Have you ever heard a conversation go like this about your shy child:
“Your kid is so quiet! She barely says a word.”
“Yeah, she’s our introverted one. We’re working on that. Come on, can’t you say hello?”
“Don’t worry, I was a shy kid too. She’ll grow out of it.”
It is not uncommon. However, as professional educators, we believe that this attitude toward “shy” children is detrimental – not only to the children themselves but also to the community as a whole. Children are often shamed for being quiet or introverted (which, by the way, are not the same thing). They are forced to speak to people when they do not want to. They are encouraged to be more like their outgoing friends. Further, they are talked about as someone who needs to be changed or fixed while they are standing right there. What if, in trying to get our children to be less shy, we are actually missing out on something very important? Here are five ways to let your quiet child know that they are allowed to be themselves:
1. Be Their Safe Space
Loud or quiet, any kid needs a safe space to express their feelings and get comfort. And parents should be in that place. Let your child know that you value what they have to say. If they start to talk to you – especially if it is more difficult for them to open up – pause what you are doing, look at them, and listen. Validate their feelings. Offer your support and love. Let them know they are an awesome kid and you think they are doing a good job at being a kid. When your child sees you as a safe space, every other step in the process becomes so much easier.
2. Explain That Everyone Is Different – And That’s Okay
Quiet students are often compared to their talkative friends or classmates. They can easily start to feel like there is some standard of extraversion they are expected to live up to in order to be a normal kid. This is tragic! As a parent, you can gently and consistently create a better environment in your home by teaching your child that different personalities make the world interesting. Use something they can see objectively (for example, everyone has a different kind of body/hair/eyes/etc.) to explain what might be harder for them to put their finger on (everyone has a different personality). Being a naturally quiet person comes with strengths and qualities that a louder person does not have. The world needs both. Your “shy” child does not need to change. In fact, we need them to stay as they are to create a healthy community!
3. Encourage Them to Listen to Their Gut
Shy children are that way for a reason. They are not just doing it to bother you. Maybe they do not want to give a hug because that person makes them feel uncomfortable. Maybe they do not want to speak up simply because they are resisting all the grownups pushing them to do so. Lastly, maybe they do not want to make friends at the playground because they would rather observe how the other kids act first. These feelings are important, and should not be put aside. Let your child know that their gut is telling them something important. They are allowed to pass on that hug. They don’t have to go down the slide with a friend if they are not ready. If a child’s brain is telling them not to do something, don’t force them to do it.
4. Identify (And Hype Up) the Strengths of a Shy Child
Charisma is championed in our society. But quiet people have a whole host of strengths that are just as valuable. For example, quiet people tend to be much more observant. Even as children, they see beneath the surface and notice things you might not (which is why step 3 is so important). They often have better memories. They view loyalty as more important than many superficial friendships. All these qualities are major strengths that our society needs. If you foster an environment where your child can identify and grow in their strengths, they will one day become a powerful member of the community – all while living who they truly are. Your child may not understand the importance of their strengths, so it is your job to help them see them, name them, and nurture them.
5. Establish Healthy Communication Skills
By following steps 1-4, you have already created an atmosphere where your child feels comfortable in their own skin and confident of their own strengths. So likely, your child will be comfortable speaking up for themselves when necessary. However, it may take a little practice. Being a quiet person is never a bad thing, but sometimes there is a need to learn how to voice opinions and stand up for oneself. In this case, try a little role-play in the safe space of your home. Set up different scenarios (i.e. the bully says something means to you, the teacher asks you a question, etc.) and help your child learn how to respond to these situations. They will be a pro in no time.
Empower Your Shy Child
All of this may seem overwhelming to a parent. And it may be a major mindset shift for some of you. You have no need to worry, however. With compassionate, well-trained teachers and a one-on-one education system, we have your back. To learn more, contact us. We are here to help your child thrive, whatever their unique personality might be!