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, Tan says. 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 them. That's because by openly comparing they'll began harnessing negative feelings within themselves by feeling less of a person. "Shyness prevents a child from fulfilling certain desires, in this case human interactions, which might cause them to withdraw as a person and they may grow to dislike/hate other people who can in fact interact well," she adds.
2. Offer positive reinforcement
Help your child build confidence within themselves because shyness is often a result of negative thoughts. Explains Dr Hana Ra Adams**, a clinical psychologist, "The more the child is able to feel positive of themselves, the more likely they are likely to try new things and not feel nervous about themselves." Compliment their efforts but don't make it a big deal because you're directing attention onto them when they really just want 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 they are trying to come out of their shell, because that would only set them back into their 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 them out by starting small, Tan advises, " start with easy tasks like waving hi and bye, then encourage them to verbalise these, next move on to short phrases." However, she cautions, don't force them to interact in unfamiliar social settings as they can develop anxiety in future, which will hinder their interactions practically about anything and everything.
5. Set play dates
As much as your child would much rather play by themselves 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 they see 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," Dr Adams notes. So, take the lead by exposing them 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 okay 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 they'd like to show grandma their card trick. This not only respects their comfort level, but also helps them 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 new audience.
8. Don't label
There's just something about labels that sticks to a person like glue. So, don't tell your child they're shy, because they'll grow up believing they're shy people instead of trying to break free from it. Dr Adams says, "Labelling your child may lead them to believe that being shy is a bad thing." She encourages you to correct someone if they call your child shy, saying 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 their 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.
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