"Don't feel shy, just go ahead and recite the poem" or "Why do you always sit in a corner and never play with your friends?" are lines we have often used or thought of when are little ones are growing up. Shyness is a common but little understood emotion. Everyone has felt ambivalent or self-conscious in new social situations. However, at times shyness may interfere with optimal social development and restrict our children's learning.
The basic feeling of shyness is universal, and may have evolved as an adaptive mechanism used to help individuals cope with novel social stimuli. Shyness is felt as a mix of emotions, including fear and interest, tension and pleasantness. Increase in heart rate and blood pressure may occur. We usually recognize shyness by an averted, downward gaze and physical and verbal reticence. The shy person's speech is often soft, tremulous, or hesitant. Younger children may suck their thumbs: some act coy, alternately smiling and pulling away.
Shyness is distinguishable from two related behavior patterns; wariness and social disengagement. Infant wariness of strangers lacks the ambivalent approach/avoidance quality that characterizes shyness. Some older children may prefer solitary play and appear to have low needs for social interaction, but experience none of the tension of genuinely shy children.
Our little ones may be vulnerable to shyness at particular developmental points. Fearful shyness in response to new adults emerges in infancy. Cognitive advances in self-awareness bring greater social sensitivity in the second year. Self-conscious shyness-the possibility of embarrassment-appears at 4 or 5. Early adolescence ushers in a peak of self-consciousness.
Let us look at some strategies for helping shy children.
We need to know and accept them in totality. Being sensitive to their interests and feelings will allow us to build a relationship with them and show that we respect our little ones. This can make them more confident and less inhibited.
We also need to build their self-esteem. Shy children may have negative self-images and feel that they will not be accepted. We have to reinforce shy children for demonstrating skills and encourage their autonomy and praise them often. It is said that children who feel good about themselves are not likely to be shy.
We must help our little ones develop social skills. We have to reinforce shy children for social behaviour, even if it is only parallel play. Research recommends teaching children "social skill words" ("Can I play, too?") and role playing social entry techniques. Also, opportunities for play with young children in one-on-one situations may allow shy children to become more assertive. Play with new groups of peers permits shy children to make a fresh start and achieve a higher peer status.
We should remember to allow shy children to warm up to new situations. Pushing children into a situation which they see as threatening is not likely to help them build social skills. We have to help them feel secure and provide interesting materials to lure them into social interactions.
At the end of it all, we have to remember that shyness is not all bad. Not all children need to be the focus of attention. Some qualities of shyness, such as modesty and reserve, are viewed as positive. As long as our children do not seem excessively uncomfortable or neglected around others, drastic interventions are not necessary. We need to just let them be…!