In general, shy children tend to avoid social interaction because of an underlying fear of rejection or lack of self-esteem. Shyness often shows up during periods of increasing independence or when your child is transitioning to a new school. Because shyness often corresponds to specific developmental stages or changes to an established routine, it is usually short-lived.
Shy or Introverted?
However, not being a social butterfly doesn’t mean your preteen is shy. He or she may just be an introvert. While shyness is often tied to anxiety, introversion is defined as a personality preference. Contrary to what you might think, introverts aren’t always shy by nature, and many introverts can be the life of the party when they want to be. What sets apart introverted children from their extroverted schoolmates is that they tend to choose solitude as a default. While they enjoy social gatherings, introverts often feel more physically and emotionally drained afterward and need time alone to recharge.
The Keys to Confidence
Now that you know whether your child is shy or introverted, you can begin to cater your parenting style to fit his or her unique needs. Here are a few pointers to help you get started.
If your child is shy:
- Make sure you spend lots of quality time with him or her. Children who have close relationships with their parents tend to be more self-confident.
- Schedule play dates with one of your child’s close friends and an unfamiliar classmate to promote new friendships more comfortably.
- Sign up your preteen for a school sport of his or her choosing.
- Be patient. Once your child adjusts to the new routine, shyness will often go away.
If your child is introverted:
- Don’t over-schedule him or her. An introvert needs regular breaks from social interaction throughout the day.
- Encourage a balance between solitary activities (reading, listening to music) and social activities (team sports, birthday parties).
- Steer your preteen away from too much time spent on solitary activities such as playing video games or sitting in front of the computer.
- Don’t push your child to develop too many friendships. Introverts often do best having just one or two close friends.
For tips about helping your child build friendships, click here.
This article was reviewed by Ernie Smith, M.D., developmental-behavioral pediatrics, Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St.Vincent.