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How to Deal With a Socially Shy Pre-Teenager

by Rebekah Richards

It's normal for some children and pre-teens to feel shy or uncomfortable in social circumstances such as birthday parties. However, because U.S. culture values extroversion, parents and teachers might believe being shy or introverted is a problem that should be fixed, according to the website for Duke TIP, a nonprofit organization connected to Duke University that helps academically gifted and talented youth. Shyness is not necessarily a problem, although extreme shyness can be disabling and cause social withdrawal, according to HealthyChildren.org, a site with the American Academy of Pediatrics. If your child's shyness is making it a challenge for her to make friends or participate in social circumstances, gentle support and encouragement can help her open up.

Avoid pushing your child to be more social or outgoing. Negative or judgmental comments, such as "Don't act like that," might cause children to feel more self-conscious or uncomfortable. Instead, respect and value your child, even if she communicates differently than you.

Empathize with your child. For example, if he's nervous about going on a field trip, explain that you sometimes feel butterflies before new experiences, too. However, don't project your past experiences onto your child, especially if being shy or introverted was painful for you.

Encourage your child's friendships by opening your home to others and getting to know other parents who have kids of the same age. Don't force your child into making friends, but provide opportunities for her to do so at her own pace.

Encourage your child to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, music lessons, church, the school newspaper or volunteer work. These activities provide opportunities for making friends and practicing social skills.

Help your child role-play circumstances that make her anxious, such as introducing herself to another child, ordering at a restaurant or speaking up in class. She can practice in front of a mirror or with you.

Avoid calling your child shy. He'll be more likely to think of himself as shy if you use that label, and it might affect his actions, too. If someone calls your child shy, casually reframe the label in a more positive way such as "Henry just likes to take his time to figure out new situations."

Learn more about shyness through online resources or books such as Susan Cain's "Quiet" or Elaine Aron’s "The Highly Sensitive Child."

Tips

  • Praise your child for taking social risks or doing activities that are difficult for her.
  • Cultivate your child's interests and passions. Many introverted children have strong interests, and developing talent and knowledge can give these children confidence and satisfaction, according to Susan Cain, author of "Quiet."

Warning

  • Talk to your child's pediatrician if your child's shyness seems debilitating. In some cases, shyness may be caused by an anxiety disorder or other mental health issues.

About the Author

Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at tolerance.org. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

Photo Credits

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