Learning to parent a Shy Child

I love my sweet Sienna so much. Sometimes I wish I knew how to better let her see how amazing she is. Right now she is so painfully shy around people. Even close family and friends at first. She doesn’t even like to hear me mention her name when talking to my mom on the phone. One day we took a trip to Publix, just the two of us, and she was using their mini carts for kids! Having a blast loading it up with strawberries and yogurt and other things. We passed an older grandpa man who smiled at her and said something like oh how cute! Immediately she turned in and let her hair cover the side of her face and slouched her shoulders and slowly pushed the cart beside me. a minute later she told me she didn’t want to push it anymore she didn’t want anyone to smile at her. I told her she of course she didn’t have to push it and we loaded the food back in the big cart. Made me sad because she was having so much fun before she realized people might look at her for doing it.

We are trying to build her confidence but let her know it’s ok to not be overly affectionate or social with people. She can have her boundaries but I don’t want her to hurt or stress about people talking to her. Such a hard thing to parent. I don’t want her to feel limited or like she can’t do things because she’s afraid of people looking at her. She can be so full of life and feisty but there are moments she just closes up. Even at the kitchen table at my parent’s house. She doesn’t like big gatherings. She warms up to people but if a new person enters the scene it’s like starting completely over.

I try not to say “she is shy” to people…I guess I don’t want her to identify herself with that. I try to let her know she doesn’t have to hug everyone hello, but she also can’t be rude. If people say or ask her something she should respond no thank you or thank you. But the eye contact is sometimes hard for her with new people. I guess we are going to be taking baby steps. Helping her feel comfortable but also helping her experience new things and see she can be safe in them.

Do you have a shy child? How do you help them to feel confident without pushing too hard?
Praying for guidance on how to parent through this. I feel like she is improving but it’s still a daily situation we have to deal with. My hope is for her to find confidence and security in herself. To be cautious of strangers but see the good in people.

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  • Sam
    February 2, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    Thank you for writing this! We deal with this with our 2.5 yeAR old. It’s so hard and especially because we have a large family, my dad pastors our church, and we run youth ministries. She is always with people!!! Hearing your story was encouraging thank u!

  • Tamara M.
    February 2, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    My daughter is this same way. She is fine at home with just us but has trouble going to school or anyplace without the confort of me being there. We had her bday party this past weekend. She wouldn’t come out for us to do cake and sing without some major coaxing. She then requested to not open her gifts in front of everyone bc she didn’t want ppl looking at her. It breaks my heart and I have NO idea how to help. We do everything we can to make her feel loved and confident. But outside our home and in front of other she just closes right up. I would be very interested in hearing how others handle this. I am going to stalk your comments for a bit

  • Maggie
    February 2, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    My daughter is painfully shy as well and I can identify with a lot that you wrote. I also try not to label her as shy and we are also working towards simple answers and eye contact when people address her. Even just tonight we had an incident at her grandparents’ house where she was not pleased with having her great grandma (whom she sees about 6 times a year) sit next to her at dinner and it brought her to tears. We did a little rearranging despite my desire for her to adapt and be easy-going because I could see the pain in her eyes. Later when I talked with her about it, she said she really tried to hold back her tears but they just came. Well, great grandma understood and we are still trying to figure these things out but one thing that has helped a lot in our case is school. There she is given opportunities to work out some of her anxieties and she is doing really well – better than we expected. It’s still difficult for her to trust new situations and takes her time to adjust but I think some of those things are just who she is and I don’t think will change. I still remember as a 2 month old baby, I spent most of the time at her baby shower in a bedroom with her because in the room full of people she just cried (screamed). We even tried to all sit and be quiet and she still cried! She also had colic for about 6 weeks as an infant and I have no idea if there is any correlation. Anyway, so I understand what you are working through and ultimately I know my daughter will miss out on a lot of experiences because it takes her so long to trust new situations but in reality I just am not concerned that those experiences are of worthwhile benefit to who God made her to be anyway so I don’t stress about it anymore.

  • kendy
    February 2, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    I have been meaning to write a post about this myself. You are doing much more than I am. I have such a hard time, mainly because my family just thinks she is being rude or I am not allowing her to socialize with them. they want to force it. I hate saying that she is shy because I don’t want her to identify as “shy” but I often stumble to explain her behavior and I just say she is shy. Because anything more than that and I would find myself coming up with all sorts of explanations. I am not sure if it’s being shy or if they may be sensitive to too much sensory around them. But I want to help her overcome this so much, I just wish I knew how.

