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Am I Doing This All Wrong? 5 Tips for Parenting Shy Kids

by Patty Freedman

Do you get overwhelmed? Sometimes hang back in large groups? Feel unsure of what to say or who to sit with? You may be a little shy– just like most people.

Now imagine how it feels to be a kid and not have the emotional intelligence to navigate those social situations. Emotional intelligence skills are learnable at any age. In this month’s newsletter we explore the emotion Shy. Keep reading for EQ research and resources you can use for you, your faculty and students.


What’s in this edition:

🔴 Thinking About: The embarrassment of shyness

🟡 Research says: Emotional Intelligence is protective factor for shy children

🟢  Try it Yourself: 5 ways to support shy kids

🔵  Mark your calendar: Events for educators – will you join us?

🔴 Thinking About: The embarrassment of shyness 

Am I doing this all wrong?
I remember worrying about my child being shy as a toddler. I wanted them to walk in the parade of kids at music class shaking tiny tambourines. I wished they would get off my lap and march in a circle with the other (unpredictable, chaotic, loud, instrument-banging) kids. I wanted to be sure that they felt confident enough to try new things. I imagined my shy kid would miss out on opportunities if they didn’t assert themselves and speak up. But I also worried about how to best parent a shy kid because I didn’t want to mess up. 

What is shyness? People frequently use terms shy/ socially anxious/ introvert interchangeably and they are NOT the same. Shyness is a feeling of awkwardness or worry when encountering new people or situations. People with social anxiety have a debilitating level of distress about feeling of being watched and judged. This level of anxiety interferes with life activities and needs professional support. Introversion is a personality style and describes how you prefer to get your information and stimulus. 

We asked Joshua Freedman, MCC and CEO of Six Seconds about the emotions that are inside shyness on Plutchik model: “Shy is combination of feelings including fear — as well as some anticipation. It also probably includes some distrust in self, or maybe putting too much trust or giving others too much power.”

Why do parents feel self conscious about having a shy child? Perhaps because we’re living in an “extrovert focused society” that values confidence and pushes kids into being more outgoing. 

It’s hard to remember, but this is not about you. So much of parenting is about worrying that your kid is going to be ok and the remaining part is judging yourself for whatever challenges they may have. Shyness is one of those things we think is a reflection of our parenting performance. Let’s expand our thinking about shy kids better understand and support them.

Shy children may take more time to feel comfortable in a new environment. In that time they are observing the energy of the people, the expectations for participation and checking to see if they feel safe enough to join. Shy children may be more empathetic – tuning into the emotions of others and themselves. They may be listening to their inner voice before they take action. Shy children may develop trust more slowly than other children and that can be a good thing.

Joshua Freedman says “Relationships move at the speed of Trust.” So shy children may take a little longer but they will get there in the end. Keep reading to get to 5 tips to help shy kids.

🟡 RESEARCH SAYS: Emotional Intelligence is protective factor for shy children

A study published in Personality and Individual Differences (2023) demonstrates that emotional intelligence as a mitigating factor for internalizing behaviors of shy children.

Researchers wanted to better understand why some shy children had more “internalizing behaviors” than other shy children. The concept of ‘internalizing behavior’ reflects a child’s emotional or psychological state and typically includes depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints and teenage suicide. In the study parents of 115 school age children completed online questionnaire about shyness and internalizing behaviors. The data suggests that “Emotional intelligence may be one factor that is protective against internalizing problems for some shy children.” 

More research is needed to develop best practices for parents and teachers to support support shy children but this evidence suggests that emotional intelligence skill building should be included.

🟢 TRY IT YOURSELF: 5 ways to support shy kids

1. Avoid Labeling 

She’s just shy” or “he’s a bit of a loner” can stick with a kid and can start early in childhood.

Making an effort to avoid these kinds of labels is important especially for parents– because the kids are always watching and listening as they develop their sense of self. Try replacing labels with more empowering phrases like “He’s quietly confident”or “she’s taking her time to get her bearings”. Make a habit of highlighting your child’s actions to celebrate the full spectrum of who they are.

2. Consider the Upside of Shyness

Did you know that 50% of the US population identify as introverts? It’s ironic that shyness can still have a problematic stigma. As introvert expert Susan Cain writes in her bestselling book, “Introverts think before they act, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately.” Researchers found that kids who are hesitant around social interactions tend to make deeper connections with a smaller number of people. They’re also more likely to grow up to become high-quality partners in relationships and compassionate leaders.

3. Resist Helicopter Parenting

Your shy child doesn’t always need to be rescued. Sometimes resilience-building and practicing social behaviors are not to miss opportunities. Overprotecting your child in the moment can backfire and often reinforces the idea that socializing is scary. Remember that a shy child’s strategies in a social setting aren’t always an indication of despair, they may be just taking their time.

4. Practice Socializing Strategies

One of the best ways to approach social hesitance is to practice ahead of time. Start by practicing skills like making eye contact (or looking at a forehead if maintaining eye-contact is too intense) or speaking in a clear voice. One-on-one interactions are usually less intimidating than big group functions, so look for opportunities to connect with individuals. Encourage your child to be on the lookout for signs of friendliness (smiling, waving, compliments, or recognizing “kind eyes’).  A study from the University of North Carolina found that children who responded warmly to signs of friendliness in others had fewer social challenges.

5. Teach Coping Techniques

Everyone needs good coping skills! Being with people is a lot of emotional labor! As adults, we know how and when to take a break and recharge. But kids don’t always know this and may associate prolonged social interactions with hard feelings. Help children develop coping skills like learning to notice how our bodies feel when we’re nervous and taking some deep breaths or taking a break with a soothing activity to recharge. You can model and normalize for your child. For example saying “Wow that was a long dinner! I talked with so many people. I think I am going to enjoy some quiet time now by reading my book.” By showing how you manage social situations, you’re demonstrating that it’s ok to take some time out to decompress.

🔵 MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Events for educators – will you join us?

Jan 16 See you at the free info session on the EdD with SEL Specialization

Jan 18 Join us at the SEL Resource Showcase to find more tools and orgs

Mar 8 Sign up now for #SELday to amplify and support SEL learning in your school or community (Six Seconds is Partnering with SELday to raise global awareness for SEL and we need your help!)

Various Dates You are invited to participate in upcoming free EQ webinars to grow and practice emotional intelligence

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Patty Freedman