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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

10 Tips When Meeting a Shy Child

When my youngest daughter was young, she was shy. People who know her now would probably laugh at that because she's a talkative, confident young woman today. But as a child, she often lowered her gaze or even hid behind me when meeting someone for the first time. Sometimes she  refused to speak when spoken to or would whisper in my ear what she wanted to say. One day, her teacher pulled me aside after her first month of preschool and asked me if I thought she was happy there. I was shocked. My little angel happily chattered away every day telling me all the things she had done at school. Come to find out, she hadn't done any of them, but rather observed the other children doing them while she stood on the sidelines. I could tell she loved her class and I assured her teacher she was very happy there. Gradually, she observed less and participated more.

Most children are shy, at least under certain circumstances. How should adults respond when meeting such a child? With good humor and respect. Here are a few guidelines I found helpful when meeting shy children.
  1. Speak directly to the child, asking an easy question. This allows him to have confidence in answering. Yes or no questions may be helpful at first so they can respond with a head nod or shake if they want. 
  2. Be understanding. When a child doesn't want to talk or even make eye contact with you, accept it. Say something to put them at ease, such as, "That's OK. I don't always feel like talking to people either." This puts you in the child's corner and earns his trust.
  3. Give the child space. Don't keep trying to get the child to talk. Back off. Move at his pace. When he's more comfortable with you, he'll likely be happy to talk to you. It may take several encounters before that happens. Be patient. When it does, you'll have a friend for life.
  4. Avoid labeling the child. Saying things like, "He's so shy!" or "You're a bashful one!" only makes the child more uncomfortable. Empathize (see #2), don't label.
  5. Respect the child.  This is the bottom line and ties into point #4 about not labeling. Shy people, regardless of their age, shouldn't have to justify their God-given personalities any more than more talkative people do. I mean, really, shy people never say to talkative people, "You're sure a noisy one" or "Do you ever quit talking?" even if they sometimes feel like it! Accept children (and adults!) for who they are.
  6. Don't bribe. If a child isn't ready to talk, don't offer him something (i.e. candy) to try to get him to like you. This flies in the face of all the safety rules children are taught. Respect that he isn't ready and direct your attention elsewhere.
  7. Smile. Let them know you're not mad that they won't talk to you. Be friendly.
  8. Accept whatever friendship the child offers. Maybe he'll give you furtive glances. Smile when he does, or play a game of peek-a-boo with him. He may bring you a toy. Look it over well and make conversation about it. Enter his world. Don't make him enter yours.
  9. Bring a gift if you know the child's interests. It can be a good conversation starter between the two of you. This isn't the same as bribing because the gift is given outright, with no strings attached, rather than on the condition that he talk to you. 
  10. Be gentle. Quiet children are often intimidated or frightened by people who come on too strong. So don't try to tickle, grab, or tease a child out of his shell. It will only make him back further into it.
Next time you meet a shy child, try out some of these tips and see if they don't help him warm up to you. Then remember, when a child offers you his friendship, it's a sweet gift that shouldn't be taken lightly.

What tips have you found helpful in dealing with shy children? If you're a parent of a shy child, what have people done (or not done) to help your child in uncomfortable situations?


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