Overcoming Shyness in Young Children

During the Autumn months, many preschool children experience significant change in their life. Seemingly, the robust, over confident and often rowdy ‘toddler teenager’, have left the security of their nursery settings, to start what they call ‘big school’. It is likely that despite these children having ‘out grown’ nursery, a daunting school environment will shrink them down to size again, if only for a short while. The quiet and younger children who once looked up to their older peers, now have their shoes to fill and will become the new role models. It is here that they will develop a strong foundation for their personality traits and blossom into the next generation of school leavers. It is natural for parents to have some level of apprehension, about how their child will cope in new positions. Some may watch them in social situations, analyse, compare and cover up any behaviour that they may interpret as unacceptable or embarrassing. Other parents may have an overwhelming feeling that they just want to ‘do it for them’ and protect them from the flood of awkward emotions that they are engulfing. With so many new experiences, at such a young age, it may be difficult for children to cope with these challenges; starting nursery, a new school, birthday parties, music, swimming and sports lessons, to name but a few. Some children are outgoing, loud and confident. So much so, that it’s as if they’ve always known their new peers and surroundings. Their parents can give a sigh of relief and happily talk of how well they have managed and how these many positive signs resemble themselves as a child. Despite this obvious pride, there are however many parents who’s children are shy and struggle in new situations. This can be painful for both the parent and child.

For parents with shy children, there are some ways in which you can help:

  • Don’t label a child as ‘shy’, instead let them know that it’s okay if he/she isn’t the same as everyone else.

  • Recognise that some toddlers are evidently confident with their peers and strangers whilst others don’t welcome interaction, with those they are less familiar with.

Parents can support their children by:

  • Acknowledging their fear without ignoring or dismissing it.

  • Gently encouraging but not pushing.

  • Avoid stepping in too quickly to rescue them before a problem occurs.

  • Encouraging their child to watch first if they are finding it difficult to be fully involved. Don’t take them out of the situation.

  • Praise children for doing something they’re anxious about rather than criticise them for being fearful.

  • Discuss any concerns away from the children.

Researchers have found two possible outcomes for shyness.

The first being a biological predisposition. This refers to approximately one in five children. These children are reluctant to take on new experiences and some also develop tendencies to be finicky eaters. A quarter of these children tend to keep these traits throughout life. Many shyness issues will resolve once these underlying triggers are realised. The other pathway to shyness is situational. For these children it is a temporary reaction to stress. Parents can help their children by practicing certain stressful social activities at home first. Parents can source ideas of play and educational resources on the internet. Through practice, it will make it less frightening and more fun instead. Alongside home play, children will also benefit from playing with younger children, whereby they are able to assume a leadership position. This will enhance their confidence. Explore what your child most enjoys doing by introducing a variety of play equipment. By playing together, it will help them to gain confidence. Slowly acquaint less favoured equipment and show how this can also be fun. Familiarisation will help to grow confidence. A confident child may be able to overcome their shyness. Whilst shyness may be seen as a negative characteristic, these children make great learners. They concentrate well, watch carefully and practice activities in their own way. I have seen many children excel and become top achievers once their confidence has grown. The message here is clear; parents can play a key role in working closely with their children to help them to overcome their inhibitions.

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The activities within our Tots in Sport Programme are an effective way to help with shyness in young children. We provide interactive videos of fun and educational activities, so that you and your child can play, learn and grow together at home. Start playing now!

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