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. They may also hide behind a trusted adult 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 students, even those who remain shy, should be able to overcome their shyness to some level of social interaction at school and around their friends.
When should I be concerned about a student’s shyness?
Excessive shyness occurs when a student 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 student attends 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 the student will warm up to the new environment within a few days to a month. If the child is unable to warm up, there is the possibility that they are experiencing excessive shyness. Teachers should be concerned when a student’s shyness prevents them from participating in class, interacting with peers, or engaging in enjoyable activities.
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, 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 (e.g., school).
What can I do to help an excessively shy student?
Teachers should bring a student’s excessive shyness to the attention of the child’s caregivers and to the school’s mental health professional. From there, a teacher may be asked to provide gentle support to the student. Patience is the key to help an excessively shy student. Bearing that in mind, a teacher may attempt:
- Give time so the student can warm up to situations that provoke shyness. It is important that an excessively shy student be encouraged, but it does not help to force and belittle them to interact with others. 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. Teachers can arrange for a shy student to play with or work in a small group with peers he or she feels most comfortable with. Shy children need to experience positive interactions that will put them at ease.
- Role play interactions with the child. Teachers can role play new or uncomfortable situations to give the student 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 students make progress, it is important that teachers acknowledge it. Positive feedback might help a child overcome excessive shyness.
- Communicate concerns to the student’s caregivers. If a student has been exhibiting shyness that seems to be interfering with daily activities, a teacher should set up a meeting with the student’s caregivers.
- Speak with a school mental health professional. After speaking with a student’s caregiver, teachers may also consult with a school mental health professional to determine if further support or evaluation is needed.
- Seek support. With a caregiver’s permission, teachers may consult other professionals who specialize in helping children with emotional difficulties.
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.
The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).
Shyness that is excessive in a way that negatively interferes with classroom daily activities may indicate the possibility of Social Anxiety.
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.
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