What Not to Do if You Have a Shy Child?

If your child is shy, they have a personality trait that can be an obstacle when interacting with others. Learn what not to do.
What Not to Do if You Have a Shy Child?
Sharon Capeluto

Written and verified by the psychologist Sharon Capeluto.

Last update: 24 June, 2023

If you’re here, you may have noticed that your child has some issues with being shy. For example, they may be reluctant to approach other children on the playground, even though they want to play with them. Also, they may blush when a not-so-familiar adult asks them personal questions. For example, when you arrive at a social gathering, they cling to your legs and hide their head behind your back.

You’ve tried to help them to behave naturally in front of other people and to enjoy talking or playing with them. However, they maintain the same attitude. One thing to keep in mind is that parents often make mistakes in this type of situation, even if our intentions are the best. Sometimes, we add complexity to the problem instead of helping. Do you want to know what not to do with your shy child? Keep reading.

What is shyness?

Shyness is a personality trait that’s associated with feelings of discomfort and insecurity in social situations. Depending on the degree, the consequences in interpersonal interaction may be more or less noticeable. These are some of the most common manifestations of shyness in childhood:

  • Avoiding eye contact with people with whom one isn’t sufficiently confident
  • Using a very low tone of voice
  • Having difficulty initiating a conversation
  • Isolating oneself at social events such as birthdays or other celebrations
  • Difficulty speaking in public or participating in class

“The shy child speaks little, even if they have adequate language development, unless it’s with people with whom they feel confident”.

– Mota, A. –

A shy child covering his face with his parents' hands.
Although it’s not a negative aspect, shyness often represents a social barrier. However, there are situations that we should avoid, such as forcing the child to interact or labeling them, as it can be counterproductive.

If your child is shy, you shouldn’t do the following things

In the most severe cases, shyness can lead to a phobia or high anxiety. In other cases, it can even be beneficial if it encourages the child to be more prudent and cautious when interacting with other people. Here are the things you shouldn’t do if your child is shy.

1. Forcing your child to interact

Pressuring a child to interact is counterproductive. If we insist that they approach other children in a public place or initiate a conversation with people they barely know, we can generate the opposite result to the one we expect. Possibly, the child’s feelings of anxiety will increase. Therefore, they’re likely to become more withdrawn.

Forcing a child to interact when they’re not comfortable can make him feel vulnerable and exposed. So, avoid imposing an attitude on them that they’re not ready to adopt. A better alternative is to encourage gradual exposure to social situations so that, little by little, they can build social skills. Keep in mind that you must always maintain empathy and respect for them.

2. Protecting him too much

In the same way that forcing them to interact doesn’t work, neither does protecting them too much. In fact, one of the most significant consequences of overprotection is that children fail to discover their own social skills because their parents speak for them. It’s important to find the middle ground. In a social situation, you can be attentive to their behaviors, but that doesn’t mean preventing your child from feeling any degree of discomfort at all costs.

Allow them to face these challenges little by little and respect their own pace.

3. Labeling

You should never label your child. Categorizing a child as shy, insecure, or withdrawn isn’t positive. In addition, we must avoid comments such as “You’re very shy” or “He’s a child who doesn’t feel comfortable around people.” 

It’s also essential to stop assuming that in any social situation or group activity, they won’t be able to function naturally. Remember that your child is in the midst of their development and is in the stage of building their own identity, so it’s not accurate to say with certainty that they’re shy.

A young girl entering a classroom while the other students look at her.
Children are different from each other and that’s a good thing. Shyness doesn’t make them better or worse, so it’s not advisable to make comments that encourage comparison with others who find it easy to interact.

4. Don’t compare them with other children

Another issue that’s best avoided is comparing them with other children. Some children are extroverted to the extreme, enjoy talking to everyone they meet, and make themselves noticed everywhere they go. On the other hand, others would choose to become invisible if they could.

Offer validation, space, and advice if your child is shy

To help your child, it’s essential that you consider their emotions, problems, and attitudes as valid. It’s essential not to make fun of them or ridicule them. Maintaining a patient and understanding stance will help your child to gradually feel confident in dealing with challenging situations.

At the same time, it’s essential that you give your child space. When someone asks them a question, you shouldn’t answer for them. It doesn’t matter how long it takes them to answer or what they say. It doesn’t even matter if they don’t answer! You don’t need to fill their silences, as they’re opportunities for them.

It’s in the context of these small challenges that the child will be able to acquire tools to bond with other people in a satisfactory way. Finally, remember that you can always consult with a professional trained in child psychology to work on shyness.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Dorta Pérez, Y. (2020). La timidez en la infancia: un aspecto a considerar en las aulas de Educación Infantil.
  • Mota, A. V. (2009). La Timidez Infantil. Málaga.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.