10 Steps For Helping Your Shy Kid
Updated: Jul 22, 2021
Do some kids have more of a natural disposition to shyness than others? Sure, we all know that there are many different personality types. However, I believe that what shyness really is, is the fear that blocks people from being free and self-expressed.
I’ve heard it said that our authentic selves are who we were before life happened and skewed our beliefs and perspective. Who were we before that first negative experience that made us think otherwise?
In preschool, I felt free. I played with everyone, and just didn’t have any experience of fear. Then one day in Kindergarten, I got in trouble. The teacher isolated me to the side of the room, made me wash boards, and didn’t let me have a cupcake when a classmate was handing them out for her birthday. For the rest of my elementary school experience, I turned into a different person. I must have decided that in order to never get in trouble again, I should be very careful...and quiet. I was so quiet that a few years later, I overheard two teachers asking one another if I spoke English or not. People would call me shy, but deep down I knew that that was just a polite way of naming something that really just amounted to being afraid.
I don’t remember teachers making any special effort to help me to break out of my shell. In contrast, I think that many used my “shyness” to their advantage by seating me next to the “bad behavior” kids, knowing I would stay quiet and not join in on the misbehavior.
Now as a teacher of over 23 years, when I see scared, quiet students, I aim to give them what I never had and help them break out of their shell. Kids who start off the year shy, grow in their ability to release fears and experience breakthroughs in being free by the end of the year. When I check in with some of these students years later, some are still living free, while others seem to have reverted back to their fearful, shy habits.
Sometimes one school year with my support is not enough to really maintain sustainable results for life. Part of my mission in being a parent coach is to pass along the effective methods that cause so much transformation for my students every year. This way, kids will get this type of support from the ones who are the most important in their lives, instead of getting it just from me during one school year. Getting parents on board with methods I’ve found so much success in, is my way to help support kids beyond what I could ever do alone.
When I interact with students and see them shaking with anxiety and being so fearful, it is disheartening because I know that with special care, kids can be conditioned out of living afraid.
Here are my 10 Steps For Helping Your Shy Kid:
Step One: Shyness is Okay! Live, breathe, feel, and authentically get that there is nothing wrong with your kid being shy. Masses of people go through their entire lives in this state and are perfectly fine. Only by coming from this space that shyness is okay, can any real transformation occur. See your kid as whole and complete and absolutely fine as is. It doesn’t feel good to be seen in a negative way and have someone try to fix you. When your kid’s shy or afraid behaviors arise, have acceptance and understanding, and don’t make a big deal out of it! What you resist, will persist. Kids who struggle with shyness will only have the courage to break out of it, when they really get that how they are is okay. From that state of being okay exactly as they are, can a strengthening of character build. Otherwise, you'll be unhealthily pushing your kid to change on top of invalidating them as they are.
Step Two: See How Awesome Your Kid Is! Let the shyness character traits fall into the background and bring your kid’s strengths into the forefront of your attention. What are all of the cool and interesting things about your kid? This step is so great because you get to sit back and observe your child, then grow appreciation for the special combination of interests, talents, unique quirks, and strengths your child has. What we put our attention on grows. So, notice, call out, validate, acknowledge, and compliment these things in your child. What will happen is that your child’s sense of themselves and confidence will grow. This is essential to break out of shyness.
Step Three: Notice What Makes Your Kid Less Shy Versus More Shy! Now that you have been observing your kid with a new focus, take it to the next level and watch for specific situations, people, or activities that seem to bring out the freer side of your kid versus a more inhibited version of your kid. Your kid will likely not have the self-awareness and ability to communicate when he or she feels freer or more shy, so you have to be intentional to notice. What activities light your kid up? In which situations does your kid walk with a special spring in their step? With which people does your kid have a more awkward smile with as opposed to a more natural smile?
