Article: Shyness

Subject:  Shyness

Typical feelings of a child:

Anxiety, confused, fear, frustrated, mistrusting, shame

Typical beliefs of a child:

“I’m afraid to do something wrong.”  “I have to please others to be okay.”  “There’s something wrong with me.”  “I don’t know if parents will approve of my choices and behaviors.”

Typical behaviors of a child:

Remains observant at all times.  Does not feel comfortable participating with others.  Does not seek to explore new places or friendships.  Appears nervous outside of routine.  Temper tantrums and/or crying episodes.

Typical feelings of an adolescent:

Anger, anxiety, confusion, different, fear, frustration, loneliness, mistrusting, shame.

Typical beliefs of an adolescent:

“I have to change my feelings to be okay.”  “If I talk I’ll make a mistake and people will make fun of me.”  “I’m stupid.”  “I’m ugly.”  “There’s something wrong with me.”  “Nobody understands how hard I try to fit in.”

Typical behaviors of an adolescent:

Withdrawn.  Lack of enthusiasm for anything that requires participation with others.  Can explode with intensity of feelings at home, while remaining almost mute at school.  Remains fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing.  Has few friendships.

Parental Introspection: A shy child or adolescent often perceives that he is unable to respond or act in such a way as to gain his parent’s acceptance and respect.  A child and adolescent will often believe that he has nothing worth offering or that what he does offer will be an opening for the parent to correct, find fault or stand in judgment.  If you are concerned that perhaps you are too critical of your child or adolescent, please refer to Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline’s Love and Logic; with special attention to how to help a child be responsible in solving their own problems.  You’ll find excellent information in their Parenting with Love and Logic book or CD.  Resource:


Shyness is different from being quiet and observant.  Parents often confuse their quiet child with a child who suffers from being shy.  Developmentally, children go through early childhood stages of being reticent to engage with strangers.  This is called “stranger awareness” and is quite helpful in teaching the child to make decisions about whom they can trust.  This type of hesitancy is not shyness, but a protective mechanism that is very valuable to the child.  Learning to differentiate between feelings of trust and mistrust will help the child throughout her lifespan.
Shyness can be assumed when the very act of engagement with others promotes the child to demonstrate her anxiety.  Healthy children enjoy meeting others and exploring new places. Children, who show their fear through tears, temper tantrums, and outright refusals are indicating the intensity of their anxieties over their fear of the unknown.  Young children do not have the cognitive ability or verbal skills to clearly indicate what is driving their fears.  Parents need to verbally recognize that the child is struggling with some kind of worry and that the parent will do all that they can to reduce that fear.  That does not mean that the parent always prevents the child from experiencing the new event, it does mean that the parent and child work together to figure out how the child will cope with the new event. This is how the child learns how to practice and cope with their own feelings and beliefs that are preventing them from growing and achieving.
Children who are in emotional pain due to their shyness can be helped by parents, day care providers, teachers, and others.  They can overcome shyness by learning how to cope with adversity and learning how to trust themselves for making the right choices.  Essentially, the child is learning about self-esteem and resourcefulness.
Adolescents who truly suffer from shyness bear very painful burdens.  Although some adolescents appear shy, in reality, these adolescents are generally quiet and observant personalities who prefer to “chose their battles.”  The difference between a shy adolescent and one who is quiet by choice is in the emotional pain that is suffered by the adolescent.
Quiet adolescents are generally included in friendships and participate in activities.  Shy adolescents usually have few friendships and are frustrated with their lack of inclusion in their peer groups.  Shy adolescents wish they could participate and often become frustrated, angry, depressed, and confused over their inability to overcome their lack of self-promotion and inclusion.
Shy adolescents have usually been shy throughout their childhood.  Participation and inclusion has always been a difficult hurdle for them.  They often worry about how they are perceived by others in almost every endeavor.  Although they may privately feel that they are equal to or superior to their peers, they are unable to achieve peer recognition or success.
At home, a shy adolescent often does not appear shy.  They can be rather loud and demanding.  Home is the one place where they are able to verbally explore their feelings.  However, when an adolescent only practices feelings at home, what often happens is that home becomes a rather demanding, verbal battleground.  Essentially the adolescent feels safe enough to explore their needs and wants at home, but unable to do this with the all-important peer group at school.  This usually becomes a very frustrating situation between parent and child.
Parents can help their shy adolescents overcome their fears and anxieties in much the same way as parents help their shy children.  By focusing on “the worst that can happen” and creating strategies for the adolescent to use, the adolescent begins to understand the depth of the anxiety versus the intense need for feeling comfortable and included within her peer group.  With repeated efforts, the adolescent begins to challenge herself to overcome her beliefs and feelings to be successful, rather than depending upon always talking to parents for help.
If an adolescent can not utilize parents (this is the developmental stage where adolescents are to see flaws in parents and thus become their own individuals), then it would be very beneficial for an adolescent to use other resources, such as a trusted school teacher, counselor, coach, religious mentor, etc.  To overcome shyness, an adolescent must overcome the belief system that drives the shyness. To do this, an adolescent most often needs guidance and support from someone they trust to give them accurate information.  Shyness prevents growth, joy, and expectation.  Change   the adolescent’s belief system and her shyness evaporates.

© Barbara Goldfeder 2011

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