than their parents) and does not see the benefits of overcoming shyness, it is doubtful that this process will be empowering. There is a fine line between challenge and fear, and parents first need to put the effort into explaining how and why they want to help them overcome shyness so that the children trust it is going to be beneficial to them and are willing to cooperate.

Some pieces of advice might do more harm than good. For instance, the author suggests ignoring children who say they do not want to go to school and even proposes that parents ignore this behavior for increasing amounts of time (i.e., first for half an hour, then for an hour, etc.). Ignoring a child has a high potential to harm the trusting relationship between parents and children. Instead of ignoring, a parent could acknowledge feelings “I know the thought of going to school is stressful for you, but you have to go to school” or ask questions to find out what exactly the child fear and invite them to problem-solve with you “Going to school tomorrow will feel uncomfortable, what do you think we can do to make it less so?”.  It might be helpful to imagine that you as an adult have a certain fear and your partner is trying to help you with it. Would you appreciate being ignored? This thought experiment is suitable for all interventions you might want to make with your shy child. Another piece of advice the book gives is not to rescue your child from social situations when he or she is in distress or not to allow them to avoid a social performance situation. This advice must be nuanced a bit. In line with the idea of progressive desensitization, the parent wants to help the child overcome the easiest situations first, meaning that it will have to be there and help them get out of situations that cause too much distress in the beginning. In addition, choosing which social situations the parents will stop children from avoiding must be done carefully. It seems reasonable to take a firm stance regarding such things as attending school or a doctor’s appointment, but leaving a birthday party early or not wanting to attend an all-adults dinner party should be negotiable. Shy kids already do not feel in control over their environment – making them feel like they do not have any choice in situations that scare them the most will most likely backfire. Lastly, a piece of advice that needs a cautionary note is to comment on social interactions you and your child observe in your surroundings. One example given in the book is to pinpoint embarrassing situations and how people react to them: say a waiter drops a plate with food on the floor. In this case one can talk about how the waiter must be feeling, what he is saying, what he is doing to fix his mistake and how other witnesses react: they might laugh or get annoyed, they might say “It happens, no problem”, but soon everyone will forget about it and go back to what they were doing previously. This seems like a good way to counter irrational thoughts, but the book also advises that you show your child how proper social interaction looks like: “You see how these people make eye contact?”, “See how they speak loud enough so that they can hear each other?”. Here, the child might interpret these comments as “Do you see how normal people can, unlike you, interact properly?” if the parent chose the wrong tone or the wrong circumstance (say just after a child didn’t handle a situation well). The age of the child must also be taken into account – older (school-aged) children might know what “normal” interactions look like, but they might need some practice until they can master them.

“Parents should understand and respect the shy child.”

The Shy Child. Helping Children Triumph over Shyness (2000) devotes a bigger part of its pages to making parents understand and respect the shy child. It then gives several strategies that could be useful for children according to their age, from their birth to the moment they set off to college. These include:

  • Verbalize self-talk (pre-school children): the parents teach problem-solving in social situations by talking out loud, for instance, “The label on this T-shirt is missing. Even though I do not feel like talking to a stranger now, I need to find an employee and ask for the price. I see no one around, then I could go to the cashier and say that the label is missing and I would like to know the price”
  • Ask open-ended questions (primary-school) about their interactions: instead of saying “Did you talk at school?”, say “What talking have you done at school?”
  • Rewriting (primary-school): when your child tells you about a negative experience – work together on rewriting the story (frame it as a game): what could have been done differently, what could have been the worst and best-case scenarios, who could have been able to help them
  • Role-playing (primary-school): tackling difficult social situations in a fun way by acting out different scenarios
  • Conversational approach (middle and high-school students): discuss negative/irrational patterns of thinking and emotional difficulties, while resisting the impulse to lecture
  • Journal writing (middle and high-school students) – encourage the shy child to record his or her experiences as they feel and think of them at the moment they happen, then after some time ask them to re-read, identify negative-self talk and re-evaluate the situation

Overcoming shyness is a challenge, but there are many ways to tackle it. Shy children can arrive at a point where they have a comfortable social life, are able to express themselves, and feel a sense of belonging to their community. Of course, at the end of the day, if fear is not part of the equation and shyness does not hold them back from having a meaningful life, being quiet or introverted, not fancying parties, or choosing to avoid people they are not comfortable with should rather be met with tolerance and acceptance. <<

