How I help my shy child

If you’ve met Sinta, you’d know that she’s not as outgoing as her kuya, Cruz. She usually hides her face behind my legs when introduced to someone and refuses to say “hi”. She also doesn’t like being put on the spot and would never give in to requests to sing Let It Go or show her ballet moves in a social setting.

But at home? That’s a completely different story. She can outlast me in any conversation, she belts out Frozen songs in the car and we usually fall asleep at night right in the middle of one of her “last questions”. Sometimes I feel that she’s trying to find her own identity apart from her kuya’s (the life of the party) but other times I feel that she takes after me. Research shows that shyness can be both inborn and learned.

So what can we do as parents to help out our more “reserved” children? Here are some things that I do:

1. I avoid calling her “shy”.
Classic scenario: I introduce Sinta to a friend. Sinta promptly does her usual face-hiding-eye-contact-avoidance. Friend then says, “Ay, she’s shy.”
I found out that when she got used to hearing people calling her shy, she became even more shy, as if she’s “living up to” what people think of her. (Isn’t this true with every other label we’ve ever been given growing up?). Upon people commenting on her shyness, I would try to say, “No, she’s not shy. She’s actually very friendly once she’s warmed up to you.” Telling her “not to be shy, Tita so-and-so won’t bite” is guaranteed to make her clam up. She’s already self-conscious as it is and pointing it out is likely to make her feel that something is wrong with her.



2. I model outgoing behavior.
“Children may not listen to everything you say, but they copy everything you do.” I always keep this in mind when I’m around my children. Since I know that I’m the parent with the more reserved personality (you’d know what I’m talking about if you’ve met my husband), I put in extra effort to be friendlier to strangers and more talkative around friends especially when the kids are watching.
3. I empathize with her and give her encouragement.
I used to make the mistake of telling Sinta not to be rude when she refuses to answer someone’s question. I soon realized that shaming her and making her feel bad about her timidity won’t help her. I was reminded of Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
I found that when she’s is quiet, most of the time it’s because she likes observing people around her. She’s very sensitive and can feel shifts in emotions in people and situations. Sometimes she surprises me with questions like, “Why is she sad / angry?” when a friend is telling a story that involves a bit of verbal re-enactment that shows sadness or anger. I praise her for her “good questions” and for being “very observant” instead of focusing on her silence.
4. I prep her.

I learned from the many parties and lunches we’ve been to that she is more likely to warm up to strangers faster when I tell her what to expect beforehand. I usually tell her the day before that “Tomorrow, we’re having lunch with your titas. There will be a lot of chatting and they’ll be asking you some questions. It would be so much fun if you talk to them like you did during…” Reminding her of a time when she was sociable and associating it with having fun always helps!

5. I provide her with daily opportunities to interact with others.
Sinta warms up a lot quicker to children her age and during one-on-one playdates so I try to organize more of them throughout our week. I also make it a point to bring her to the grocery, the bank, and casual business meetings where she can say “hi” and “thank you” to strangers. She’s less overwhelmed on such occasions as compared to large social gatherings.
6. I connect her to the Source of courage and strength.
Whenever I feel that her shyness in a certain situation is primarily caused by self-consciousness and awkwardness, I try to remind her that she can ask for courage from God. 2 Timothy 1:7 says that “God gave us a spirit not of timidity but of power and love and self-control.” I plan to include this verse in the kids’ list of memory verses for the week. That way, anytime I see Sinta being self-conscious, I can remind her that God provides her with power to overcome any fears or anxiousness she may be feeling.
How do you help your child with shyness? Any other useful tips you’d care to share?

(Photo by Janine Uy)

Wife and mom of 3 based in London. Born and raised in Manila. Blogging about motherhood and fitness.

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