How much of shyness can be attributed to “nature” and how much to “nurture?” While we cannot say with certainty, it is clear that shyness has a strong genetic/biological component. But it is also clear that we can become more confident and outgoing with a little “work.” It is often frustrating and difficult for children (and their parents) when shyness has a strong negative impact on a child’s ability to participate and enjoy new people and situations.
Of course, sometimes this is nothing but a stage that your child may eventually grow out of. Other times, though, shyness is part of your child’s personality and will therefore always be present (to some degree). We cannot (and would not want to) change a child’s core personality, but we can exercise some influence and help a child become more socially competent and confident. Here are some suggestions:
- When you arrive at a social situation, allow your child to stay back a distance and observe. Don’t “push” him to interact before he is ready, it will most likely cause him to withdraw and resist further.
- Be attuned to when your child is ready to join others.
- Try to notice a pattern of your child’s preferences (e.g., is he drawn to smaller children? Older children?).
- Talk about ways that he can join the others (e.g., maybe he would reject participating in a physically wild activity, but would be willing to join the group for snack).
- When bringing your child to a situation that is familiar (e.g., a Mommy and Me; a friend’s house), let him “take time” with things that give him time to adjust (e.g., hanging up his coat). Don’t push to “rush” to the goal of social interaction.
- Don’t ask a shy child to “perform” in front of others (e.g., sing a song that was just learned in class) unless he appears ready and comfortable.