References

– American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Shyness. In APA dictionary of psychology. Retrieved October 06, 2021, from https://dictionary.apa.org/shyness
– Arbeau, K. A., & Coplan, R. J. (2007). Kindergarten teachers’ beliefs and responses to hypothetical prosocial, asocial, and antisocial children. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (1982-), 291-318.
– Coplan, R. J., & Arbeau, K. A. (2008). The stresses of a “brave new world”: Shyness and school adjustment in kindergarten. Journal of research in Childhood Education, 22(4), 377-389.
– Coplan, R. J., Rose-Krasnor, L., Weeks, M., Kingsbury, A., Kingsbury, M., & Bullock, A. (2013). Alone is a crowd: social motivations, social withdrawal, and socioemotional functioning in later childhood. Developmental psychology, 49(5), 861.
– Crozier, W. R. (1995). Shyness and self‐esteem in middle childhood. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 65(1), 85-95.
– Evans, M. A. (2001 ). Shyness in the classroom and home. In R. W. Crozier & L. E. Aldon (Eds.), International handbook of social anxiety: Concepts, research and interventions relating to the self and shyness (pp. 159-183). New York: Wiley.
– Harris, K. R., & Brown, R. D. (1982). Cognitive behavior modification and informed teacher treatments for shy children. The Journal of Experimental Education, 50(3), 137-143.
– Kalutskaya, I. N., Archbell, K. A., Moritz Rudasill, K., & Coplan, R. J. (2015). Shy children in the classroom: From research to educational practice. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 1(2), 149.
– Kearney, P. D. C. A. (2010). Silence is not golden: Strategies for helping the shy child. Oxford University Press.
– Kingsbury, M., Coplan, R. J., & Rose‐Krasnor, L. (2013). Shy but getting by? An examination of the complex links among shyness, coping, and socioemotional functioning in childhood. Social Development, 22(1), 126-145.
– Nadiv, Y., & Ricon, T. (2020). “Still Waters Run Deep”: Attitudes of Elementary School Teachers and Counselors Toward Shy Students. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 1-18.
– Poole, K. L., & Schmidt, L. A. (2019). Smiling through the shyness: The adaptive function of positive affect in shy children. Emotion, 19(1), 160.
– Rubin, K. H., & Copian, R. J. (2004). Paying attention to and not neglecting social withdrawal and social isolation. Merrill Palmer Quarterly, 50, 506-53
– Schmidt, L. A., & Fox, N. A. (1999). Conceptual, biological, and behavioral distinctions among different categories of shy children.
– Shortt, A. L., Barrett, P. M., & Fox, T. L. (2001). Evaluating the FRIENDS program: A cognitive-behavioral group treatment for anxious children and their parents. Journal of clinical child psychology, 30(4), 525-535.
– Swallow, W. K. (2000). The shy child: Helping children triumph over shyness. Hachette UK.
– Vitaro, F., Gagnon, C., & Tremblay, R. E. (1990). Predicting stable peer rejection from kindergarten to grade one. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 19(3), 257-264.

Shy behavior comes in many shapes and sizes. A child might too often take the role of the observer during play, remaining unoccupied and distant. She might not want to greet a stranger who is visiting the house. Despite the teacher’s encouragement, she might sit quietly in the class during question time. She might find it difficult to ask for information from strangers, such as asking the price of an item in a store or asking for the menu in a restaurant. From being restrained and quiet during group activities to avoiding birthday parties, there are different degrees of being shy. Most people experience situational shyness (they are shy on particular occasions) and are therefore familiar with some of the feelings shy children go through on a daily basis. For them, shyness is a personality trait. It is a communication difficulty that children experience when they expect their social interactions to be negative and when they fear being judged or scrutinized by others. The American Psychological Association (2021) defines shyness as responding to social situations with inhibition and apprehension and lists three common manifestations: physiological arousal (blushing, sweating, heart palpitations), negative self-talk regarding one’s social reputation, and avoidant behavior (withdrawal, gaze aversion, quietness). Shyness is not to be confused with unsociability. There are children who prefer to play alone and who tend to initiate fewer interactions with other children, but they are not afraid of doing so and they have no communication difficulties when they choose to participate in group activities or start conversations (Kimberley & Coplan, 2007). It is also important to recognize when shyness is not disruptive enough to become an anxiety disorder. Shy children experience discomfort and would rather avoid social situations, but they experience milder anxiety compared to a child who has, for example, social phobia. If a child shows selective mutism (unable to talk to certain people), has panic attacks, frequently refuses to go to school because of physiological discomfort, he or she would benefit from receiving clinical attention.

