Parenting the Shy Child: A Look at Labels

Children learn who they are from those around them.

Posted Nov 26, 2011

Although "shy" is not a negative term in my mind, I realize it's sometimes not considered a desirable trait. Bernardo Carducci, a nationally-published researcher on shyness, frequently comments on our society's prejudice against shyness. He says, "The problem is a society that approves of being bold and outgoing more than being reserved and quiet." Think about it. When was the last time you had someone tell you, "Wow! It's great that you're shy."

Because of our culture's view of shyness, it's a good idea to give your children other ways in which to think about themselves. For example:

Instead of saying this...

"You're shy." or "Don't be shy."

Try some statements like these...

"You're talkative with people you know well."

"It takes a little while for you to feel comfortable with new people.

"You like to know what something is all about before you try it."

You might be thinking, "That's all well and good, but what about other people calling my child shy in front of them? I can't do anything about that."

A couple I worked with, Shari and Dave, ran into this situation frequently with their daughter, Emily, who was three-years-old and naturally cautious around unfamiliar people. But they developed a method for dealing with others' comments. Whenever they were at church, someone would invariably ask Emily a question, and she wouldn't answer. If the person then asked, "Oh, she's shy, isn't she?" Dave and Shari made sure to say something like, "Wait until you get to know Emily. She'll talk to you about anything."

In The Art of Sensitive Parenting, Katherine Kersey writes, "Children come into the world not knowing who they are. They learn who they are from those around them."

Hopefully these few ideas will help you encourage your child in a way that avoids labeling and judging and instead focuses on giving your child the words he or she needs to succeed in social situations.

Copyright 2011 Barbara and Greg Markway

Follow Barb on Twitter

To follow Barb's blog on self-compassion, click here.