Barbara Markway Ph.D.

Shyness Is Nice

Helping the Sensitive Child Cope with the Holidays

Follow these do's and don'ts to help your child cope with the holidays.

Posted Nov 27, 2013

First the Don’ts:

Don’t label. Although shy is not necessarily a negative turn in everyone’s mind, in Western culture it's not generally considered a desirable trait. Our society still places a greater value on being outgoing. Hopefully this is changing. But until then, you want to give your child some other words. For example, instead of saying, “You’re just shy,” try saying “It takes a little while for you to feel comfortable with new people, and that's okay.” Similarly, when other people call your child shy, try saying something like, “Wait until you get to know her. She'll talk to you about anything.”

Don’t compare. Sometimes out of frustration or even embarrassment parents make comments to a child such as, “Why can't you be more outgoing like your brother?” Keep in mind that shaming will never work to make your child less shy, and in fact, has the opposite effect.

Don’t force hugging.  Children need to feel that they can control their own personal space.

Don’t put anyone on the spot. When you say, “Tell Aunt Candice about what you’re doing in school” your child may freeze and then feel embarrassed. Similarly, don’t over-direct your child and tell them, “Go sit by Grandma.” 

Don’t expect instant friendships. Even if there are cousins that are the same age, for example, they may not become best buddies. The children may have nothing in common, or they may need a while to warm up to a person they see only once or twice a year.

Avoid comments about appearance. This is especially true for adolescents. Being told, “Oh, you look like you’ve lost weight,” even if it’s meant to be a compliment, draws unwelcome attention and can make people uncomfortable. 

Skip the food talk. Again, this may be more a suggestion for adolescents, but don’t comment on how much someone is eating, what they’re eating or not eating, and so on.

And now, what to DO:

Talk about what to expect. Give your child as much information ahead of time as you can. Look at pictures of relatives that will be there. Talk about the structure of the day. You can even give your child ideas of things they might want to talk about. Sometimes it's best to arrive early so your child can become more comfortable before all the activity begins.

Validate Feelings. If there are group activities going on, tell your child things such as “It's okay to watch first” or “You like to check things out before you jump in.” By making these types of statements, you validate your child's concerns. You let him or her know their feelings are normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

Provide Activities. If you’re going somewhere, it’s fine to let your child bring a book or a small art project to do. Why not bring a puzzle that people can put together side-by-side? Natural conversation may emerge when kids are engaged in a fun project and aren’t expected to simply talk.

Give Them a Job. Quiet kids may do well if you give them something specific to do. They will like helping and it will get them involved in a nonthreatening way.

Allow for Away Time. If your child appears overwhelmed, find a quiet room where they can go read or listen to their iPod. Or maybe they can go outside for a bit. Overstimulation is real and can be minimized with a little thought and attention.

Keep Expectations Realistic. Sure, it’s a holiday and you want it to be special. But it’s also simply a day that is sure to have its good moments and its challenges. Your child’s personality is not going to change simply because it’s a special occasion.

Accept Your Child. Remember that the quiet aspect of your child's personality has positive benefits. For example many introverted children are thoughtful, conscientious, sensitive to others' needs and feelings, gentle, caring, and loving. These positive characteristics may not come out in a busy holiday situation. There will be other situations in which your child can shine.

You might also like these posts: Worried about Your Quiet Child? From One Mother to Another and The Shy Spectrum in Kids.


Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you 
from doing all the things in life 
you’d like to.

–Ask, by The Smiths (Read how we named our blog.)

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I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of People. Greg and I also co-authored Illuminating the Heart: Steps Toward a More Spiritual Marriage.

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