Our child’s shyness is holding her back! What can we do?

Dear Jenny Hale

There are five of us in the Martin family – and I would say that most of us are a friendly, outgoing bunch. But one of our kids is terribly shy. Jasmine is nine years old and things have been getting steadily worse in the way she avoids social situations.

We have just let things drift, but at a recent parent-teacher interview, we were alarmed to hear that she is hardly saying anything at school and is quite withdrawn during class time. Jasmine hasn’t mentioned any problems with school and seems happy enough with her two or three friends. What mainly concerns us is her growing reluctance to speak or look at people she meets, or even be polite and friendly to visitors in our home. She also balks at the idea of joining any after-school activities and we feel she is missing out on some amazing opportunities to develop her skills.

We really don’t know what to do. My wife is nurturing and really patient, but I feel Jasmine is getting more and more stubborn and needs help to break out of her shy and unmotivated stance.

Some of Jenny’s tips

Some children lean naturally towards being shy and reserved and for the most part, it usually has something to do with their personality type. It may even be an inherited trait that one or both parents may recognise in themselves. However, it can be a limiting factor for a child who gets stuck being shy and misses out on some wonderful opportunities in life.

Parents don’t always prioritise the need for their children to greet their friends, their teacher or even their grandparents, but these little things turn out to be really important. That is where  I would start – often, you’ll find that a small connection opens the door to much more. Be ready for some resistance, but kindly and firmly insist on all your children greeting people, including each other and family that visit. Some families have literally parked on this one and pleasantly told their child that they will wait until they are ready to say hello. A child will eventually come around but it does take some fortitude to hold the line. At the end of the day, your resolve is a gift to your children – once they are over the hurdle of speaking to a visitor or teacher, they will often grow in confidence for bigger things.

There are other small practices that could help. One of these could be getting Jasmine to answer the phone or make a call to invite a friend over. Role playing what to say helps to get the ball rolling and when you are in shop, let her be the one to pay for the item she is buying.

It is easy to label a child as shy, so be careful how you speak about Jasmine. Children have a habit of growing into what we call them. If she hears that you are telling others that she is becoming more confident or learning a new skill, she will take this on board.

I would encourage you to work beside Jasmine to lay out a plan for the next term and what your expectations are for her picking up a sport or team activity. Once again you will probably be met with resistance, but this is normal and you can sail through it. Give her two or three options and a time frame to decide which one she would like to do, and then book it in for one term. Jasmine doesn’t yet know all about her likes and dislikes and this will open the world a little more for her. She might even thank you for this in many years to come. Let her know your dreams for her – how you would like her to develop her skills and have many, varied experiences. This can help children understand why you are being firm.

The outcome

It has been easier than we thought! Jasmine has started well and will now say hello to her teacher and classmates. They have seen  a friendlier side of her and that has led to her being invited to join in and even have the odd play date.

She  wasn’t impressed that  we insisted on greetings at home, even when   grandma other and family that visit but that’s actually been good for us all as we had slipped into staying on screens and not noticing someone had arrived.

The bigger challenge has been getting her to choose an after-school activity, but we will hopefully hold our ground and stick with this. We both feel that she will get so much out of going to drama or athletics, but the plan is to go to athletics as a family and even if she doesn’t participate, to roll up regularly. The nicest thing we have seen so far is that people are getting to know the real Jasmine who is friendly, funny and really quite chatty.

The obstacle was that by not saying anything when she first met someone, it stopped any further communication. Now it goes quickly from a greeting to the next level and she gets to be included in a bigger conversation. We wish we had been more aware and intentional about these things earlier, but at the same time we are relieved that we haven’t left it too late.

soccer ball