Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just flick a switch and make your kids shyness go “POOF’”?
Your child wouldn’t worry anymore about what others think, no more embarrassment in front of other people. Your kid could just relax and feel comfortable and confident.
You could feel some relief from worrying about if your shy kid is going to get taken advantage of later in life.
It’s typical for our kids to not want help from us in their social lives. But, you CAN help. And here’s how.
1. Make Sure Your Kid is Actually Shy
According to Elaine N Aron, Ph.D. and author of The Highly Sensitive Person, “Shyness is the fear others are not going to like or approve of us.
It is a response to a situation. We are not born shy. It is not inherited. Sensitivity is. Seventy-five percent of the United States population are very socially outgoing.”
In lots cases, our kids are sensitive. They get over-aroused with too much stimulation. This causes them to retreat socially as a way of protecting themselves.
Action Item: Understand the underlying trait – is it shyness or sensitivity or something else?
2. Give Your Kid an Out
Sometimes our kids don’t know how to say “no” or how to exit a conversation.
My daughter’s friend was over and just wouldn’t (couldn’t) leave. My daughter was dropping social cues all over the place like, cleaning up the snacks and saying she had homework to get to. I even chimed in with, “It’s time for dinner and we have to leave soon”.
This girl was stuck. I called the Mom and explained. She sent her daughter a text saying it was time to come home. The girl casually announced, “Oh, my Mom just reminded me it’s time to go home.” And with that, she was gone.
Sometimes our kids avoid entering social situations because they don’t have the skills to exit. They fear they’ll appear rude for leaving. Awkward right? They don’t realize they can seem rude for staying too long.
Action Item: Brainstorm some things your kid can say to exit a social situation and practice them. An example is, “I’ve got homework to get to. Thanks for having me over.”
This isn’t about lying. It’s about using some social savvy. What other things can you and your kid think of to say to exit social situations?
3. Tell Your Kids the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Share times when you’ve felt uncertain socially.
Why would you do this? This makes you human and approachable to your kids when social stuff comes up.
Don’t share anything scary, humiliating or inappropriate. Just share a time you felt nervous or uncertain and how you got through it.
Action Item: Entrust your uncomfortable moments with your kids, they’ll be more likely to trust you with theirs.
4. Normalize Rejection
As parents it’s painful to watch our kids confidence take a hit when they face rejection.
According to the Peers Program developed by researches at UCLA, using a guidepost of “Friendship is a Choice” can normalize the rejection, hopefully taking a bit of the sting out of the rejection.
We don’t need to be friends with everyone. And everyone doesn’t have to be friends with us. Just because we want to be friends with someone doesn’t mean we get to and just because someone wants to be friends with us doesn’t mean we have to.
Our kids normally see the choice of friendships very one-sided. They see others making the choice to not be friends with them. But what about those kids, our kids choose not to be friends with? Our shy kids often don’t realize that many people see them as unapproachable or unfriendly making it appear as if our shy kids are the one’s doing the rejecting.
Action Item: Normalize rejection by sharing “Friendship is a choice”. This gives our kids a bit of space to possibly take that social risk they wouldn’t have taken otherwise.
5. Stop Looking in All the Wrong Places.
Sometimes our kids look for acceptance from a group of kids who are not a good fit for them. They may not click because they don’t share common interests.
Common interests become integral to close friendships because without them, you would have little to say and little to do. Common interests are the foundation of friendships.
Action Item: Help your kid discover his interests and ask him and other parents where you would find groups of kids with these same interests.
6. Stop Judging. Start Listening and Acknowledging.
Oh, how many times I’ve caught myself half listening to my kids. These are missed opportunities to really connect with them.
Most times our kids just want to vent and to be heard for what they’re feeling. When we point out what our kids thoughts, beliefs, language, physical signals, values, and feelings are, we are acknowledging them.
We want to notice something positive and give our kids specific feedback that draws their attention and appreciations to their actions or choice.
This helps our kids ground themselves in their strengths and talents, giving them confidence and perspective. Don’t overuse this. Always be sincere. Kids pick up on false praise.
Action Item: Start using acknowledging statements like;
- “Your face lit up as you mentioned the party.”
- “You became taller as you described your ideas.”
- “Your commitment to your friends is an important strength.”
7. Ask Your Kid for Permission
Don’t offer advice until you’ve first asked for permission to give it. This keeps your kid in the driver’s seat. It builds their confidence. It shows respect and builds trust. It is supportive as opposed to directive.
Action Item: After you’ve acknowledged your kid and you still feel the need to give advice say, “I think I understand what you’re saying. I have an idea for you. Would it be ok if I told you about it?”
8. Start Spying on People
When we’re killing time waiting for appointments or hanging in an airport before a vacation my kids and I entertain ourselves by people watching.
Action Item: Practice reading social cues. These include; physical space, eye contact, gestures, body movements, posture, and facial expressions.
- We try to figure out what two people are talking about.
- Is it a happy, sad, or angry conversation?
- How do the people know each other? Are they friends, associates, girlfriend and boyfriend?
You get the point. Keep out of earshot of others and see what you and your kids notice about other’s social behaviors.
