"My child seems shy" is one of the most common refrains we have heard from parents. This seems to be a big worry of Indian parents. We think this is a good sign because parents are realizing the importance of social behaviour and helping children bond with family, friends and society. Here is what we think parents can do.
First, stop worrying about it. A number of children in the age group up to 5 years are shy. Most of them also get over it as they grow older. Sometimes, they even start as an extrovert and then become shy. If you worry about their shyness, you may tend to overreact and cause them to withdraw even more.
Shyness can be caused by both hereditary and environmental factors. As a parent you cannot change heritage, but you can definitely help change environmental factors.
Here are some tips on how to.
- Do not label the child "shy" especially when you are talking about them to someone else. Children understand when they are being labelled and often it reinforces their view.
- Do not force the child to interact. Many of us force our children to perform when we are with guests or when we visit someone. If your child does not want to do it, let her be. And do not chastise her afterwards.
- Engage the child in conversations. Monitor your reactions to the child, when he wants to speak. Do you pay attention to him? If you are not, this maybe telling him that you are not interested in what he says. Listen to your child actively.
- Increase the social interactions you have, whether it is with friends and family. Let the child interact with everyone around them.
- Let the child try new experiences. Let her get dirty. If she wants to play with sand, let her. You can always clean her up afterwards. Let her take some chances. If she wants to climb the stair on her own, let her. Don't keep saying "No" because it is inconvenient for you or because it causes you to deviate from your plan. Risk taking is an important skill to teach a child. Emotional bonds are built only when one person takes a chance and offers to become friends with another person.
- Sometimes children walk off by themselves in public places, when they see a distraction. Let them do it. Don't hover over them or stop them from walking off. Stay close enough so you know they are safe, and can intervene quickly if there is real danger. Be visible to them when they realise they are around and turn around to see you. Don't let them get scared.
- Train them in social interaction in small steps. For example, take them to a retail store. When you are walking the aisles, ask them to check with an store helper nearby as to where an item can be found ("Where is the rava", "Where are the noodles" etc.)
- Arrange for your child to play with other children of the same age. Exchange visits at each other's houses for play dates. Often a child may not be willing to take the first step to interact but maybe perfectly capable of group interaction if you enable it.
- Take your child to the park where they see other kids. If you live in an apartment complex, recruit an older child to guide your little one. Older kids love doing this. Of course, you should be around.
- Find a preschool/kindergarten/school with teachers that understand your child. If your child's teacher berates you for having a shy kid, or even tells the child that, then it is time to find a new preschool.
- Children who are in preschool get very talkative when they find an activity they like. Your preschool or kindergarten must have a variety of activities that your child and her teacher can pick from. Once your child find an activity she likes, it will help her open up.
- Watch your child for aggressive behaviour in a group. Sometimes, an aggressive child may find himself left out leading to further shyness. Teach your child about acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
- Be sympathetic. Never berate, force or threaten the child.
If your child continues to exhibit extreme shyness including going to any measure to avoid a social setting, and exhibits very slow behavioural skill development, you should consult your paediatrician to consider counselling and therapy.