A deeper understanding of the behavior is the first step to manage it better. Once you feel you have understood the reason, the next step is to adopt some strategies to take care of it. In part 1, we discussed the reason behind extreme shyness in children. Here are some of the strategies you need to keep in mind to handle your child’s shy behavior:
- Accept your child’s shyness: it’s important to accept that your child could be born with a shy temperament. It’s not a good idea to fiddle too much with his natural personality. Even if it is acquired and not innate, you need to accept it first, in order to try and change it for better. Forcing him to participate in social situations will not only make him more rigid about his stance, he will also feel bad to know that you are not at ease with his natural self and that he needs to behave in a certain way to make you happy.
- Appreciate when the child does interact: if you consider talking to people and being friendly a normal and standard form of behavior, then chances are that the absence of that behavior will annoy you, but the seldom presence of it wont fetch any appreciation from you. When the child does interact, parents might refrain from appreciating, thinking, “what’s the big deal in that? Why pay compliments to something that should have been there since the beginning?”. Wrong theory. Appreciating later, in privacy, in a small way, does motivate the child to repeat being friendly again in future. Absence of appreciation might make him feel, “why bother!”
- Role play at home: if your child is facing problems in interacting with other adults, switch roles with him at home. He can become the ‘friendly adult’ and you can become the ‘child’. This will have two benefits. First, he will come to know from the ‘child-you’ how to behave with adults. Second, you will come to know from him how he perceives those adults when he meets them. Similarly, before going to a birthday party, have a mock party at home, where he can be the host, all his toys can be guests and you can be the child. How you go upto the ‘guests’, how the ‘guests’ treat you, will all teach him lots about socializing, as well as give him a chance to practice things at home.
- Social interactions at home: most parents make sure to teach their children as many things as possible, like music, dance, karate, swimming and much more. But what sometimes gets neglected as a part of conscious teaching and learning is socialization. When the child makes a mistake, you correct him and later coach him what he should do and shouldn’t do. But that’s is like passing or failing the child in an exam without teaching him the course. Like you use various methods to teach alphabets to your child, you should use various methods to teach socialization too. You can have interactions at home where you can play doctor-patient with him, or tell him about your childhood experiences, or read him family-story books or show him good-manners charts.
- Do not humiliate or label: although your child’s shyness might embarrass you in front of your friends, especially when their children are happily playing with everyone around, you should keep your embarrassment covered. Do not scold your child for being ‘so timid’. Your sarcasms will do more harm than good. Your child is already anxious. Don’t become yet another source of his anxieties. If you keep calling your child ‘shy and timid’, he will think that this is what you think of him and that he has to live upto this prophecy of yours and will not want to change his behavior in future.
- Don’t plead and threat: when your child hides behind your legs, do not beg and plead, “Please say hello to aunty”. It sends a wrong message to him. He feels that he needs to learn social interactions not for his sake, but for your sake, since you look so desperate so hear that ‘hello aunty, how are you?” from his mouth. Don’t threaten him to be nice to the aunty, else he won’t be called a good boy. Later, never ever fall pray to punishing your child, physically or emotionally, for embarrassing you in public. He will feel that by not talking to the aunty, he hurt 'the aunty's" feelings and her feelings are more important to you than his feelings.
- Butt in, if required: without interrupting his attempts, you may intervene, if you feel that your little one could use some guidance to open up further. Be careful to maintain the line between interference and intervention. For example, when your friend greets him hello and your child doesn’t respond, that’s not a good point to push him to say hello. But when your friend asks him what he played in the playground, the silence from your child’s side may not mean shyness. Your child could, at that point, be recalling what all he did. And it may happen that by the time he is done with recalling, he realizes that no one is anymore interested in knowing the answer. With your gentle intervention here, “we had so much fun with our ball, bat and park’s squirrels, didn’t we?” your child is more likely to add on to it. So some children require the help of an opening line as a cue to start. But be careful, not to start answering on his behalf to all the questions asked. A sensible friend of yours won’t ask too many questions seeing an uninterested child.
A sensitive and sensible approach of yours will surely take care of your child’s shyness. Keep your expectations real. Changes won’t happen overnight. Also, during times of stress, your child is more likely to slip back into his shell of shyness. So you need to keep up with your patience and hope.