“My toddler’s day care provider told me he was a shy child,” my friend said. We had been talking about shy kids and how adults commonly regard them.
She continued, “To be honest, my heart sank. I grew up a shy child, so I was hoping he would take after his dad and be a bit more outgoing. But then I realized that shyness isn’t all that bad.”
I agree—it’s unfortunate we demote shy kids below their more outspoken counterparts.
Why do adults equate shyness with negativity, particularly with kids? Maybe we’re easily charmed by outgoing people. Children who perform get more attention than those who hide behind their parents.
Then enter the fears that plagues every parent. We fear people will see our kids’ shyness as weak or vulnerable. Maybe we’re scared that shyness is a symptom of a larger delays or social awkwardness. Or maybe we worry that introverted kids won’t be popular or well-liked among their peers.
But we don’t have to stigmatize shyness. For one, we need to stop equating shyness as an inherent trait in people. I’m willing to bet that even the most outgoing person has her shy moments. I’m an introvert—I prefer working alone than in groups. But call me in a meeting with some coworkers and I’ll socialize and make my points.
Children too have their moments of shyness that don’t define them. I know a seven-year-old who may be a shy girl, but in the comforts of her own home, can act funny.
Why do kids act shy?
I’m sure a slew of biological reasons make some people more likely to have shy episodes than others. I would also think some kids are more cautious, particularly around new people.
Others might need more personal space and prefer playing alone. And even others need to observe before jumping in on the action. Notice that these reasons shouldn’t mark introverted kids as second to extroverted ones.
My friend and I kept talking about this shy stigma. In her son’s case, she explained, “I don’t know if I agree with his caregiver’s assessment. When he’s with us or people he knows, he’s nowhere near shy.”
Isn’t that true even for adults?
Don’t we get flustered with people we’ve just met or with others who make us nervous or even intimidate us?
Unlike children though, we’re better equipped with social cues on how to handle ourselves. When we meet someone who makes us nervous, we don’t run to the other room.
Accepting our kids for who they are, shyness and all
Instead of wishing away shyness, we can accept kids for who they are. Let’s raise them in ways that will help cultivate the traits they do have.
Introverts—from working alone so much—tend to produce excellent work because we’re in deep flow and focus, says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Introverts are also kind, perceptive and more likely to develop and maintain long-lasting friendships.
No apologies needed
Let’s stop apologizing for our kids when they hide behind our legs or don’t want to hug everyone in the room.
“Oh, she’s just shy,” some might say. That sends the message that how she’s feeling isn’t a good thing. She might not want to hug because she’d rather observe, or she needs personal space.
Instead, acknowledge that she doesn’t feel like saying hello right now. Then, respect your child’s choice no matter what mood she is in.
We’ve all had our shy moods. Apologizing for your child won’t make her feel any better—or less shy.
Get more tips:
- How to Respond when Friends Criticize Your Parenting
- Stop Comparing Your Kid to Others
- When Your Kid Doesn’t Play the “Right Way”
- 4 Things You Definitely Shouldn’t Say about Other People’s Children
- 9 Useful Techniques for Dealing with Anxiety in Young Children
Have you ever found yourself apologizing for your child’s shy behavior? Do you worry about your child’s shyness? Do you think “shy kids” get an unfair disadvantage compared to more outgoing kids?
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