By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Shyness is a common but little understood emotion. Everyone has felt ambivalent or self-conscious in new social situations. Children are shy in different ways for different reasons. However, at times shyness may interfere with optimal social development and restrict children's learning. Shyness can be painful for both parents and children. Parents however need to realize some kids are just born to be quiet and less outgoing than other children are. The key is to realize when a child's shyness is becoming a problem that it results in problems with school and social interactions.

There are a number of conditions that seem like, or can lead to, shyness---many of which require psychiatric attention. Some children struggle with non--verbal learning disabilities or Asperger's Syndrome which interfere with their ability to read social cues and understand how to enter and exit play or answer questions at an appropriate level, other children struggle with social anxiety disorder which prevents them from getting along well with others.

A shy child is anxious or inhibited in unfamiliar situations or when interacting with others. A shy child is most likely to be nervously constrained if they feel they are 'on show', such as when meeting someone new or having to speak in front of others. A shy child is much more comfortable to watch the action from the sidelines rather than join in.

The following are some strategies for helping a shy child:

  • Do not nag a child about him/her being shy. Most people who are shy, or mistaken as shy because they are quiet, do not like to be told they are. Those who are shy usually know they are and don't need it pointed out to them, and can resent when it is pointed out to them. Instead compliment them when they aren't acting typically shy.
  • Shy children may have negative self-images and feel that they will not be accepted. Reinforce shy children for demonstrating skills and encourage their autonomy.
  • Parents can help counter children deal with shyness by talking about the times when they acted shy themselves. Since young children often see their parents as perfect, admitting to your own shyness can make your child feel better and reduce their overall anxiety.
  • Give your child opportunities to experience social situations. Encourage your child to invite a friend or friends over or to go over to a friend's house. Play with new groups of peers permits shy children to make a fresh start and achieve a higher peer status.
  • Prepare your child in advance for new activities and events. Pushing a child into a situation which he or she sees as threatening is not likely to help the child build social skill.
  • Children learn a great deal through observing the behavior of parents and others. Parents who want their children to act more outgoing are wise to monitor their own behavior and act outgoing whenever possible in front of the children. Model confident behavior and lead by example.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,