How to Raise Confident Kids – Despite Their DNA
Do you worry that your baby will grow up to be shy because you were as a child? Do you struggle with encouraging your preschooler to overcome shyness and gain self-confidence? Shyness can be paralyzing for children, and difficult for parents to deal with the emotions and practical implications of it. Research has narrowed down some of the basic causes of shyness, giving us as parents the tools we need to raise confident and outgoing children who are free of the anxiety that shyness can bring.
The Causes of Shyness
According to author and psychologist John Malouff, Ph.D., J.D., the causes of shyness can be grouped into 4 basic categories:
- Genetic predispositions
- Inadequate social skills
- A relationship with parents that is not based on supportive attachments
- Experience with teasing or criticizing, especially directed towards shyness or lack of self-esteem
Authors and contributors to the Center for Effective Parenting agree with these classifications, adding the following reasons as well:
- Limited exposure to diverse social situations
- Reinforcement (often unintentional) by parents – not addressing the behavior or encouraging it by doing things such as answering for the shy child, telling people the child is shy, or coddling when the child appears shy
- Modeling of shy behaviors from parents and older siblings – the child learns this is the way to interact with others
- Overprotective parenting methods where the child is not allowed to be adventurous or try new things independently, teaching the child that he is not capable
Understanding the multiple reasons why children develop shyness is the first step. Next it is important to do something about the reasons and help children avoid the pain and anxiety that shyness brings.
- Don’t buy into the hereditary factor. While it can play a role, it shouldn’t be allowed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- When your 5-6 month or 2 year old go through the common points of development where shyness can appear, don’t let these phases determine their futures. Remain calm and supportive, allowing them to move through these natural developmental phases without reinforcing the shy behaviors.
- Expose your child to many different social settings and experiences, but be watchful for signs of stress. Remember that for children almost everything is new so we need to be mindful of the stress that this newness can cause, but not let it prevent our kids from participating.
- Introduce your kids to new situations gradually – don’t throw them into the chaos and walk away.
- Talk about what to expect in new or typically stressful situations, emphasizing the positives of each activity.
- Include your children in your conversations with others, teaching them how to communicate in social settings.
- Don’t tease your children for shy actions as it can negatively reinforce their behaviors.
- Make sure you have eye contact when you are speaking with your child, and display that same behavior when you are speaking to others. Eye contact is an important part of communication and can make speakers feel more connected.
- Don’t speak for your child if he is acting shy. It only reinforces to him that he doesn’t need to or perhaps isn’t capable of speaking for himself.
- Make sure that your provide opportunities for your children to succeed, especially in front of other people, building their confidence levels.
Shyness doesn’t have to limit your child or make her lose out on opportunities. There are ways to prevent and overcome the stress of shyness, and your DNA doesn’t have to dictate your child’s independence. Take it from a former shy girl! I literally almost froze because of my shyness, staying outside in a frigid Minnesota snowstorm as a preschooler in order to avoid the guests in our home. When I met my husband, he shared woes of childhood shyness, telling similar tales of shyness induced hiding. For him it was in a truck on the farm when cousins came to visit. We thought we were doomed to have shy children, as did everyone who knew us as kids. Boy – were we thankfully wrong!
I proactively made a decision to home school, and along with that I decided that I didn’t want my children to live through my childhood shyness (which I thankfully overcame as a teenager). I also didn’t want people to assume that because my kids were home schooled they were socially awkward and shy. As a shy girl, I remember the anxiety and pain that can feel overwhelming. I made a commitment to show the kids the energy and joy that adventures in life can bring (which doesn’t leave much room for shyness). So far, so good. In 2 days I will watch 2 of my kids compete at a state level for public presentations and demonstrations. All 4 of my children are more confident than I could have ever hoped for, and shyness is no longer in our family character. And it all started from a timid girl hiding in a blizzard who never wanted her kids to feel that cold shyness.