Step Four: Bring Up the Topic and Listen To Your Kid’s Level of Awareness. After all of your observing of the things that bring out a more or less shy version of your kid, bring up the topic about how you notice your kid acts a bit different in the various scenarios. Have a casual tone with inquiry as if it doesn’t matter to you either way, but that you have noticed some differences and are curious if your kid notices them too. Then ask your kid why he or she thinks some people or situations bring out more shyness versus others. Your kid may need some time to reflect on it and get back to you. Make sure to not only focus on understanding what’s going on in your kid’s head when they’re shy, but have as much curiosity about what’s going on in your kid’s head when they’re feeling freer. Your job is to listen and just understand. Just nod your head and get how it all occurs for your kid. Listen to if or to what extent your kid is aware of how different people or situations bring out different sides of him or her. If your kid wants to talk, share, or explain, then listen and understand. If your kid doesn’t have much to say, leave it for him or her to reflect on. Just bringing this up will get the wheels turning and prompt your kid's growing self-awareness. Let some days pass to let this inquiry have time to process a bit.
Step Five: Point Out and Acknowledge Ways of Being When Your Kid is Less Shy! Now that you have listened to your kid's level of awareness and explanation about the topic, and provided time for further reflection, now it’s time for you to aid in your kid’s awareness by pointing out things you notice when your kid is feeling freer. Provide your own view and observations of times you’ve noticed your kid is less shy and more free. Point out to your kid the exact things you notice that your kid says or does that maybe he or she isn’t aware of. Some made-up examples are, “With Mr. Miller, you walked right up to him and waved.” “When Sheila said hi to you, you gave her a fist bump.” “At the jump place, you were the first one to run and jump.” “On the soccer field, you shouted, “pass it to me!” “At the park on Saturday, you went up to him and started playing.” “When Grandpa said that thing about the news, you asked him what he meant.” “At your aunt’s house, you laid on the couch, your body seemed relaxed.” “When we had that dance party in our living room, you moved your body so freely.” Your kid may contribute more examples of things said or done when feeling more free and at ease. Acknowledge all of these. You can inquire and ask, “How did that feel when you did those things?” “What was that like for you?” “Why is it easy to be confident with him?” You might hear responses like, “I just know Grandpa loves to answer my questions,” or, “At soccer, I just feel unstoppable because I always practice my dribbling so I know I’m good at it.” Let this step also have some time to marinate by keeping it here for a few days or more. Give space to let all of these examples sink in, and allow the ways of being free, bold, and at-ease solidify within your kid's identity of who they are. Purposefully, let this step end with a period with nothing attached to it, rather than a set-up to talk about why your kid is so shy and scared in other situations. Just focus on these free experiences and let it rest and be so. Let it not be just the first positive part in order to sandwich in the next part of wanting to fix your kid. Let it be the main part. You understand that the freer version of your kid is your kid's authentic version and who they really are.
Step Six: Listen To Your Kid Share About Not Being As Free At Other Times. If you have created a safe space and authentically have acknowledged your kid's free and at-ease character, what’s likely is, your kid will start to bring up situations when he or she feels stuck, scared, or shy. Without judgement, listen and understand. You can say, “Hmm, now that you say that, I can see what you mean.” You can casually agree that you notice differences too and maybe provide some examples, such as, “I have noticed you seem a bit quiet when I drop you off for school.” Or, “At Boy Scouts, I do remember seeing you sitting alone a lot.” “At softball, I have noticed you often get picked last for partner drills.” Validate their experience, such as, “At the grocery store, yes it does seem hard for you to look up when the cashier says hi to you.” Your kid may confide in you about more situations that you weren’t even aware of. Let your kid talk and explain what’s difficult about these situations or people. Your kid might say things like, “I just get stuck,” or “I get so nervous.” Then probe a bit deeper and ask something like, “How does that feel?” “What’s running through your mind when that happens?” “What makes you feel that way?” Listen and understand. Perhaps you can share times when you feel shy as well so your kid doesn't feel like he or she is the only one to experience this.
Step Seven: Invite Your Kid To Role Play and Practice! After talking through those times when your kid feels shy, invite your kid to practice in some role-play. The purpose is to help practice turning shy times into more free times. Bring some light-hearted playfulness into heavy scenarios. Brainstorm and practice new tactics on what to say and do, and support positive thinking. For example, your kid can play the role of teacher and you can play the role of the student, then you can switch. You can act out and model asking the teacher for something being shy then re-doing it being confident. Then think aloud about how you felt and what your thoughts were for each one. Then say, "Now your turn!" Give choices such as, "Do you want to play the teacher or the student? Do you want to act shy or confident?" Play, explore, and laugh it out. You can act like a judge on a reality show and say, “hmm that still seemed too shy, try it again.” Then laugh, “that time seemed too bold!” “Oh, this one was just right, confident and respectful!” Brainstorm role play for various types of conversations and scenarios with various people that your kid typically feels shy in.
