by Dr. Shanthi Thomas
As parents, we know that not all kids are confident in themselves. Some are shy, preferring to hide in their rooms when strangers come home, or refusing to speak in front of people. As the shy children grow up, they feel inferior to the more confident ones, and wish to be like them. Shy kids have fewer opportunities to develop social skills, have fewer friends, and in the majority of cases, increased feelings of loneliness. How do you make a shy kid confident?
‘Shy’ is a label that may become a self-fulfilling prophesy. It is important never to call your child ‘shy’ in front of other people. If the kid does not talk to a guest, you may say ‘he does not feel like talking right now.’ If the parents act normal about the kid’s shyness, teachers and strangers will also take the cue from them.
Always give your child some warmup time before introducing him to strangers or before joining him in a new school. Let him be with you for a while, observing the surroundings and the people until he feels more at ease.
No child will grow to be confident and independent if there is the parent hovering over him all the time. Therefore, it is important to judge when to leave the child to his own devices when he is in strange surroundings. If parents are too protective, the child will not learn coping skills and mechanisms.
Role-playing can be incredibly useful especially when the child has to interact with an adult, perhaps his teacher. You could imagine a situation when the child has forgotten to bring a book, and act out how he would apologize to the teacher, for example.
Parents and teachers should take care not to compare the shy child with others. Comparisons to a more confident child discourage rather than encourage the shy child. Instead of comparing and competing with other people, teach your child to compare himself with his older versions, and show him how much better he has become.
Whenever there is time or an opportunity arises, teach your child to do minor jobs, such as cleaning the table after a meal, or cutting vegetables, or how to tie a tie. Knowledge brings confidence, and feelings of self-efficacy.
Nothing builds confidence like genuine appreciation. Give a pat on the back or a thumbs up for even minor accomplishments. Even being able to talk to a stranger calls for a minor celebration!
Being excellent in a particular area does wonders to one’s confidence. It need not be academics. It could be anything from playing football to drawing to cooking. But help him find his strong spot, and help him build it up.
A shy child needs as many opportunities as possible to meet other people, and be in a social environment. This will not be threatening to him because you are there with him. After a lot of such outings, he will feel confident to go out and meet people on his own.
It is not a good idea to force a shy child to talk or interact with other people. If he is not ready for it, it is always better to wait till the time he is ready. Forcing a child to socialize can be traumatic for a shy kid.
Feeling good about one’s own body is important to build one’s confidence. This is especially true in the growing age when appearance matters a lot. Make sure that the child has nutritious food in adequate quantity and that he does regular exercise, to maintain a fit body. A healthy body image goes a long way in building a child’s confidence.
If your child is not an outgoing type, preferring to be quiet and reflective, perhaps that is the way he was meant to be. He may be an introvert, and being an introvert is nothing to be ashamed of. Whatever tendencies the child displays, he has to be accepted as he is, unconditionally. Such unconditional acceptance often brings out the best in children, and paradoxically draws them out so much that they begin to enjoy the company of others.
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