Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 26, 2021

It's completely natural for a child to feel shy. It's not uncommon for children to feel as though they are on display, to shy away from meeting new people, or to feel more comfortable watching from the sidelines rather than be in the middle of the action. However, there are ways you can support your child and help with their anxiety.

What Does Shyness Look Like in Children?

It's common for children to feel nervous in new situations or around new people. Unfortunately, our society often praises more outgoing personalities over introverted ones, and this can put pressure on children as they go through natural stages of development. In more naturally introverted children, this can cause feelings of self-consciousness. 

Despite all this, shyness can be associated with the following benefits for children:

  • Achieving academic excellence
  • Listening and better following rules
  • Being a great listener 

Some signs that your child’s shyness might be severely impacting them and that they may need help coping with it include:

  • Decreased social skills or involvement in socialization
  • Fewer friends
  • Less participation in enriching activities such as sports, dance, drama, or music
  • Feelings of isolation, loneliness, unimportance, and self-consciousness
  • Unnecessary stress over the opinions of others leading to a lessened ability for your child to reach their full potential
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Physical affectations like blushing, stammering, and trembling

Causes of Shyness

While each case is unique, some possible causes of your child’s shyness could be:

  • Genetics.Certain genes can affect a child's disposition and personality. 
  • Personality. Some people are naturally more sensitive and prone to intimidation from external circumstances than others. This could be true of your child. 
  • Learned behavior. Children often learn how to behave by watching their parents. If you are shy, you might be teaching your child to be shy. 
  • Family relationships. Sometimes, children who do not feel secure in their family or with the adults in their life become shy. Parents who are overbearing or overprotective can also instill shyness or fear in their children. 
  • Lack of social interaction. Children who are deprived of human interaction in the crucial first few years of their development may be shy. 
  • Intense criticism. Children who are teased, bullied, or otherwise criticized by important figures like parents, teachers, or friends tend to be shy. 
  • Fear of failure. Children who feel like they've failed or who have been continuously pushed beyond their limits can present as shy. 

How to Help Your Child with Their Shyness

While shyness is a natural stage in development that your child will most likely grow out of, there are ways you can support them. Some things you can do to help them include:

  • Never label your child as shy. If your child knows they're shy, they may start to criticize themselves when they exhibit shy behavior. The idea that shyness is bad or that it means there's something wrong with your child will only make them feel shyer.
  • Accept your child. Never make fun of your child for being shy. Instead, make an effort to let them know you accept and love them as they are. 
  • Try to understand. Ask your child about their shyness. Try to understand their fears or hesitations about showing the world who they are. 
  • Let your child know you relate to them. Tell your child about times that you felt shy. Talk to them about how you felt better. Children look up to their parents, and knowing that you overcame your anxiety will give them an immense sense of strength and empowerment. 
  • Model confident behavior. There is no better way for your child to learn how to act than by watching you model it. 
  • Talk about the benefits of being outgoing. Share stories of how being outgoing has helped you in your life. Talk about behaviors you would like your child to adopt. Praise your child when they model these behaviors. 
  • Goal set. Set benchmarks for your child to hit to make them more comfortable socializing. Be sure to make the goals small and achievable. They could be as small as saying hello to one person each day. 
  • Expose your child to new things. Try to show your child new things and expose them to new experiences. Be supportive if they exhibit more extroverted characteristics over time. 
  • Make sure your child can do things they're good at. If your child can engage with activities they love and are good at, they can derive a great sense of purpose and confidence. Praise them when they are good at something and provide them with opportunities to do those things. By participating in activities they enjoy, they might even have an easier time connecting with children with similar interests.