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How to help shy children come out of their shells

September is around that time of year when many children start new activities, even if they're not quite school-age yet. They might begin attending a music group for the first time, or go to a playgroup without mum or dad.

This is usually a really fun time for them as they start to glean new skills, enjoy fresh experiences, explore the world outside their home and make new friends. However, it can also be difficult if they have a tendency to be reserved and shy.

The emergence of shyness

For many youngsters, shyness will be a trait they grow out of, but others might experience it as an in-built part of their personality - maybe they're naturally slower to get used to change and quite reserved or quiet, even though they're perfectly happy in themselves.

There's nothing wrong with this at all. Many shy children go on to become high-achieving adults and it could be said that they're typically more intuitive and better at reading people's emotions than their more extrovert peers.

However, shyness can become an issue if it's actually keeping a child from enjoying new experiences because they're afraid, or compromising their performance in school later on because they're too anxious to listen properly or don't dare to ask questions. 

What can be done?

Shyness can be a worry for parents, but it's important not to try to force it out of your offspring. Your goal shouldn't be to eliminate it completely (what adult can say they never feel shy, after all?) but to enable youngsters who regularly feel it to work around it and flourish nonetheless.

They might never become the life and soul of a party, but they can still learn to function with ease in social settings and benefit from relationships with others.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, it's also vital not to completely accept that a child is shy and use it as an excuse for them not to go anywhere - labelling them might make them fulfil this trait even more.

The answer of what to do lies somewhere in between; acknowledging that shyness crops up now and then, but also offering gentle encouragement to help your child overcome it.

Shyness-busting tips

There are lots of easy things you can do to help shy kids become more confident in everyday situations. Perhaps the easiest is to choose a friend you know they like and invite him or her round for half an hour. When your child shows they're comfortable with this, extend the time, then progress further by inviting more friends.

Provide toys for them to use during these interactions and perhaps encourage outdoor play if you can - taking turns on a climbing frame or slide is a great way to get conversation started.

Demonstrating your own confidence is also important, so say hello to strangers as you walk past and make small talk in shops or restaurants so your little one knows how it's done.

You can also teach them how to make eye contact, shake hands and smile when meeting new people, as these represent good coping strategies to fall back on when shyness strikes, on top of being basic good manners. Do this through role play to start with, if you like.

Finally, boost your child's self-esteem by reminding them of an event where they did really well in a public place and saying how proud you were, then pointing out that people are interested in them just as they are in others.

Shyness isn't an ailment that needs to be cured, but ensuring it doesn't become an enormous obstacle is crucial for a child's development. If youngsters get used to doing things regardless, they might eventually feel altogether more confident.

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