The fears of shy children’s parents are partially justified. Being shy can keep a child in a vicious cycle: being afraid to speak to others means less practice of social skills and more sub-optimal learning experiences. This, in turn, makes the child feel less prepared for integrating socially, therefore more afraid to communicate. Low self-esteem is typical for shy children. It is known that shy children view themselves as less attractive and less skilled (Rubin et. al 2009, cited in Kalutskaya, 2015). They self-report more depressive symptoms, social anxiety, negative feelings, loneliness, and they label themselves as less sociable than children who are not shy (Kingsbury et. al, 2013). The tendency of shy children to regard themselves poorly is unfortunately reinforced by how other people choose to deal with them. Shy children are at risk of experiencing additional socio-emotional difficulties because their teachers incorrectly perceive them as less intelligent (Coplan et. al, 2013) and less competent (Evans, 2001) than non-shy children, some teachers might not pay that much attention to them because they are obedient and less disruptive  (Crozier & Perkins, 2002; Evans, 2001) and they might be marginalized and excluded by peers (Rubin and Coplan, 2004; Vitaro et. al, 1990).

Bearing in mind that shyness is a temperamental tendency, it seems that the best way to support timid children is a combination of accommodating their needs and prompting them to develop social skills, find healthy coping mechanisms against their anxiety, and reduce their avoidant behavior. Because shyness is a relatively stable trait, it is too much to expect that these children can be transformed into an exuberant, heart of the party person in the long run. As long as their shy character does not pose significant limits to their development, shy children should be cherished and accepted for who they are. That being said, what are then, the things that can be done to empower shy children?

“Instead of 'Jim, what is the answer?', the teacher can make a comment while facing him, as in 'Hm, now, we need to find out why this happens…'”

For most children, school is the place where they have to interact with others and perform in front of others most frequently. Research has uncovered some of the ways teachers can encourage children to participate in the classroom. Shy kids feel more comfortable when they know what is going to happen next because they spend less time having anxious thoughts about it, therefore teachers should discuss changes in advance and support transitions to new environments (Kalutskaya, 2015). Moreover, having a commanding manner of asking questions inhibits shy children, therefore personal comments are preferred to direct questions (Evan & Bienert, 1992). For instance, instead of “Jim, what is the answer?”, the teacher can make a comment while facing him, as in “Hm, now, there should be a reason for this, or, we need to find out why this happens…”. When shy children are involved in a quarrel, the teacher can guide them towards problem-solving coping (what can be done to settle the argument), because it is known that shy children are more likely to solve disputes by giving in, withdrawing or crying (Kingsbury et al, 2013). Lastly, pairing shy children with more sociable peers and choosing games/tasks that require speaking in turns could help them integrate and feel supported during group activities (Coplan, 2008). In terms of larger-scale interventions, programs that are shown  to be effective for groups of shy children involve: social skills training (Kalutskaya, 2015), cognitive restructuring, parenting assisted exposure and peer support (Shortt, Barrett, & Fox, 2001; Nadiv & Ricon, 2020), systematic desensitization and modeling (Harry, 1982), teaching problem-solving coping (Kingsbury & Rose‐Krasnor, 2013).

Popular science books have used the findings from the classroom-based interventions mentioned above to teach parents how to support their shy children, although some of the advice that can be found is sometimes two-edged. As explained before, shyness is a delicate issue because it is a personality facet that on one hand is part of who these children are, but on the other hand, can hinder their development. It is important to pay attention to children’s needs and respect their boundaries when addressing shyness.  Namely, one should focus on reducing anxiety, empowering children to express themselves, reducing avoidant behavior that makes them miss opportunities they would wish to have, helping them create a network of friends they want to be with or creating a realistic view of themselves. One should not try to change aspects that sometimes come with shyness but are not a problem, such as being introverted, and one should definitely not push children into social situations which they would want to avoid even if they were not shy. Moreover, empowering shy children should look like a partnership between the child and the helper, not a treatment done to the child.

