If you were a shy child yourself then you understand the fear, lack of trust and isolation that affects your child. Shyness left unchecked can cripple a child for life, affecting adult friendships, the ability to have intimate relationships as well as success in work and overall satisfaction with life. Although shyness may be learned, it is possible for extroverted parents to have shy kids. If you are an extrovert and don't understand what it feels like to be frightened of others, then take a moment to imagine what this would feel like. Shyness in its infancy is a form of social anxiety that can plague kids into adulthood, but by following the steps below, you can help your child learn how to build relationships with people who are worthy of their trust.
1. Become a Trusted, Responsive Parent - you are the role model for your child's relationships with others. If you are an adult who can be relied on to meet your child's needs and a parent who is responsive, empathetic and caring, then the sense of trust your child has in you will naturally extend to others. This type of parent takes the time to understand child development and what it really means to be a responsive parent (which I cover extensively in my parenting book, Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting.)
Responsive parenting means responding to needs but it also means being aware that others have feelings that may cause them to react to situations differently than you would. Be aware of how your child feels by watching his body language and respond to it. Rather than making him feel bad about being shy or pushing him to engage socially with others, model relaxed behavior around new people and model how to take baby steps in interacting appropriately with others. As your child grows, you will begin to teach him how to determine whether a person is worthy of his trust. (For more on this, see my parenting book.)
2. Be a Role Model for Healthy Interactions with Others - Always remember that your child learns by watching you. This means teaching social skills, emotional intelligence and the ability to respond appropriately to others' social cues. Teach your child how to approach other children by doing it with him. Get down at their level and play with them until you see that your child feels comfortable.
3. Never make excuses for your child's shyness or introduce your child as being shy. Children who are labeled have a tendency to become their labels. Even if you do have a shy child, labeling her as such will not help her in making this a passing phase. What it will do is encourage your child to accept this as truth about herself and prevent her from stepping beyond it. If your child is teased by other kids because she is shy, you might want to consider getting How Kids Make Friends: Secrets for Making Lots of Friends, No Matter How Shy You Are.
4. A shy child who is introverted may do better with other children one-on-one than in groups. Have play dates at your home, inviting one child to your house for a short time. Children who are shy may be able to handle being with another child for a certain amount of time, but often need to recharge their batteries with some solitude, so if you have noticed this tendency in your child, make sure to respect his or her limits.
5. Be aware of the stranger-danger mode of parenting and how this makes children afraid of everyone unfamiliar, unknown family members and new acquaintances included. In my parenting book, I devote an entire chapter to this subject. Parents often unwittingly teach their shy children to be afraid of people instead of showing them how to pay attention to the signs that will let them know whether a new acquaintance is worthy of their trust. With regard to the idea of stranger-danger, it's important for parents to understand that family, friends and other people known to the family hurt and/or abduct children much more often than strangers.
Copyright © by Laura Ramirez. All rights reserved.
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