What is typical shyness?

Being shy is not by any means a problem. In addition to those predispositions in temperament, many children at many ages experience shyness to some degree at one point or another. But children who are shy in a typical level gradually warm up to new situations over time. Young children may be shy when meeting their caregivers’ friends for the first time or when their caregivers are speaking with a sales clerk. They may also hide behind their caregivers when they are expected to interact with others, such as when visiting a new playground. Young students may be shy when meeting new peers and adults for the first time. While shyness may hold a child or adolescent back from doing something at first, it will not significantly impact him/her from engaging in everyday activities at school and outside school. Older children, even those who remain shy, should be able to overcome their shyness to some level of social interaction at family events, at school, and around their friends.


When should I be concerned about a child’s shyness?

Caregivers should be concerned when their child’s shyness prevents them from interacting with others or engaging in enjoyable activities. Excessive shyness is when a child or adolescent seems unable to warm up and remains quiet or disengaged, and it can limit the child’s social and learning experiences.

For example, when a child or adolescent goes to a new school, it is quite normal for them to feel shy and not interact with others very much at first. It is expected, though, that they will warm up to the new environment within a few days to a month. If the child or adolescent is unable to warm up, there is the possibility that they are experiencing excessive shyness.

Excessive shyness occurs when children or adolescents fear all sorts of social situations and are terrified of how others perceive them, presenting difficulties overcoming fears of speaking in public or in a classroom, and a terrified feeling of meeting new people, speaking on the phone, writing and eating in front of others, going to parks or talking with someone they don't know. Physical complaints such as headaches and stomachaches are also very common. Another common problem which is common in those children who are younger is Selective Mutism, where children are unable to speak around certain people or in certain settings.


What can I do to help an excessively shy child?

Caregivers know their children best. If you are a caregiver, patience is the key to help an excessively shy child. There are a few things you may attempt:

  • Talk to your child about how they feel without being critical. Let your child know that you want to understand what they are going through.
  • Listen to what your child says. While some reasons to be shy can be unrealistic for adults, they are real for children and adolescents. So, before you bring any solutions to your child, try to listen and understand what happens to them and acknowledge their difficulties.
  • Give time so your child can warm up to situations that provoke shyness. You can encourage your child to interact with others, however avoid belittling them or forcing them to do it. It can put a lot of pressure on them and reinforce their anxious feelings, as well as the belief that social interactions are scary.
  • Make opportunities for positive interactions. You can arrange for your child to play or do activities with another child or small group with whom they feel comfortable. Shy children need to experience positive interactions that will put them at ease.
  • Role play interactions with your child. You can role play new or uncomfortable situations to give your child an opportunity to practice social greetings, making eye contact, speaking with a brave voice, smiling, and understanding others' perspectives.
  • Acknowledge and recognize the progress. When shy children make progress, it is important to acknowledge it. Positive feedback may help your child overcome excessive shyness.
  • Prevent your child from avoiding social interactions or situations that make them feel uncomfortable. Avoiding social situations can worsen excessive or persistent shyness because it reinforces the idea that social interactions are scary and may lead to generalizations, “spreading” shyness reactions to previously unaffected situations.
  • Avoid comparing your shy child to other children who are not shy. This kind of comparison can make other children seem like better children.

If you have already tried some or most of these suggestions and the problems your child is facing persist, it may be time to seek out professional support.

Shyness that is excessive in a way that negatively interferes with your child and family’s daily lives may indicate the possibility of Social Anxiety Disorder.


What kind of professional support can I seek out for help?

It is not unusual that some caregivers feel embarrassed, inadequate, or guilty if their child is struggling with excessive shyness. But, if you are concerned about your child's shyness, support and guidance are available now. Communicate concerns during and between visits with your child's doctor.

Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, whenever possible, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful. These professionals also work with caregivers so that they know how to support their children outside of therapy sessions.

The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).


Where to find more information

Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Social Anxiety Disorder can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].

If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.

You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.



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