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Tips to Parent Your Shy Child

Work with your child’s natural shyness to improve coping skills.
WebMD Feature

Every child has bashful moments. Some kids, though, are shy.

Can you simply let your children be shy, or do you need to "bring them out?"

“You can do both,” says Christopher Kearney, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  

Shy children may not become social butterflies, Kearney says. “But you can still help them learn how to function in social settings and build relationships.”

How shy is too shy?

In general, there’s nothing wrong with being shy. Shy kids are often better listeners and get in less trouble at school.

Being bashful becomes a problem when it gets in the way of doing what’s normally expected, or when it’s making your child unhappy. You may want to get professional advice if your child:

  • Doesn’t want to go to school
  • Has trouble making friends
  • Frets about going to birthday parties or sports practice
  • Is anxious about being shy


What causes shyness?

Shyness is pretty common. It’s estimated that between 20% and 48% of people have shy personalities.

Most shy kids are simply born that way, although negative experiences can also play a role.  Did your child’s shyness come on suddenly? If so, an event might have triggered it, and they may need help getting past it.

Embracing the shy personality

Shy children often have common traits.  

“Once you recognize these natural behaviors, you can work with them instead of against them,” says Bernardo Carducci, PhD, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast.

Shy kids are typically self-reliant, thoughtful, and empathetic, but often don’t like trying new things. They are often slow to warm up, taking longer to adjust to a new situation. They may want to be social, but avoid approaching others because they’re afraid or don’t know how.

It’s important that they approach situations at their pace, not your own, Carducci says.

Tips for helping a shy child

Provide an entry strategy. Help your child approach a group of peers and listen, allowing everyone some time to get used to one another. Teach them to find a break in the chatting and join in. Offer talking points beforehand, such as, “I like boats, too.”

Build confidence. Remind her of a time when she was in new situations and got through it. When going to a birthday party, for example, bring up another party you went to and how much fun she had with the other children.

“Help them through challenges that are self-reinforcing, so they want to do them again,” Kearney says.

Work on social skills. Give your child chances to practice his social skills whenever you can. In the store, encourage him to pay the cashier. At dinner, have them order his own meal. Invite a friend over to play so your child can get more practice being with peers.

Offer feedback. Praise or reward your little one for small steps, like saying “hi” or waving. If they freeze up in front of someone, talk about it. Discuss things she can try next time.

Express empathy. Tell your child that you can see they're feeling shy, and that you feel that way too sometimes. Share stories about times when you overcame your own shyness.

Model outgoing behavior. When you show your child how to greet people, converse, and be friendly, she gets more comfortable doing the same.

Above all, show love and acceptance. Let her know it’s OK to be shy. 

Reviewed on October 28, 2013

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