Tips For Supporting Your Shy Child or Teen
Most parents of more than one child will tell you that their children came into the world with distinct personalities. We all begin with our own unique temperament. Some children tend to be cautious observers right from infancy. Parents often wonder how they can best support their shy children in a culture that tends to favor extroverts.
1. Most importantly: accept your child. Do not feel that they need to become more extroverted unless this is something that they want for themselves. If they would like to extend themselves more socially then the following tips can be helpful.
2. Go from easy to hard. Have your child practice eye contact, smiling, conversation starters and asking questions with the people they feel safest and most comfortable with.
3. Resist the urge to speak for them. While it can feel hard to watch your child feel uncomfortable when asked a question, stepping in to answer for them takes away the opportunity to practice and develop their social skills.
4. Help seek out interest-based opportunities for your child that might afford opportunities to connect with other kids or teens with similar interests.
5. Provide opportunities for them to see you socializing with friends and family so that they have a model.
6. Have conversations with your child about the costs and benefits of stepping a little outside of their comfort zone.
7. Help to pump up their self-confidence by highlighting their unique strengths and the qualities you love about them.
8. Help your child recognize that while it might feel like everyone is watching and judging them, people tend to think more about themselves than those around them.
9. Have your child practice a “flip and reverse” activity where they think of something that makes them feel self-conscious and then have them explore if they judge others for that same behavior. For instance, if they feel scared to answer a question in class, have them question if they critically judge all their classmates who answer questions in class. Or, if they feel worried to say “Hi” to a classmate, ask them to think about how they feel when a classmate says “Hi” to them. If they think it feels nice to receive a greeting from a classmate, then it may be safe to “flip and reverse” and assume that their friendliness will be well received.
10. Praise their efforts and validate that it can feel very hard to take these steps to socially engage. Highlight that these social skills are like new muscles that get stronger and easier to flex with use.
Here’s to Your Well Being!
Aliza Mendel, LCSW