Understanding shyness in children
Shyness means feeling anxious about interacting with other people, especially people who are strangers.
Most children feel shy now and then, but for some children it is most of the time. For others it can start interfering in the way they live their lives.
Why do children become shy?
Some children develop shyness because of experiences they have had. If your child has been through a stressful life event, or has been criticised and shamed a lot they could become shy.
Some children develop shyness because of the way the world treats them. If they have a speech and language problem, a hearing problem or a sensory difficulty they may not have been able to fully take part in activities. Joining in could be more stressful for them than other children.
Shyness has a basis in biology – but that doesn’t mean that all siblings will be shy if one is, or that the same things will make them feel more or less shy.
Being quiet is not the same as being shy
Children naturally have different temperaments. Some are loud and focus their energy outward, some are quiet and inward. Many are a mixture of these things.
Children who are most inward focused or ‘introvert’ may prefer environments where there is a little less going on. They need time alone to regain energy after spending time with people – but it is not about being anxious.
Being shy is not the same as experiencing social anxiety either. Children who are shy often warm up over time, as they get to know people.
Shyness in itself is not a problem.
But it becomes a problem if it stops your child from joining in everyday activities like classroom discussions and enjoyable events like parties, or from making friendships.
Here are some of the problems shyness can cause:
- Your child struggles to make friends
- Your child doesn’t like to ask for help when they are learning – and so learning gets harder for them
- Your child gets left out because they can’t relax and connect with others easily in social situations
- Other adults can get cross with your child because they don’t seem to communicate what they want or need. That isn’t helpful of them. But that doesn’t stop it happening.
If your child is showing signs of shyness, there might also be other things for you to look out for.
- They might have developed negative feelings about themselves and be worrying about what others think of them
- The shyness could be caused by distress or anxiety. Could something be overwhelming them? If your child is persistently struggling to join in, and they don’t seem to warm up even when given time, they may be experiencing social anxiety, not just shyness.
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