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How Do I Help My Son Overcome His Painful Shyness?

Feb 22, 2008
Q. "How can I help my 7 year old son? He is so shy that he hardly talks to anyone other than family members".

A. Some children are naturally slower than others to warm to people. Still, they can usually learn to overcome their fears and become less anxious. You have to take one step at a time, starting from where they are, and building on each success.

Look for things he likes to do and is good at. This will build self- confidence. He will also have more things to talk about. If you can find things for him to do, involving others, better still. Don't force him to do anything, but also don't make it easy for him to get out of it. A lot of time children will say they don't want to do something, even when they know inside that they'll have a great time.

Set up some social activities for him that will also turn out to be learning experiences. Start with something easy and work up from there. An example might be a movie "date" with a friend. They can have fun sharing a common experience, yet don't even have to talk.

Begin by planning easy and structured activities with not very many people. As he becomes comfortable interacting with his friends, then try a more challenging event. Be sure you set levels at which success is a sure thing. That way everyone will be up for doing 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.

If you visit adults, you can start the ball rolling by talking about his latest computer game. Let him correct you, or maybe supply some details of a particular level. You might cue the adults ahead of time as to things to ask him.

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.

Over time your son will feel more comfortable being around people and talking with them. He will slowly feel stronger when talking about things he doesn't know a lot about. If you can help make talking fun, then he'll do more of it. On the flip side, he'll talk less if it's hard or embarrassing.

Don't ever call him "shy". It will just reinforce his own belief about himself, and never change. It could even become an excuse as to why he can't do things. Focus on his strong qualities such as gentleness, kindness, and being polite.

It will take a while, but if you keep being positive with him, he will come out of his shell.
About the Author
More expert advice on how to solve children's behavioral problems is available from Dr. Noel Swanson's website, which is all about solving Child Behavior Problems.
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