Transfer your kid's character traits of freedom and ease from Step 5 into the more difficult situations from Step 6. If there are people and situations that bring out a more free version of your kid, then with some support and practice, that same free version of your kid can come out more and more with the people and situations that your kid typically isn’t as free with. For example you, “At soccer you were so bold and shouted ‘pass it to me!' Let's pretend we are at softball, and you can practice different things you can say to get a partner to do the drills with you. Pretend I'm a kid on the team. The coach says to partner up. What do you do?" Be a mindset coach during this process and encourage your kid to transfer the thinking from Step Five situations into the Step Six situations. Ask your kid, “What are you thinking about yourself when this happens? If you were being unstoppable like how you feel in soccer, how would you handle getting a partner in softball? Act it out like that. Now act it out shy. Which one feels good?" “Which one is who you really are?” (If your kid does not want to do this, do not pressure him or her. Let it go and revisit it at another time in another silly or playful way.)
Step Eight: Challenge! Your kid will probably admit that they would like to have more ease and freedom in areas where they feel a bit stuck or shy. Without forcing or being heavy about it, offer up a fun challenge for your kid. Offer some ideas of taking new actions in real life similar to what you practiced in Step Seven. Some examples are, raise your hand once in school today, say hi to one person as you walk into the school building, or ask someone to play catch with you. Find something that your child agrees to try. If your kid is not up for any challenges, have no resistance and just acknowledge that it is hard. Let some time pass, maybe revisit the earlier steps, and periodically check in. You can even have your kid offer challenge ideas for you to take in your more fearful areas, then share how you felt nervous, but then felt proud of yourself. Scale down and offer smaller challenges until your kid lights up with an idea and says, “ok, I'll do it.” Have fun having your kid report back to you to tell you how it went. If your kid didn't end up taking a new action because of fear, have no disappointment. Keep it light-hearted, like a game. Validate that taking new courageous steps is not easy, but that it feels great after, like you’ve climbed a mountain. Consider creating some conditions that will support your kid to take that courageous step. Even as adults we have those friends who encourage us to be brave by saying something like, “Go ahead and say that to the boss, and I'll treat you to lunch.” “Or, if you go up and dance, I'll give you $10.” Obviously, you don't want to bribe your kid into doing something your kid doesn't want to do. However, if it's something that your kid wants to do, but they just need a little push, a structure like this may help to push them over that hump.
If your kid does attempt the challenge, listen to how it went. Celebrate the breakthrough. Be there for your kid if it turned out that it didn’t go well and talk it out. Acknowledge and still celebrate the step of bravery that was taken. Keeping the conversation open and encouraging your kid to regularly take small risks outside of his or her comfort zone, will help your kid continue to break out of his or her shell. If too much time has passed without any risk taking, we retreat too much into our comfort zones again, and then it’s all the more difficult to crawl out again. If we purposely keep one foot outside our comfort zone, we keep the pathways open and we stay “used to” taking small risks and being vitalized by them. It’s all the easier when we have a support system, and parents can serve this role for their kids. However, please remember Step One! These challenges must arise out of the context of, that they aren’t even needed. These light-hearted challenges are just to support your kid in living more free, but there are zero implications on your love, view, and acceptance of them. Either way, your kid is fine. If you negatively pressure your kid and are too attached to the outcome, this can get dysfunctional.
Step 9: Ongoingly Help Reframe Negative Experiences. Be there for your kid and hear how your kid is processing things, then guide your kid to make sure the processing isn’t creating negative, fear-based beliefs. As human beings, we are prone to create disempowering storylines to make sense of things that happen to us, and to try to protect us from them happening again. Listen to your kid talk about past memories and current happenings of difficult things. Listen for the ways in which your kid processed what happened and what your kid possibly made up about those situations that needs to be corrected. Something negative happens, and whether it is big or small, we tend to draw a conclusion about the way life is, about who we are in relation to others, and what our place is in the world. Listen between the lines, and if you discern that your kid has made up something untrue and disempowering, guide your kid into seeing that his or her translation of what happened isn’t true. Then offer a correct and more empowering way of looking at that situation.
