Do children need forcing over shyness?

Charley and I had a jaunt out together the other day. She’s a lovely young adult now and we share grown up things together like art centres, charity treasure seeking or walks. And I always enjoy the opportunity to chat – and listen. How did she become so intelligent and astute? Sometimes I feel I’ve been overtaken!

Quite randomly we got to talking about shyness, particularly in children. She was painfully shy; pulling hat down over eyes rather than engaging with people. Hated crowds, hated people noisy places, and generally had a serious frowning face as a baby. It was a good job our first child was beaming as I might have thought it was me making her miserable.

Her Gran could get her giggling though and when she did crack out a smile the sun shone. But she was never one for leaving my legs and joining in.

Yet she recently managed a very difficult conversation with a boss. How did she get from being the shy little girl, shy big girl as well, to someone who could deal with situations like college, Uni, colleagues and bosses? As a home educating family, whose children don’t experience the affray of school, you’re often accused of failing to push them out into the big wide world. ‘They have to get used to it’ you’re told. Is this true?

It’s a dilemma for parents: How much do we push interaction and how much do we leave it to develop naturally?

Not being a parent who was comfortable with any kind of enforcement, and being shy myself, I felt very strongly I shouldn’t push. That in the right environment, with the right encouragement and a consistent demonstration, with exposure that a child feels comfortable with, you don’t need to push interaction it will develop naturally through developing confidence. And confidence comes from support and experience.

This is what Charley says about it; ‘I hated it when people approached me when I was little. I felt sick and like I wanted to cry. I was so grateful to have you as a shield if I needed it and I can look back and see now that you let it be alright if I didn’t want to talk to people. If you’d pushed me out before I was ready I would have thought you were ganging up on me as well, as that’s what it felt like. Instead I had the choice to interact or not and very young children need that protection’.

I knew that sick feeling well, so I was determined that she shouldn’t suffer the same. We are all different and all have different characteristics.

However, I knew that Charley did need to become confident in dealing with people. And I thought about certain strategies to pass on as she grew to help her over those difficult situations. I remember telling her that sometimes all you have to do is look people in the eye, say hello, then look away and they’re satisfied with that and leave you alone. I made sure that I approached people with confidence so she could copy my example (I was bluffing but she didn’t know that!) and told her about ice-breakers, where you talk about something that’s common between you – even the weather. And smiling always helps! Little tips like these she could put into practice and gain experience from using.

As we were chatting about this Charley went on to say; ‘As I got older I realised that being shy, and not being physically able to speak to people, wasn’t going to be help me progress and get where I wanted. So I had to get over it so I took courage and went for it as my confidence grew. I also wanted people to think I was approachable. Looking at people and smiling changes their responses to me and helps them relax’.

And now you wouldn’t know she was shy and she seems very good at putting people at their ease. Better than her mother probably! She certainly does when she’s photographing them – there’s no worse subject than me, but she managed it for my blog.

Yet this was a child who was not taken to toddler group, contrary to the advice of health visitors who think it’s a way of ‘socialising’ them. (That’s rubbish and you can read why in my book ‘Mumhood’). She was not sent to school. She was not forced into group situations before she was ready. She was not forced to party, mix, engage, unless she chose to, just came along as we did it, but whether she interacted was up to her.

And I wanted to write this here in support of all those painfully shy children who are forced to ‘get over it’. And all those parents who worry or who think they should be forcing their children to mix – you shouldn’t. Or that home education is going to compound the problem. It doesn’t.

You don’t have to push them out there – they want to get out there for themselves when the time is right. And they will do – Charley is proof.

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16 thoughts on “Do children need forcing over shyness?

  1. Pingback: The value of the Quiet Ones! | Ross Mountney's Notebook

  2. Pingback: An invitation… | Ross Mountney's Notebook

  3. This is such a lovely post, my son is on the border of shy and not shy. he takes a little time to warm up and likes to hide his head and say “I shy” (it is adorable!) I am shy but a fantastic bluffer and appear to be very outgoing!!! I hope I can pass that onto my children as it has been a useful life skill to have xx

  4. Great post. Shy children definitely shouldn’t be pushed into anything. It’s really frustrating when people think they know whats best for your child. Both of mine have so far been pretty bossy rather than shy, but I’ve had friends who have worried that they have somehow MADE their kids shy, rather than recognising it as a personality type.

    I’m loving hearing about having older children too, I’m sad that childhood is slowing slipping away, but also excited for what the future brings.

  5. Thanks Ross,
    I needed to hear this today 🙂 We went on a home ed trip yesterday and both my boys were shy and wanting us to all stick together. I’m glad I ignored the nagging questioning voice in my head and made sure we all stuck together because it meant it was a lovely relaxed day, which meant they learned a lot too. Thank for your encouragement. Please never stop writing!

  6. Marvellous post and so very true. Thank you for talking about it!

    We had the same with my eldest daughter who was (is!) extremely shy. Home education didn’t cause it, neither did it make it worse, it’s just who she is. It was being given the support and encouragement to work through it in her own time and her own way that has made all the difference – trying to force her would have made the situation so much worse. She’s now at college, which was a brave step for her but something she very much wanted to do. She went at 18, two years ‘late’, because that’s when she was ready. I’m delighted to say that having a great time and getting more confident by the day!

  7. Fantastic post and as always your wisdom astounds me. As the mother of a shy child who is also an only child and was also home educated, I understand exactly where you are coming from. I find that finding out what makes shy children ticks really helps. For instance, Will loves drama and that has helped immensely over the years.

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