Shy behaviour is quite normal in children. It simply means that the child is ‘slow to warm up’ or interact comfortably in social situations. For example, the child may hide behind a parent, be hesitant to interact with unfamiliar people and avoid playing with other children of their age.
There’s nothing wrong with being shy. It’s just part of their temperament, their own unique way of interacting with the world.
Children who seem shy may often ‘warm up’ and engage well after initial hesitancy as they get comfortable around a person or understand the situation. This means it would be better to describe these children as ‘slow to warm up’ rather than labelling them as ‘shy’. A child who grows up hearing that he/she’s shy, may think that there’s something wrong with them.
Helping your child with shyness
If your child is shy in a playgroup, for example, try letting them sit with you and watch the other kids until they are ready to join in.
- Encourage playdates, either at your house or at your friend’s house.
- Stay with your child in social situations like playgroups. You could gradually move away for short periods once your child is ready to join in.
- To make your child feel more comfortable in front of their class, you could practise show-and- tell or class presentation with your child at home.
- Encourage your child to do some extracurricular activities, especially the ones that encourage social behaviour – for example, a sport activity.
- Avoid negative comparisons with confident siblings or friends.
- Help to build your child’s self-esteem by encouraging even small steps towards being less shy.
When shyness might be a cause of concern
Your child’s shy behaviour might be a cause for concern if it’s causing them (or you) a lot of distress and/or getting in the way of every day life. For example, shyness might be a problem if:
- You or your child cannot go to places because of their shyness.
- Your child becomes anxious in social situations like parties or school.
- Your child expresses feeling lonely but doesn’t know how to join in with other children.
- Your child feels he can’t answer or ask questions in class.
It’s also a good idea to talk to your child’s school teacher to consider other possible reasons for your child’s behaviour. For example:
- A child with a language delay might show signs that they want to speak to people – for instance, looking for eye contact or trying to make social connections.
- A child with a hearing impairment might have trouble following instructions.
- A child with autism spectrum disorder might have trouble reading social cues, may not want to play in the same way as other children and may be uninterested in social contact.
If your child’s shy behaviour is significant and hard to change, it could help to talk to a professional like your family doctor or paediatrician.
- Shyness: Babies and children [Internet] [Updated Jun 11, 2019]. Available at: https://raisingchildren.net.au/preschoolers/behaviour/common-concerns/sh.... Accessed on Feb 25, 2020.