Strategies for helping the shy child

In Silence is Not Golden: Strategies for Helping the Shy Child (2010), parents are instructed to launch a fully-fledged attack against shyness. Most of the advice is sensible and could come in handy for parents. It includes:

  • Making a hierarchy of social tasks that are difficult for the child and slowly persuading the child to face social fears starting with the easier ones
  • Involving children in parents’ activities: for instance, letting the child give the money to the cashier in a supermarket, or going together with your child to ask a favour from the neighbours
  • Give socially-based gifts to your children (or rewards for handling a difficult social situation) such as movie tickets for themselves and a friend, a day trip with friends, a workshop, a sleepover at their best friend, a visit to a beloved relative
  • Modeling and teaching social skills: give children the words for accepting invitations from friends, initiating conversations, introducing oneself, being assertive in saying no, giving directions to strangers, or answering the phone
  • Avoid saying “do not worry” and “everything is going to be great”. Instead, help children to develop more realistic thoughts using the STOP method (S = scary situation; T=thought; O= other thought; P = praise oneself for finding a more realistic thought). For instance, being scared to eat in the school cafeteria (S) can be supported by the worrisome thought “everyone is going to stare at me” (T), but an alternative thought can be “some people might look at me as they pass by, but it is likely that this will not take long”. The praise part involves recognizing the feeling one gets if one accepts the alternative thought based on a more likely scenario.

However, one important limitation of this book is that overcoming shyness is described as a project to be done to children, not done with them. The book does not talk much about discussing your plan with the child or asking his or her opinion about all the tasks that are supposedly going to help them. If the child does not feel that this is something he or she is working on (rather than their parents) and does not see the benefits of overcoming shyness, it is doubtful that this process will be empowering. There is a fine line between challenge and fear, and parents first need to put the effort into explaining how and why they want to help them overcome shyness so that the children trust it is going to be beneficial to them and are willing to cooperate.

Some pieces of advice might do more harm than good. For instance, the author suggests ignoring children who say they do not want to go to school and even proposes that parents ignore this behavior for increasing amounts of time (i.e., first for half an hour, then for an hour, etc.). Ignoring a child has a high potential to harm the trusting relationship between parents and children. Instead of ignoring, a parent could acknowledge feelings “I know the thought of going to school is stressful for you, but you have to go to school” or ask questions to find out what exactly the child fear and invite them to problem-solve with you “Going to school tomorrow will feel uncomfortable, what do you think we can do to make it less so?”.  It might be helpful to imagine that you as an adult have a certain fear and your partner is trying to help you with it. Would you appreciate being ignored? This thought experiment is suitable for all interventions you might want to make with your shy child. Another piece of advice the book gives is not to rescue your child from social situations when he or she is in distress or not to allow them to avoid a social performance situation. This advice must be nuanced a bit. In line with the idea of progressive desensitization, the parent wants to help the child overcome the easiest situations first, meaning that it will have to be there and help them get out of situations that cause too much distress in the beginning. In addition, choosing which social situations the parents will stop children from avoiding must be done carefully. It seems reasonable to take a firm stance regarding such things as attending school or a doctor’s appointment, but leaving a birthday party early or not wanting to attend an all-adults dinner party should be negotiable. Shy kids already do not feel in control over their environment – making them feel like they do not have any choice in situations that scare them the most will most likely backfire. Lastly, a piece of advice that needs a cautionary note is to comment on social interactions you and your child observe in your surroundings. One example given in the book is to pinpoint embarrassing situations and how people react to them: say a waiter drops a plate with food on the floor. In this case one can talk about how the waiter must be feeling, what he is saying, what he is doing to fix his mistake and how other witnesses react: they might laugh or get annoyed, they might say “It happens, no problem”, but soon everyone will forget about it and go back to what they were doing previously. This seems like a good way to counter irrational thoughts, but the book also advises that you show your child how proper social interaction looks like: “You see how these people make eye contact?”, “See how they speak loud enough so that they can hear each other?”. Here, the child might interpret these comments as “Do you see how normal people can, unlike you, interact properly?” if the parent chose the wrong tone or the wrong circumstance (say just after a child didn’t handle a situation well). The age of the child must also be taken into account – older (school-aged) children might know what “normal” interactions look like, but they might need some practice until they can master them.

