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Overcoming Shyness: A Guide by Grade Level

Posted by Carrie Gibori on Tue, Nov 11, 2014 @ 05:11 AM

Many kids experience some degree of shyness throughout their childhood. Shyness can increasingly detrimental as a child grows up, but it can be overcome with practice. Healthy social interaction has an infinite amount of benefits to anyone – child or adult. Healthy interactions aid in self-confidence building and overall success in a society where fluency in social interaction is paramount.

Shyness Rule #1

The first thing any child needs in order to overcome their shyness is for the parents to never acknowledge their shyness as a bad thing. Often parents offer their child's shyness as an excuse for their behavior. When children hear this, they consider their shyness to be a burden or something that is very wrong. Sure, your child might be shy, but constantly reminding them or others of this fact is far from helpful. 

Preschool Preparation 


The first signs of shyness often appear during the preschool years. It is during that time that children are beginning to encounter more unfamiliar places and people.

As a result, they might become apprehensive of who they might perceive as "strangers."

While it is important to express to your child that there are some inherent dangers with some strangers, it is also important to help your child differentiate between "good" strangers and "bad" strangers.

Simple modeling techniques of smiling and engaging with new people can aid your child in figuring out how to engage withnew classmates.  Additionally, having recognized shyness in your child, you can take measures to introduce them to new environments and people in a way that makes sense to them. Don't feed them to the wolves, so to speak.

If a child is beginning a new class or even attending a birthday party, model good society practices with them:

  • Try guiding them into introductions, this will lessen their anxiety.
  • With new classes, it might be a good idea to arrive early when less students will be around that may intimidate your child
  • Try to encourage your child to talk to their teacher and maybe one other child while you are there
  • Show them a toy or book to read that might capture their attention and lessen their anxiety

If they become comfortable with their surroundings, they will be better equipped to ease into the new class without experiencing too much fear. Shyness, after all, is the result of a fear of either just meeting new people, or saying or doing something wrong. Patience is key with a really young, shy child. 

Elementary School Roleplay

For elementary students, oftentimes shyness is the result of a fear of doing or saying something wrong. Modeling healthy social behavior is still helpful, but it is also helpful to roleplay with your child. Here are a few pieces of advice:

  • Try practicing various situations where your child can introduce themselves or ask questions can help them and others around them to get comfortable.
  • Good communication doesn't equal constant class participation. Remind your child of this; they shouldn't feel pressured to speak out.
  • Prep them with various questions they can ask their fellow classmates. Don't remove your student from an activity because of one failed attempt.
  • Practice makes perfect: the more they roleplay, the more comfortable they will become with the environment or the activity.
  • For one on one communication, schedule a playdate with another child, preferably one who also exhibits shyness. Even if there isn't a whole lot of interaction, it's a step in the right direction.
  • Eventually, scaffold up to a more outgoing child for your child's playdate--their behavior can have a positive impact on your own child's development.

High School Shyness Scaffolding

For high school students, luckily there are a wide variety of activities for them to get involved in. These are great avenues for meeting similar-minded individuals.

  • Look for an extra-curricular that speaks to their interests or talents.
  • Speak with a counselor for ideas on getting your student involved.
  • Small special interest clubs and groups like performing arts support crews (lighting, set design, sound management) are a good way of not only meeting a few people, but also getting involved in a small way in a bigger production.
For in-class behavior:
  • Overcoming shyness can begin to affect grades when participation grades come into play.
  • Work with your student on developing a system of writing down pointed questions they can ask during the class. Make sure to write these questions down.
  • For students that freeze up when teachers ask them questions, work with them on answering questions with questions. This will help eliminate anxiety over being wrong.

An Overview

Many shy kids are incredibly introspective, intelligent and successful in academics. However, there are steps that can be taken to help your child better assimilate into the typical social environment that school inevitably provides.

Shyness can hold a child back from healthy relationships and the benefits of engaging in intellectual and meaningful conversations. With patience and an expectation for a little bit of initial failure, you and your child can work on overcoming shyness together. 

Through modeling healthy social behavior, arranging a variety of healthy social situations and adequately preparing your child for new and uncomfortable interactions, you can help your child to overcome shyness.

Topics: performance anxiety, school anxiety, shyness