Does your kid feel that he or she belongs (in specific places and in general)? Did something happen that made your kid think that their class belongs to everyone else, but not them? Does your kid believe that he or she has just as much of a right to take up space as everyone else? Sometimes what's missing is just a strong, centered, and patient adult who listens, helps talk through things, and offers guidance into right thinking. A kid who has inadvertently drawn a negative conclusion will go through life with that false notion in the back of their mind, unless someone listens and helps interrupt, deconstruct, and reframe it. Guide your kid to make sure that they are interpreting things as empowering as possible. For example, “When your Grandpa said that to you, he was being crabby, but it had nothing to do with you. You are great, but I notice since that day, it seems hard for you to look at him. Did you make up that you're not important or valued? You are an awesome kid, and someone acting crabby doesn't ever change that." Moving forward, regularly and ongoingly affirm your kid's identity of being awesome, enjoyable, lovable, free, etc. to counteract the default negative storyline from coming back. It takes an excess of positive affirmation to outweigh negative ones. Let your kid know that you're not just generically saying these positive things by giving specific examples, like, “You are free, remember when you ran on that soccer field? That's who you are.” “You are bold. Remember the time you asked the gym teacher if you could be the goalie?” "You are lovable. Remember the time your sister said you were the best brother in the world?" "You are important. Remember when the class wrote you a get well card when your were absent?"
Step Ten: Possibly Make Life Adjustments. After supporting your kid in challenges and reframing, sometimes you have to face the reality that certain people and situations just do not best support your kid’s growing sense of self, and you need to make some life adjustments. Observe carefully to see if your kid is feeling repressed within certain peer groups or situations where the dynamics are just not in your kid’s favor. Some peers may regularly interrupt, get irrationally mad at, and act bossy with your kid. Although those are opportunities for your child to learn to speak up and have boundaries, sometimes you may just want to have your kid hang out with people like that less. If your kid has to deal with this too regularly, it can take a toll on your kid’s development within relationships. Making life adjustments to shuffle the peers and activities that your kid regularly encounters, is worth it when it’s needed and doable.
It’s wise to try to grow and solve problems, but it’s also wise to know when to set limits on things that are not setting your kid up for positive self-worth. If peers and activities don't support your kid’s positive self-worth, then the goal of breaking out of shyness will be difficult to make too much progress in. This may not be applicable, but sometimes it is. Use your best judgement. We don’t want to raise our kids in a bubble, but on the other hand, we don’t want to unnecessarily expose our kids to too many things that hurt their growing confidence. In addition to this, encourage the relationships and activities in which your child has more of a tendency to feel free. Notice the peers that bring out the best in your kid, and initiate playdates. Encourage your kid to spend time with friends who are kind and respectful. If singing lights your kid up, find a choir program. If your kid shines when exploring creativity, do more of that. If you notice your kid is bolder in talking to adults when he or she is passing out something to them, encourage your kid's generosity in continuing that.
Don't talk about how your kid is shy to others when your kid is within earshot. You're only reinforcing their identity in that fixed way. Don’t laugh or make fun or when they are shy.
Make sure older siblings aren’t excessively interrupting, talking over, or talking for your younger shy kid.
Don’t lack the presence to notice when your kid is “off,” Don’t attempt to remedy difficulties by adding in more distractions, entertainment, and busyness. Take the time to inquire into what’s going on and then guide your kid through it in a way that supports them. Then follow up!
I support parents in helping them get their kids to behave, while also empowering them for life. If you’d like to learn more, visit my website: www.getkidstobehave.com
I know it is not easy to take on the challenge of considering making changes at home with how you handle your kids, but that’s where I come in. I offer monthly packages of unlimited support from me via text, voice, and video 2-way communication. You will see quick changes in your kids’ behavior and you will be amazed, “not knowing they had it in them to be so good” (as written in one of my testimonials).
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Maura from Get Kids To Behave