“Parents should understand and respect the shy child.”

The Shy Child. Helping Children Triumph over Shyness (2000) devotes a bigger part of its pages to making parents understand and respect the shy child. It then gives several strategies that could be useful for children according to their age, from their birth to the moment they set off to college. These include:

  • Verbalize self-talk (pre-school children): the parents teach problem-solving in social situations by talking out loud, for instance, “The label on this T-shirt is missing. Even though I do not feel like talking to a stranger now, I need to find an employee and ask for the price. I see no one around, then I could go to the cashier and say that the label is missing and I would like to know the price”
  • Ask open-ended questions (primary-school) about their interactions: instead of saying “Did you talk at school?”, say “What talking have you done at school?”
  • Rewriting (primary-school): when your child tells you about a negative experience – work together on rewriting the story (frame it as a game): what could have been done differently, what could have been the worst and best-case scenarios, who could have been able to help them
  • Role-playing (primary-school): tackling difficult social situations in a fun way by acting out different scenarios
  • Conversational approach (middle and high-school students): discuss negative/irrational patterns of thinking and emotional difficulties, while resisting the impulse to lecture
  • Journal writing (middle and high-school students) – encourage the shy child to record his or her experiences as they feel and think of them at the moment they happen, then after some time ask them to re-read, identify negative-self talk and re-evaluate the situation

Overcoming shyness is a challenge, but there are many ways to tackle it. Shy children can arrive at a point where they have a comfortable social life, are able to express themselves, and feel a sense of belonging to their community. Of course, at the end of the day, if fear is not part of the equation and shyness does not hold them back from having a meaningful life, being quiet or introverted, not fancying parties, or choosing to avoid people they are not comfortable with should rather be met with tolerance and acceptance. <<

References

– American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Shyness. In APA dictionary of psychology. Retrieved October 06, 2021, from https://dictionary.apa.org/shyness
– Arbeau, K. A., & Coplan, R. J. (2007). Kindergarten teachers’ beliefs and responses to hypothetical prosocial, asocial, and antisocial children. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (1982-), 291-318.
– Coplan, R. J., & Arbeau, K. A. (2008). The stresses of a “brave new world”: Shyness and school adjustment in kindergarten. Journal of research in Childhood Education, 22(4), 377-389.
– Coplan, R. J., Rose-Krasnor, L., Weeks, M., Kingsbury, A., Kingsbury, M., & Bullock, A. (2013). Alone is a crowd: social motivations, social withdrawal, and socioemotional functioning in later childhood. Developmental psychology, 49(5), 861.
– Crozier, W. R. (1995). Shyness and self‐esteem in middle childhood. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 65(1), 85-95.
– Evans, M. A. (2001 ). Shyness in the classroom and home. In R. W. Crozier & L. E. Aldon (Eds.), International handbook of social anxiety: Concepts, research and interventions relating to the self and shyness (pp. 159-183). New York: Wiley.
– Harris, K. R., & Brown, R. D. (1982). Cognitive behavior modification and informed teacher treatments for shy children. The Journal of Experimental Education, 50(3), 137-143.
– Kalutskaya, I. N., Archbell, K. A., Moritz Rudasill, K., & Coplan, R. J. (2015). Shy children in the classroom: From research to educational practice. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 1(2), 149.
– Kearney, P. D. C. A. (2010). Silence is not golden: Strategies for helping the shy child. Oxford University Press.
– Kingsbury, M., Coplan, R. J., & Rose‐Krasnor, L. (2013). Shy but getting by? An examination of the complex links among shyness, coping, and socioemotional functioning in childhood. Social Development, 22(1), 126-145.
– Nadiv, Y., & Ricon, T. (2020). “Still Waters Run Deep”: Attitudes of Elementary School Teachers and Counselors Toward Shy Students. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 1-18.
– Poole, K. L., & Schmidt, L. A. (2019). Smiling through the shyness: The adaptive function of positive affect in shy children. Emotion, 19(1), 160.
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Magda Matetovici

Author Magda Matetovici

Magda Matetovici (1996) is a third-year psychology student. She is passionate about developmental and school psychology. Occasionally, she loves statistics and methodology. She enjoys painting, reading, and cooking assisted by her cat, Dobby.

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