Healthy Kids: Overcoming Shyness

January 17, 2012

Dr. Duru Sakhrani is medical director for

child and adolescent inpatient psychiatry

at Mercy Children’s Hospital.

By Dr. Duru Sakhrani

Shy is a term many of us use to describe a child who doesn’t talk much or like interaction with others. The term tends to come with a negative connotation that can actually be harmful to the child.

The truth is, being shy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Often these children are simply observing a situation before reacting. It’s important to be careful how you use the term “shy.” Some kids hear it and think it’s bad, which can ultimately make them retreat more.

As kids grow, they transition from playing alone to parallel play, and finally to interactive play. They become more open to friendships and most don’t have trouble maintaining them. However, parents who have a child that is a little more reserved might find themselves asking if there is something wrong with their child or if they can help the child become more comfortable.

The best thing you can do for your reserved child is plan ahead.

Before entering a new situation, give your child some advance notice of where you’re going, how long you’ll be there, who will be there and safe areas for time away.

If you want to have a play date for your child, first and foremost make sure the child you’re inviting is a good match for your child. If you pair an introverted child with a hyper-extrovert, chances are they won’t do well together.

Have a clear start and end time. Lengthen the time if things go well.

Have activities in mind ahead of time and don’t allow withdrawal into video games.

After starting the first few activities, encourage the children to plan the next one. Activities don’t need to be elaborate or expensive. Playing a game, having a snack or working on an interesting activity is a good start. 

When a child’s introverted personality extends to multiple settings or gets worse, you might need to seek the support of a therapist to help with simple strategies. If shyness is severe and not improving with therapeutic interventions, a psychiatric referral may be needed.

Overcoming shyness is a process, it will not happen with a single experience. Confidence comes with many positive experiences. Allow for a few playdates and gauge how the child is doing before setting higher goals of more play dates, longer periods or more stimulating environments.   

Story Covered By

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