The last thing shy kids need is over-protection

You’re at a cocktail party. Mary is sitting alone in the corner, holding her drink, and looking down at the floor without a smile on her face. She is alone.

Graham is talking quietly to two other folks. It’s a low-key conversation and clearly of interest to all of them. They are engaged.

Both of these people are shy. They are self-conscious and nervous in groups and given a choice would never attend this event. But how is it that they are each responding so differently?

It’s all about how they were parented. Mary’s parents spent her childhood protecting her. They made sure teachers made accommodations for her shyness. They spoke for her and they permitted her to avoid most social contact. Graham’s parents respected his shyness and understood it was part of his particular temperament. But, at the same time, they taught him the basic social skills he would need despite his self-consciousness.

Shyness is not something that children need to get rid of. But they need to develop the skills required to interact at work and in social situations.

Shy children are timid and self-conscious. They do not rush out to greet new experiences with glee and excitement. They are the kids who peer out from behind their parents’ legs, who cling to their folks or just stand in the corner watching the activity. At recess they go out to the schoolyard and immediately get in line, ready to return to the safety of the classroom.

The trick is to respect your child’s temperament while at the same time helping them learn basic social skills. All kids need to learn these skills but with your shy child it will take longer and require patience. This is particularly true if you are an outgoing, extroverted person.

The first thing all children need to learn is how to simply say hello. You can start with people he already knows. If he finds it very difficult, hold his hand while he speaks and ask only that when the family friend says, “Hi, Riley”’ he replies with a simple hello. When he does this don’t make a big deal out of it. It is something that is expected and that’s that.

The next steps are learning how to answer simple questions such as ‘what is your favourite toy?’ or ‘how do you like your preschool teacher?’

It’s very easy to want to protect our shy child, but it’s not doing him any favours. If we make a point of asking his childcare providers or teachers to protect him from needing to interact, we are hampering his development. While the extroverted, outgoing child needs to learn to sometimes rein in his energy and activity level, the shy child needs to learn how to move forward, even when it’s hard.

Shy children also need to learn how to behave in group activities. Again, it’s a slower process than his more confident peer. Avoid big, noisy birthday parties but have him attend smaller events. His birthday parties can be small with a few close friends and may be shorter than is typical.

It’s important to coach our kids. Talk to them about what to expect at school, at extracurricular activities or social events. Role-play with him so that he can practice some of the things he will need to say or do. When he has a meltdown, be supportive and sympathetic but then help him to learn from the situation so he can try again.

Once he has the basic social skills, he can make choices about his behavior. He doesn’t ever have to be the life of the party. He will not need to be raucous nor does he have to talk to everyone in the room. But he does need to engage in some basic socializing.

Once he learns that he has control over his social behavior he will be well on the way to becoming a shy and successful young adult and you will have done your job.

What is Happening with Parenting Today?

Parenting Today would like to invite you to take advantage of a few upcoming trips. While I am in your community, let’s see what work we can do together to help the parents in your workplace or neighbourhood. You might be thinking of a public workshop in your region, a parent conference through your schools or maybe Beyond Childcare would be perfect for your workplace.

I am looking forward to speaking at the North Shore Safety Council AGM this week.

I am pleased that some of you have decided to take advantage of my trip to Ottawa just before National Child Day, which is November 20, 2010. I still have some time around that trip, so if you are looking for a professional development event, Beyond Childcare program, or a speaker for your meeting or conference get in touch.

While I’m in Ontario, I will also have some time in the Toronto area. The schedule for this trip is still flexible so look at your calendar and see what might work for you. For those who plan way ahead I will be in Washington state and Oregon in June 2011 and in Ontario and New England in late September and early October of 2011.

I’ll be in Montreal in early December and would love to work with you then.

Have you visited ParentingToday1 on You Tube? I will be adding more segments. What tips and advice would you like to see?

And, I’m working on a trip to Central Alberta in the spring. Stay tuned for more information.

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