When is shyness a problem and when is it just a part of your child’s personality? That’s a question that every parent of an introverted child has to ask. It’s important to separate the reserved personality traits of the introvert from more troublesome characteristics of timidity and social embarrassment. A good rule of thumb is that shyness is a problem if it’s keeping your child from developing along appropriate social and academic paths.
It’s been well established that variation in introversion/extroversion is one of the core differences in people’s personalities. This variation doesn’t have to be considered a good or bad thing. Both introversion and extroversion have strengths and advantages as well as weaknesses.
In general, parents need to accept and celebrate the characteristics that make each child unique. Our American culture frequently encourages all of us to behave as if we were extroverts and we minimize the strengths of the introvert. This can be a mistake, because a more reserved child is often very aware, a deep thinker, and quite thoughtful of others. Because they’ve had to put deliberate thought into initiating a friendship, a more introverted child will frequently take her friendships quite seriously, being loyal and caring. These advantages often get overlooked in the rush to have everyone be outgoing.
At the same time, parents need to acknowledge that some traits, such as extreme shyness, might be making life difficult for their child. Children who don’t have any friends, won’t speak up in class or while talking to the teacher, or kids who are nervous about going to school are all struggling with shyness.
Try to talk to your child about social issues. Find out who he eats lunch with, where she spends recess. Does your child have a realistic list of friends to invite to a birthday party? Kids frequently feel comfortable if they have just one friend to hang out with, but life can be very difficult with no friends at all. Sitting alone at the lunch table can be torture. Check out the academic end of shyness as well. Kids who are struggling with their introversion may not feel comfortable answering the teacher or giving presentations. This can make the school day feel very intense and effect the child’s grades as well.
While some kids’ shyness eases as they mature, other kids get more anxious as they get older. It’s important to get help if this is the case. If your child is struggling with problems due to shyness, there are lots of things that you as a parent can do to help. This topic will be explored further in later columns.