The first thing you need to understand is that there's a huge difference between someone who is an introvert and shy. "An introvert is someone who recharges by being by themselves, they get drained with social interaction and/or are not stimulated by it," says life coach Angela Tan*, a Certified Coach at Executive Coach International. (As compared to extroverts who recharge mentally through social interactions). Shyness on the other hand, "is how a person responds to social interactions, where they tend to be awkward or apprehensive when approaching or being approached by other people," she explains.
Introverts are not shy and manage to functionally interact with others. Having an introverted child is no cause for worry, but shyness can be crippling for an individual especially when they have to work with others says Tan. Don't worry too much, here's what you can do to help your child deal with shyness;
1. DON'T COMPARE
Life coach Tan says that you shouldn't compare your child with other kids who are friendlier or more outgoing, especially in front of him. That's because by openly comparing he'll began harnessing negative feelings within himself by feeling less of a person. "Shyness prevents a child from fulfilling certain desires, in this case human interactions, which might cause him to withdraw as a person and he may grow to dislike/hate other people who can in fact interact well," she adds.
2. POSITIVE REINFORCEMENTS
Help your child build confidence within himself because shyness is often a result of negative thoughts. Dr Hana Ra Adams**, a clinical psychologist explains, "The more the child is able to feel positive of himself, the more likely he would be to try new things and not feel nervous about himeself." Compliment his efforts but don't make it a big deal because you're directing attention onto him when he really just wants to be on the down-low.
3. PROVIDE A SAFE SANCTUARY
A child who feels emotionally secure at home will gradually start to grow comfortable and feel less anxious when dealing with strangers. This is because home serves as a crutch to providing opportunities for interactions. Build close relationships with your child and encourage other family members to create a strong sense of security in the household too. Do avoid making fun of the child, especially when he's trying to come out of his shell, because that would only set him back into his shell.
4. HAVE EMPATHY
As an adult, social interactions come naturally (even if they're at face value) - bottom line is, you can walk up to someone and ask for directions. Your child on the other hand may find that crippling. You can help him out by starting small advises Tan, " start with easy tasks like waving hi and bye then encourage him to verbalise them, next move on to short phrases." However, she cautions, don't force him to interact in unfamiliar social settings as he can develop anxiety in future, which will hinder his interactions practically about anything and everything.
5. SET A PLAY DATE
As much as your child would much rather play by himself or an immediate family member, setting a play date with a friend is a step in the right direction. It could be a classmate or neighbour's child, as long as he sees them often enough. Dr Adams says that you should host the play date at your home, so as to provide safety and security for your child.
6. WALK THE TALK
Make an example of yourself, because children model themselves according to the ones they're closest to. "kids are more apt to do what you show them rather than what you say," notes Dr Adams. So take the lead by exposing him to your own interactions. This doesn't mean pushing your own boundaries, it's simply a matter of showing them how to start a conversation with friends or how you'd introduce yourself to a group.
7. DON'T PUT THEM ON THE SPOT
It doesn't matter if your child is a budding Mozart or David Copperfield (the magician), it's never ok to put your child on the spot, especially a shy one. "Being put on the spot causes them unnecessary frustration and sadness," notes Dr Adams. Instead ask your child beforehand if he'd like to show grandma his card trick. This not only respects his comfort level, but also helps him mentally prepare for the task ahead. It's one thing to perform for parents - because you'll clap out of excitement regardless of the mistakes - but a whole different thing to do so in front of a anew audience.
8. DON'T LABEL
There's just something about labels, that sticks to a person like glue. So don't tell your child he's shy, because he'll grow up trying believing he's a shy person instead of trying to break free from it. Dr Adams say, "Labelling your child may lead him to believe that being shy is a bad thing." She encourages you to correct someone if they call your child shy, by something along the lines of "he's a bubbly child once you get to know him," or "he's a deep thinker and takes time before he chooses to speak." By doing so, it encourages your child to see his behaviour in a positive light.
* Professional Certified Coach and International Coach Federation (ICF) at Executive Coach International (www.liveyourmark.com).
**PsyD., MA, LMFT, licensed marriage & family therapist, doctorate in clinical psychology, and school counsellor at German European School Singapore.