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Parenting the Shy Child; Are you Creating Labels for your Child to Live By?


This blog post has been reposted, with permission, from Bril’s Blog

parenting a shy child

Picture this; on your way back from your child’s school, you meet a neighbor in the parking lot. Your neighbor makes friendly attempt at engaging in a conversation with your child, maybe even initiating a physical contact. Your child doesn’t respond, looks visibly withdrawn and hides behind your legs to shield him from this sudden onslaught of questions that demand answers. Your neighbor just coos, “Oh he’s being shy, how sweet!” There! A label created, damage done.

Let me explain. Every child is born with a unique personality. Some like to sit back and observe rather than plunge head on into things. Others talk nineteen to the dozen and try out new things without any kind of orientation. While the basic reason why your child behaves the way he does has got a lot to do with his genetic make-up, we in the adult world, create labels like shy, a bully, cute, etc. to explain away why our children behave the way they do. But there are 2 major problems in doing this.

Firstly, you are setting up excuses for the way your child is behaving and this only reinforces him to continue behaving in the same way. In his little world, if adults say that he is being shy, he must be, right?

Secondly, it puts a so-called shy child under enormous pressure to respond to communication in the way it is expected, no matter what how or what own feelings are.

How can you help a child in this situation?

  • Understand that toddler shyness could be a development trait due to lack of social skills.
  • Most shy kids are well adjusted and can very well work around stressful situations on their own, if left alone. Don’t shower him with attention if he would rather be left alone.
  • You can boost your child’s self esteem and social skills by preparing him for stressful situations in advance. If there is a birthday party coming up, have a mock party at home and play out parts where he gets a chance to interact with his friends.
  • When people try to label your child “shy” tell them “No he isn’t shy, he just isn’t being very talkative”. That way you are not letting your child believe that he is forever going to be shy.
  • Refrain from rescuing your child from situations like the one stated above. Don’t coax an answer out him. Just continue your conversation and trust that your child will join in when ready.
  • Use family meetings and gatherings to get your child to come out of his comfort zone. In such a situation he feels safe to explore and has more chances of discovering the joys of participation.
  • Expose your child to as many social situations as is possible. But be careful not to put any pressure on him to perform according to the rules of adults just then.

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ParentEdge is a bi-monthly magazine for discerning Indian parents who would like to actively contribute to their children’s education, intellectual enrichment and stimulation. The magazine’s premise is that learning is a continuous process, and needs to happen both in and outside of school; thus parents have an important role to play in shaping their children’s interests and intellect.


2 thoughts on “Parenting the Shy Child; Are you Creating Labels for your Child to Live By?

  1. Kesang

    As parent of a child who took her time before choosing to interact with people , I strongly defended my child’s right to be herself. Very often people would try to interact with her and and not get the response they wanted and turn to me and say ” She very shy isnt she? ” And I would give replies like-. She prefers to take her time in getting to know people” / She can be very talkative when she wants to/ She chooses who she wants to talk to.:”
    Often i replied on her behalf when she did not want to instead of forcing her. And this continued much beyond toddlerhood.
    I am not saying I did not feel embarrassed when my child did not respond to people but I am strongly against labels and believed the most important role I played as a parent was accepting my child and making her know its ok to be herself. To me that is the basis of self esteem.

    People confuse extroversion and being confident. A child can be quietly confident.
    My daughter now 17 years old was the most vocal person in a panel discussion she recently took part in.
    Its a journey each child needs to make and eventually also have the choice of being as “shy” or not as they choose to!!

    Reply

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