9. Watch Your Language
Never assume you know your child’s answers. In fact, when given the space, our kids are quite resourceful and can come up with their own solutions.
Action Item: Stop using directive language and use the language of coaching. Start your questions with “what” or “how”. Give your child time to reflect. Allow the silence. That is where their answers will be found. Here are some coaching questions for you try out:
- What is it that you really, really, want?
- What are you willing to do to get it?
- What’s getting in the way?
- What’s the story you’re telling yourself?
- What could you have done differently?
- How do you wish things would have turned out?
10. Discover Your Child’s Social Motivation
I need my girlfriends. Don’t get me wrong. My husband is great. My kids are great. But I NEED my friends. If I don’t get my girlfriend fix, I get a bit cranky. I prefer to go out to dinner with 2 or 3 good friends over going to a big party with a bunch of “acquaintances.” I need my alone time at the end of every day too.
Can you relate? Maybe and maybe not. That’s ok because you have different social needs than I do.
You think your kid is shy. Maybe not.
Some of us need constant social stimulation. Others prefer more quiet and solitude and still enjoy close relationships.
Some of us are content to be alone. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean the person is lonely. You can be lonely in a room full of people.
Action Item: Meet your kids where they are at in their social motivation. Don’t force unnecessary expectations on them that don’t meet their needs.
11. Brainstorm Conversation Starters.
Getting started is the hardest part of anything. If your kid is nervous about hanging out with a group of kids because they don’t know what to say a little preparation can go a long way.
Action Item: Ask your kid who will be at the hangout. What are they interested in? What questions can you and your kid brainstorm to ask about those interests? What are some conversations starters around the trendy things kids are talking about like TV shows, movies, music?
12. Crush the Stumbles and Fumbles
Share with your kid the goal of conversations, which is to trade information and find common interests.
Help your child see conversation as a game of tennis. I tell you something about me. You tell me something about you. I ask something about you. You ask something about me, and so on.
If the ball stays on one side of the court too long, we’re no longer playing the game. It becomes more of a monologue than a conversation.
Keeping a conversation going is tough. Searching for the right words. Staying on topic. Not wanting to look like they don’t understand what’s being talked about.
These can all be remedied by practicing using open-ended questions. A closed question give you facts, are easy and quick to answer like “Do you have plans this weekend?” “How are you?”
Action Item: Make a list of open-ended questions with your kids. Open questions give you more than one word answers and are the gateway to good conversation, like “What are you doing this weekend? “What have you been up to lately?”
13. Find Your Kids Real Bully
Sometimes I hear my daughter say things like “I’m so stupid”. I ask her if she would talk to her best friend that way. “Of course not!” she replies. I ask, “Why is it ok that you talk to yourself that way?”
I mean this is just the stuff she says out loud. I can’t begin to imagine the other big bullies living in her head, dragging her down. We can all be our own worst critics. It’s a way of protecting ourselves from being brought down by someone else. For some reason, the bullying is easier to take when we do it to ourselves.
According to Jennifer Shannon, author of They Shyness & Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens, says this does great damage to our self-esteem. Losing a game of chess doesn’t make you a loser. Blurting out a silly idea doesn’t make you an idiot.
Action Item: Notice if your kid uses any of these labels: pathetic, lame, stupid, hopeless, defective, incompetent, idiot, jerk, loser, disgusting, or boring.
Mirror back what you heard and talk about that inner bully. This will bring a great awareness to the forefront for your kid. This is a critical first step in changing this negative behavior.
14. Discover Your Kids Confident Place.
My daughter started volunteering at the local children’s museum when she was 15. When she turned 16 they offered her a paid staff position. The kids love her. She’s like a magnet to these kids. She comes home from work with stories of kids giving her hugs good-bye and asking their Mom’s if they can come back and “play” with her again.
My daughter wasn’t only building social skills through her connection with the kids but with the parents too. It was a safe place. A place where she didn’t feel judged only accepted and loved.
Action Item: Where can your kid build some confidence? Maybe your teen has been a swimmer for years. Maybe teaching swim lessons or being an assistant swim coach is a possibility. What is possible for your kid?
15. Ditch the Shy Label
Unfortunately, the term shy has some very negative connotations such as anxious, awkward, fearful, inhibited, and timid.
It does not have to be that way. Shy can also be equated to discreet, self-controlled, thoughtful, and sensitive. Think about how you talk about shyness? What is your kid picking up on?
For example, we naturally think that if our kids aren’t socializing they must be shy. We may try to reassure our kids they are likable. In effect, that is telling them there is something the matter with them – low self-esteem.
It’s easy to call out the behavior of not socializing, labeling it as shy. Labels are dangerous. People live up to the labels given to them.
Action Item: Pay attention to the messages you and others are unknowingly sending to your kids.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Parents
- Quickly write down 2-3 points from above that hit home for you.
- Commit to trying 2 action items from above to help your kid thrive socially.
The On-Going Action Plan for Parents
- Make listening, really listening to your kids a priority.
- Start thinking of your kids as resilient and resourceful.
- Drop all labels being used in the home be it “shy” or something else.
What are you going to focus on after reading this? Share with us in the comment box below.