How Do I Help My Shy Child?

Shy children leave many thoughts bottled up—thoughts that could help him or her connect with others if only they were brought out. Imagine how many incredible thoughts are not shared because of shyness!

Shyness and Our Children

Most of us have shy moments. Just as with adults, shyness can leave a child feeling awkward and embarrassed. When it’s severe enough it can be painful and debilitating.

Sadly, shy children leave many thoughts bottled up—thoughts that could help him or her connect with others if only they were brought out. Imagine how many incredible thoughts are not shared with the world because of shyness! Instead of sharing, many shy people are left feeling lonely and afraid.

Some children have a naturally reserved temperament. Often, however, shy children are hesitant to speak because they’re insecure and scared, afraid they will say the wrong thing. He or she may analyze and overanalyze situations and thoughts to the point where they are left behind in the current conversation. Their quietness may be interpreted as aloofness or being uninterested.

Paul encourages us in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  The Living Bible beautifully paraphrases this to say, “For the Holy Spirit, God’s gift, does not want you to be afraid of people, but to be wise and strong, and to love them and enjoy being with them.”  As Paul encourages Timothy, we should encourage our children to have confidence in being around other people.

My daughter is a very social person. But when she was much younger she was quite shy and would sometimes cling to our legs, want to be held, or look away when someone she didn’t know tried to say hello or ask her a question. I eventually met with my daughter’s 3rd grade teacher to discuss ways to help her interpret and experience her school as a fun and safe environment. Since then, theater, singing, sports, and great teachers have all helped my daughter become more confident.

Overcoming Shyness

In my years working as a child and family therapist and school social worker I’ve helped many parents of kids who struggle to speak and socialize freely. Here are some practical steps I’ve found valuable in helping children break out of their shyness.

  • Ask your child what they are experiencing through their senses. When they feel shyness, what are they seeing, hearing, and feeling? What do they think is being demanded from them in the situations they encounter and the people they meet?
  • Have your child make observations rather than assumptions. What does he or she see around them when they feel shy? Do they feel the need to be perfect? Where did they get that assumption?
  • Take some time to discuss when shyness may be a problem. For instance, does shyness:
    • Prevent them from meeting new people?
    • Keep them from sharing their thoughts with others?
    • Prevent them from spending time with friends or peers?
    • Cause them to be self-critical or critical of others?
  • Provide challenges and celebrations. Challenges could include having your child simply ask themselves, “Is there another way to look at this?”
  • Remember that we do not have to face the issue of shyness alone. God’s Holy Spirit has been sent to help us overcome any obstacles in our lives. John 14:26 tells us, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Hurtful Experiences

Other kids can be very hurtful, and hurtful experiences train us to be a bit shy. It’s important to help your child understand that the mean behavior of others isn’t your child’s fault. Many times kids say and do unkind things because of what’s going on in their own lives.

  • Another question to ask your child is “Who gets to vote on whether you’re good enough, or whether you’re a worthwhile person?” Urge them to challenge their own thoughts. Reassure your child that their worthiness comes from God, and not from people around him or her.  The Bible teaches that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:13) and that “if God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). 
  • Encourage your child to write their thoughts in a journal. Then celebrate as your child reshapes her thoughts and gains a more realistic perspective of herself.

My daughter still has shy moments, but she’s learning more about herself and what pushes her toward shyness. As you work to help your own child break free from shyness, remember this will take patience, time, intentionality and courage. 

© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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