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Helping the Shy Child Get the Most out of School

by Gary Drevitch

He never left your side at the playground. He was the last to “separate” when nursery school began. And he still comes straight home from school most days instead of seeking friends to play with. A shy child can make any mom or dad anxious. But shyness is most often a personality trait, not a disorder, and almost all kids go through periods of shyness.

Many kids experience more intense shyness at the beginning of the school year.

With these tips, you can help your child get more comfortable at school, at home – and with his or her friends

1. Don’t speak for your child.

Your child may not be comfortable speaking for herself. That doesn’t mean you should speak for her. It can be agonizing to watch a child clam up when adults or other kids ask her questions. But it’s better to let her struggle a little than to answer for her. When you step in, you tell your child that it’s OK for them not to speak to others, and that could make them dependent on you.

2. Don’t label your child.

When your child hears you apologize for him, or call him shy, it could make him more self-conscious. It could also lead others to treat him differently, which could make him withdraw further. The other risk in labeling a child shy is that he could use the label as an excuse for avoiding new situations.

√ 3. Boost your child's confidence.

Many shy children resist taking chances or trying new things. You can make them more confident and help them to feel better about themselves in general by encouraging them, and praising the skills and talents they’ve developed.

4. Don’t push.

It’s hard to resist the urge to push a shy child into new activities or social situations. But the more you push, the further your child might retreat. A child may excel in her piano lessons. That doesn’t mean she’s ready to put on a command performance for grandma. If you give her the room, she’ll let you know when she’s ready.

√ 5. OK, push a little.

On the other hand, if you never at least gently nudge your shy child into new social situations, her development could be hindered. Your child really does want to join in. It’s just not as easy for her, and that’s why your support is so important. Even if she hangs back, she’ll pick up cues by observing how other children interact. But keep an eye out for signs of extreme discomfort and step in if your child appears overwhelmed.

√ 6. Let the teacher help.

Work with teachers to ease the transition back to school and raise your child’s comfort level. Maybe a teacher can subtly pair your child up with a “buddy,” or recommend which kids your child might like to play with outside of school. You can also clue the teacher into your child’s favorite activities, so he can be called upon to try to take a larger role at those times.

√ 7. Make school less scary.

When you drop your child off, make a point of letting her see you have friendly conversations with the teacher and other administrators, and explore the classroom with her to find the things she’ll enjoy the most.

√ 8. Be prepared.

There are ways to make parties more comfortable for your child. First, tell him in advance who he’ll see, and what will be expected of him. Then, arrive early. It’s far easier for a shy child to meet people as they arrive one at a time than to walk into the middle of a full-blown party. If you’re the host, give your child a job to do. Bringing a soft drink to everyone will occupy him and get him involved.

√ 9. Make them the leaders.

Arrange for your child to play with some children a year or two younger. She’ll be more likely to try on a leadership role with younger kids, which will go a long way toward developing assertiveness with kids her own age.

√ 10. Make sure it’s not about home.

Some children will develop shyness when there’s a major source of stress at home, like their own or a parent’s illness, or extreme tension between parents. In these cases, the shyness should ease when the source of stress does. But whenever there’s stress at home, be sensitive for signs of withdrawal in your child.


If a child is becomes extraordinarily agitated in social situations, lashes out, or refuses to make eye contact, and more generally if you feel you're making no progress with your child's social development, there may be more serious concerns, and it may be wise to meet with your pediatrician and/or school psychologist. In such cases, shyness may be a sign of inner anger, fear, or distrust, and the child may not be able to develop needed social skills adequately without professional intervention.

on handling shyness, view these articles online:




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