  • Lorena
    February 3, 2015 at 11:37 am

    I also have shy children, sometimes misinterpreted as “such good children” lol, because when we go to an event where there is a lot of people they will sit very close to me and be “very good.” Of course this only lasts as long as it takes for them to make friends or get comfortable. My daughter is quite shy and will often miss out on special things and later be very upset about it. For example, we were invited to a small and quaint birthday party where the girls were treated to a “princess” doing their hair, dressing up and such. My daughter refused to participate and only wanted to watch. Well, when the event is over, its over. She was then upset that her hair did not get done or that she did not get to play dress up. I was sad for her and knew this would happen.
    I’m trying to work through this little by little and different approaches will work differently for each child.
    For my 5 year old daughter, participating in Girl Scouts has been a positive experience. She is learning to come out of that shell, she is more willing to speak up and participate in activities. Small steps but I can see the positive direction it is taking her. She had an opportunity to sell nuts and candy, earned some incentives and amazingly those little things made her feel so proud and is now ready to sell 1000 boxes (not going to happen folks) of cookies. ok, so she scaled her goal down to 145 boxes but she set a goal and is ready to sell. Now selling cookies means she has to talk to people, make an effort, HUGE steps for her, but she is willing to do it and I gotta support her. I hope this helps my daughter become confident, have courage and the right character.
    I’m also thinking about karate or gymnastics. Anyone have any insight?

  • Rana
    February 3, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    I personally do not have shy children, so I’m not speaking from personal experience. However, my neighbor has one who is very shy and she was just telling me recently about a book that has really helped her understand – not only her child – but herself more as well. The book is titled, “Quiet.” Here is the link, just in case you’re interested in it. http://www.amazon.com/Quiet-Power-Introverts-World-Talking/dp/0307352153/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422986554&sr=1-1&keywords=quiet. Maybe it will shine some light and be helpful as you learn how to help her :)

    • natalie
      February 4, 2015 at 12:32 pm

      Thank you! I heard someone else mention this book too!

  • Marie @ Family and the Lake House
    February 3, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    This really struck home with me. Our little Henry, 3 1/2, is the same way. Pre-school, even now – 5 months in, can still be tough. He doesn’t like attention. We didn’t sing Happy Birthday to him when he turned 3 because we wanted him to have a nice day, he won’t look at strangers and will completely “shut down.” My husband and I used to see him quiver from fear when people talked to him. It would and still does break my heart every time it happens.

    However, at home he’s full of life and he’s the sweetest, happiest little boy in the world!! I thought for about a month that we were dealing with selective mutism, but who am I to diagnose? We decided to give it until spring to see what we could do on our own (just to be clear, I’m not a professional, and have not ruled out professional guidance if need be).

    I researched more and more and ultimately came up with a “Brave Chart.” Perhaps, Sienna would enjoy this? He would collect “Brave Stars” for being “Brave,” perhaps by taking a free cookie from the baker at the grocery store or using his words while in front of a stranger, or even by talking to a family member (a grandparent, an aunt, a cousin)…something that he is finally doing! Then he’d receive little incentives throughout the week: A hot chocolate, a rocket launch with Dad, pancakes at Bob Evans….all incentives that HE picked. He was ultimately rewarded with a big incentive, Movies with Dad! He loved it. It was up to him and at his pace. I treated the “Brave Stars” as if they were gold.

    He’s not as outspoken as his Mommy, but he has the kindest heart, the sweetest smile, the funniest personality and he’s a smart little cookie.

    I’ll keep you in our thoughts. :) Hope this helped… Sorry for such a long message. :)

    • natalie
      February 4, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      Thank you so much for your words and sharing your experience and heart! I love the idea of the brave chart!! I’m going to look more into that!

  • Kenna Ladendorf
    February 4, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Hello mama!!

    I’ve been following you for about a year since I moved to NC. Thank you!!! You have helped me transition to living in a southern state. Being a shy little girl is hard. I personally remember this myself. The lable “she’s shy” was not empowering, it gave me an excuse to not push younger self. Personally, I will praise my parents for enrolling me in TaeKwonDo. This put me at the age of 10 in situation daily that made me uncomfortable and shy. But at the same time I was told time and time again, I would succeed. Martial Arts promotes a positive mindset, gives children the building blocks for self discipline and fun exercise. For myself it took about a year, but I flourished. Most little girls dance and that’s brilliant. But now at the age of 23 and a 2nd Dan Black Belt, I can keep up with the ballerinas and defend myself. Just like you, I also have children of my own. Martial arts should never be missed used, (Violence is ugly and no matter in which to resolve anything) children should know that martial arts is fun and teaches them to protect themselves. The negative associations made with martial arts are unfortunate. Some studios, dojo and gyms give everyone else a bad wrap. Martial Arts is a journey physically and mentally that teaches people of all ages that they are limitless and can achieve anything.

    Insta: KLadendorf3
    2nd Dan Jhoon Rhee TKD
    Mother of 2 (3 & 13month) This is my passion and my job, because my real day job was NO fun.

    Much love from the coast.

    • natalie
      February 4, 2015 at 12:35 pm

      I love this!

  • Toni
    February 5, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Ray can get like this. He will whisper thank you’s to people under his breath, which may seem rude to others, but I’m all like “yeah for good manners!”
    I’m loving the positive reinforcement suggestions. I think when I told Ray that sometimes he hurts peoples’ feelings if he doesn’t say thank you he started to actually try.
    I’m trying to stop saying he’s shy too and saying I’m sorry for my kids behavior, because I know they’re happy and healthy and loveable and they’ll get there.
    And I think people forget how kids are sometimes.
    More babies. that’s the answer ;)

  • Cara
    February 6, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    My middle daughter Emma was this way when she was little, but is now a very outgoing 11 year old! I didn’t do anything differently, I wish I had wise words, but know that they can grow out of it!!