My son is painfully shy
My son is painfully shy.
Q. "My 7 year old son suffers with extreme shyness, in fact he will hardly talk to anyone outside of the family.
What can I do to encourage him?"
A. Although some children are, by nature, slow to warm up, that does not mean that they cannot overcome their fears and anxieties. The trick is to start from where they are at, and build from success to success.
Find activities which he can enjoy and succeed in. The more he seems himself as being good at things, the more confidence he will have - and also the more he will have to talk about. If these activities involve other people all the better.
Don't force him to go, but don't let him off the hook too easily either. Many kids refuse to go to things even when they know they will love it when they get there! Deliberately set up some social situations as learning experiences for him.
Start with easy ones and then build up. For example, going to the movies with a friend is dead easy - they sit in the dark and don't have to talk to each other at all! Yet they can have fun together.
Start with familiar structured activities with few people. As he gains confidence in being and interacting with people, then set up more challenging situations. Always set them at a level at which he will succeed, and quit while it is going well! Then everyone will want to do it again.
Build the social encounters around the activities he enjoys. If it is computer games, then have some friends around (one at first, then more) to play games with him, and talk about the games they are playing.
When you visit adults, you can lead the conversation by telling of your son's latest exploits on his computer game. Allow him to correct you on details, or to fill in on the intricacies of beating the Bad Boss on level 4.
You could prime the adults with suggestions about what to talk about. If he won't respond, don't make excuses for him and never force him to talk.
Let him talk, or not talk, as he chooses, and then live with the consequences of his choice. However, you will have more success in getting him to talk if you draw him into conversations with open ended questions such as "How did Mario get lost in the Mansion in the first place?".
Avoid putting him on the spot with closed questions that demand a one word answer, or that are about subjects he dislikes or finds difficult. Gradually, your son will develop confidence in talking and being with people.
He will then be able to take more risks by talking about less familiar subjects. In short - if talking becomes fun, he will do more of it. It it is difficult or embarrassing he will do less.
Finally, don't call him "shy". The more he hears you say this, the more convinced he will be that that is just how he is and that he cannot change. In time he might even use this as an excuse: "I can't do that - I'm too shy!" Instead,
emphasise his positive qualities - his gentleness, kindness, politeness etc. It may all take some time, but if you keep it all positive and affirming, he should get there.
author of My son is painfully shy is Dr Noel Swanson MD
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