Published: Wednesday April 3, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday May 23, 2013 MYT 2:01:32 PM

Parenting shy kids

Helping children overcome shyness is best done during their formative years.

SHYNESS is a feeling of awkwardness, worry, or tension during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people. Severely shy people may exhibit physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, a pounding heart or upset stomach.

They could also be filled with negative feelings about themselves and worry how others see them.

Feeling shy on occasion is perfectly normal. However, some people face intense feelings of shyness that may prevent them from interacting with others. This usually leads to problems in school, at work, and in relationships.

If this leads to significant impairment in social activities or relationships, then it is no longer shyness but a psychological problem called social phobia (fear of humiliation or possible scrutiny by others), and this requires professional help.

A person who is suffering from social phobia usually will find it easy to interact with his family or close friends. But, he will be under great pressure if he has to meet new faces, and he will tend to avoid such situations.

Identifying shyness

In children, the most common observable symptom of shyness is “avoidance behaviour”, where the child tries to avoid all situations where he or she has to meet other people.

The child may exhibit anger, resort to crying, or keep silent (elective mutism) if he or she is forced into such a situation. If you have a child who struggles with shyness, it is advisable that you address and improve the issue while the child is still in his formative years.

Addressing the situation at an early stage ensures the child can enjoy a better and healthier school experience – which gradually leads to more confidence in later life.

Be observant of your child’s mannerisms and reactions in order to find out whether your child is shy. How you can help?

·Do not ridicule or make fun of your child in public

Shy children are afraid of peer rejection and worry whatever they say or do may be perceived as incompetent. Therefore, negative comments or labels are dangerous, as they will cause emotional distress to your child.

This may make him become even more withdrawn or reserved.

·Do not label your child as “shy”

Accepting your child for who he is is very important; labelling him as “a shy child” will make him more likely to be shy. Therefore, it is important to accept the child as he is – this can make him feel more confident and less inhibited.

·Build up your child’s self-esteem and confidence

Shy children tend to have doubts about their capabilities. They also have negative self-image and constantly think that they will not be accepted.

Nurture your child’s sense of self-esteem and confidence by allowing him to make decisions and take responsibility for them. Praise and acknowledge him when appropriate. This can help him feel good about himself.

·Be a role model for confident social behaviour

Children usually learn by imitating the people around them, so be sure to exhibit the characteristics that you want them to have. For instance, should you observe that your child is struggling in certain areas, like greeting people, make a point to model those behaviours in front of him.

·Teach your child social skills early

Good social skills need to be developed; some children may have greater aptitude for it than others, but practice makes perfect. The earlier you begin teaching your child, the better it is for him.

Allow your child to pick up social skills by letting him “practise” with people as much as possible. You could also encourage your shy child to speak up when you are with them. Utilise every opportunity you have – for instance, if the child wants to buy something, get him to take the money to the cashier at the counter.

·Teach tolerance and respect for others

Shy children are particularly judgemental of themselves and others, thus you will need to teach him or her to be tolerant and respectful of others.

If you are overly critical as a parent, your child will tend to follow and pick up a similar attitude. In the long run, he will believe that others are judging him. Be a good role model – tell him that no one is perfect, but they should be accepted in spite of their imperfections.

·Learning from experience

Help your children learn by making positive comments about how you felt as you accomplished certain tasks or things. Let them know it is all right to “explore” and try taking risks; though we may make mistakes at times and fail.

If you’ve tried all the tips listed and your child is still not showing any positive progress, be patient and give him or her some time. However, you must be alert to your child’s moods and behaviours.

If he or she shows signs of anxiety that is becoming very severe, or shows complex symptoms or suicidal thoughts or intentions, it is very important that you contact a mental health professional or a child psychologist for professional help.



2. Zimbardo PG and Radl S. The shy child: A parent’s guide to parenting and overcoming shyness from infancy to adulthood. ISHK: 1999.




Associate Professor Dr M Swamenathan is a consultant psychiatrist. This article is courtesy of Positive Parenting Programme by the Malaysian Paediatric Association. For further information, please visit The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Tags / Keywords: Health, parenting, shy child


Most Viewed

Powered by