Children often outgrow early shyness

Patterns of shyness in childhood are frequently more painful for parents than they are for children. About fifteen percent of all children are identified as shy or slow to warm up. Many famous celebrities identified themselves as extremely shy as children, among them, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elvis Presley, David Letterman, and Jim Carey. The first man on the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong was shy as a child.

Shyness in childhood doesn’t necessarily have to follow one into adult life. Not all shyness in childhood is necessarily debilitating or in need of intervention. Some children are born less outgoing, quieter and more cautious than other children. Shyness is just a point on a continuum of temperament from introversion to extroversion, and can often change dramatically as a child develops.

As difficult as it is at times to witness as a parent, it should not be seen as problematic unless it results in school or, social interaction difficulties. The following may be used as a basic guideline for understanding symptoms of shyness warranting intervention as a parent, as well as how to attempt to help.

First, keep in mind that although you might have been a social butterfly as a child, your child might not be. Some children, although there are few, show little interest in other people but are actively engaged in activities that absorb their time and they seem happy. These contented children should not be confused with children who do not have friends but wish they did, and use activities as substitutes for the friends they can’t seem to make. Nearly all children experience the following behaviors at one time or another. However, when clusters of these behaviors occur and interfere with a child’s typical functioning, they may require some support.

  • Avoids others
  • Timid, bashful and/or excessively reserved
  • Easily frightened
  • Distrustful of strangers
  • Uncomfortable with minimal change in their environment
  • Rarely take initiative or volunteer in social situations
  • May speak in a muted voice or be silent

Often the shy child experiences high levels of anxiety in social situations, wanting to leave before they get there. Different from most children who are anxious in new social situations, the shy child doesn’t “warm up” and lose himself in the group activity; rather their internal discomfort causes them distress until they leave.

If your child’s shyness develops to the point that it dramatically interferes in their life at home, in school, and with other children, it may warrant further professional help. Symptoms to look for include:

  • having few if any friends
  • avoiding or trying to avoid social situations
  • low self-esteem, devaluing their abilities or accomplishments
  • being negative or pessimistic
  • staying inside with hobbies or computers regardless of the weather (avoiding “going out to play”)
  • frequently appearing lonely or sad
  • spending excessive amounts of time on solitary activities (more than would be warranted for successful accomplishment of the task)
  • teachers talk about her being a very “nice” girl but are concerned about her and her lack of involvement with other children

What are the origins of shyness?