Some children are social butterflies. They enter into a party and do everything to amuse others and instantly become the centre of attention. In the other category, are those children who feel very shy in social situations and prefer to cling to their parents. These children act like wall paper in the room and may as well go unnoticed by others. They hide behind their parents legs when someone, familiar or unfamiliar, approaches them. These children may be very assertive and playful at home in the presence of everyday people, like parents and grandparents. But the moment they step out of their house or someone steps into their house, they kind of ‘freeze up’. Sometimes they ‘thaw out’ soon, and sometimes they take very long or even refuse to ‘defrost’.
Many parents feel confused and annoyed with this behavior of their child. They get embarrassed when their friend is asking the child something and the child fixes his gaze on the floor, puts his fingers into his mouth and doesn’t respond at all. It’s very important to first understand that such kind of shyness is not a problem in itself. It is rather a reflection of something else that’s going on in the child’s mind. So first, let’s look at the possible reasons that could be there behind such terminal shyness:
- Fear of strangers: some children are simply too scared of unfamiliar people. Their stranger anxiety is highly marked and influences their behavior significantly. Such children find it extremely difficult to interact with those who are either completely stranger or occasional visitors.
- Analysis of situation: ‘’look before you leap’’ is the motto of some children. It’s as natural as other kids’ spontaneous urge to befriend others and experience the thrill of socializing. Children who are very sensitive to their own and others’ feelings generally find it difficult to be impulsive and prefer to look at things from a distance, analyze the details and then cautiously inch forward. Unfortunately, by the time they feel comfortable to go ahead, the push from people fades. Then they have no choice but to stay back.
- Fear of uncertainty: some children like to be sure what’s happening next. They prefer a routine to an unstructured day. They throw fewer tantrums if they are told things that are going to happen. When they meet someone, they are fine. But when they meet with someone, they retreat because they are not mentally prepared for that meeting. When they go to a party, they respond well to expected things like cake cutting, giving gifts for which they were mentally prepared by parents in advance. But they fail to respond well to those things that they were not prepared for such as, a new party-game, unfamiliar guests etc.
- Fear of blame: children who have a ‘blame ridden environment’ at home hesitate in interacting with the outside world fearing similar blames for ‘silly mistakes’. So if a child who cannot make a mistake without receiving sarcasms ( why are you so clumsy?) or rebukes ( see how you broke it) or punishments (you wont get another toffee for 1 week as you were so careless with your pencil), he develops an idea that he is being judged all the time. That he is not simply a child, but either a good one or a bad one, depending on his last action or behavior. Such a child will have problems in having social interactions fearing similar judgments and blames for anything silly he might end up doing.
- Lack of self-confidence: a child who thinks he is not good enough will want to hide it from others. When a child feels that his friends or siblings are better dancers, singers, gymnasts, he doesn’t want to let others know how bad he dances or sings by performing in front of others. If a child doesn’t have the confidence of winning a competitive game, he will stay back when others are playing ‘musical chair’ in a birthday party. If a child feels his voice is very shaky, will prefer to keep quiet when someone approaches him with a hello. Poor self-image plays a very detrimental role in social development.
- Bad experience in the past: certain bad experiences in past can put a block in child’s mind about interacting, mingling up or performing. For example, if a child sat on a cake in a party and received teasing from other kids for the dirtied pants, will take a long time to nurse that wound of embarrassment. He will not want to attend any party in the first place. And even if he goes, he will sit down in one place and will not move, fearing similar accidents.
Like mentioned earlier, some children are just not wired to be social butterflies. So you need to accept a little bit of shyness in your kid. Some shyness here and there could be coming from small influence of each of the reasons mentioned above. That’s something not to be worried about. But yes, if the shyness goes up to an extent of reflecting extreme skepticism or timidity, a proper approach is required.