5 Ways to Help Your Shy Child Thrive

Extroverts tend to absorb most of the good things that come from social success: they attract all the attention, the friendships, the approval and the popularity. But parents can learn to encourage a shy child or teen to spread his or her wings and make the social forays that will expand their world – incrementally.

Children and adolescents who are shy may have a shy or sensitive temperament, but they may also be anxious, and their anxiety will manifest more strongly in social situations where they are likely to feel self-conscious. They may feel that they need to perform, and be unnaturally gregarious; they may also feel that they will be judged - these feelings can cause anxiety.

Children will want to avoid these unpleasant feelings and will need a gentle push to take the risks involved in trying new things. You can help them by modeling healthy management of anxiety.

1. Encouragement: Be realistic. Baby steps are better than taking too much on at any one time. Small successes will result in positive reinforcement and good memories.

2. Listening: listen to their fears and their feelings about social engagement. It may be that there is something specific holding them back – and if there is, it's a good idea for you to know about it.

3. Validation: make sure they know that you understand what is going on for them and that you accept them as they are, BUT you want a bigger, more opportunity-filled world for them that includes more people and more experiences. That is why you are encouraging them to be more socially active.

4. Acceptance: sometimes that’s just the way they are: being highly sensitive or introverted doesn’t equate to being socially inadequate. You can accept them for who they are RIGHT NOW, but also gently encourage them to take advantage of social opportunities.

5. Spend time with them: getting to know your child is important, spending time with them and leaving emotional space for your interactions can make a huge difference. A shy, sensitive child will often take on your moods and will be affected by your emotions. Best to “clear the slate” and give them space to be themselves rather than bring too much baggage to your time with them.