Kids’ shyness and showing off have one thing in common. They are both behaviours that bring them a great deal of attention.
Showing-off is an active ‘Notice me’ behaviour. By definition it is hard to ignore as showing-off is irritating, in your face, “look at moi, look at moi” behaviour. Show-offs generally get what they want – heaps of B-grade attention ranging from comments such as “Aren’t you clever?” through to “For goodness put a sock in it!”
Shyness is a passive ‘Help me’ behaviour that has a dramatic effect on most adults. They will go out of their way to make sure shy kids are included in social activities, coaxing them to become involved with others, urging them to speak and encouraging them to be more social. Sometimes adult over-compensate, which makes children feel helpless and reinforces the notion that they need to be rescued or receive special assistance.
Recently, a swimming teacher handled a child’s shyness in an effective way. A six year old girl, just introduced to a swimming class, stood away from the rest of the children while the teacher began the lesson. The teacher noticed the girl but didn’t respond. Her mother, who was hovering like a helicopter on the sidelines, told her to join the class. The teacher’s response was fascinating. He turned to Miss Shy, who was standing three metres from the group, with her head down, and said, “Hi Delia. I see you don’t want to join us yet. That’s okay. Join in when you are ready.” He then turned his attention to his teaching. Five minutes later Delia jumped in the pool and joined in the water activities. Delia realised that her ‘help me’ behaviour and attitude wasn’t go to work with this swimming teacher.
Kids are smart. They don’t act in vacuum. They keep the behaviours that work in terms of gaining a pay-off and discard, even momentarily, those that don’t get a pay-off.
Shy or just slow-to-warm up
The Australian Temperament Project released in 2001 gives an interesting insight into shyness. It looked at sociability as a dimension of temperament. At one end of the sociability scale there are children who are outgoing and approach new situations easily. At the other end of the scale there are children who are slow to warm-up to people and are cautious in their interactions with others. This longitudinal project noted that children’s sociability doesn’t change much over time. If you have a slow-to-warm child then they will in all likelihood take their time to warm to new social situations even as they move through to adulthood. That is the way of it. So avoid overcompensating and making problems where there are none.
Focus on behaviours not on temperament
Labels such as “she is a shy child” with kids as they tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Instead, focus on behaviours and be positive in your response when children are less than enthusiastic to join in. If your child is slow-to-warm up when it comes to new situations then:
1. Give them the time to warm up. Linger a little if your child is clingy, but not for too long. Move away and show your confidence in their ability to adjust to new situations. Let them know you will be back later.
2. Encourage them with a “you can do it” attitude but without giving undue attention to them. Kids take their cues from their parents so avoid making a big deal about not joining in an activity. It is okay to withdraw and not join in from time to time.
3. Prepare children for new situations. Either give them information about what they may expect (“there will be a lot of kids there so look around for someone who is playing on his own…..”) or role play or practise new situations in the relative safety of home.
Michael Grose is a popular parenting educator and parent coach. He is the director of Parentingideas, the author of seven books for parents and a popular presenter who speaks to audiences in Australia, Singapore and the USA. For free courses and resources to help you raise happy kids and resilient teenagers visit http://www.parentingideas.com.au