If you spend time talking to school aged children, you’ll soon notice a bit of a pattern in what goes on inside their minds. They are obsessed both with fitting in and wondering if they’ve got what it takes. Adolescence can be especially difficult for the child who has a timid and shy personality, or is quiet in school. Not only do they have the same worries as other kids, but they also have difficulty interacting, which makes it harder for them to feel like they belong in their peer group. As parents, we can help guide our children through these difficult years by providing loving support and a strong home base from which they can learn valuable lessons and grow as people. If your child is particularly shy, here are 9 tips to help boost their confidence and break them out of their shell.
Teach self-love. We are all guilty of sometimes looking to others for validation. However, doing so leaves us dependent on other people’s behavior for our own self-worth. To help your children avoid this dangerous habit, teach them to love themselves, and get their sense of self-worth from within. Look in the mirror together and pick out three things you like about each other. You can draw attention to their awesome hair, or their unique freckles. Have them also pick things they like about you and themselves. This teaches them to see the beauty in others and to see that unique features, rather than making you weird, make you special. Have them list traits they think they have that are admirable, such as being brave, a good friend, or great at math. Practice this habit any time you see that your little one might need a boost. Help them learn to be their own biggest fan and love themselves, quirks and all!
Embrace imperfection. If your child makes a mistake, try not to get too bent out of shape over it. Keeping a calm demeanor and avoiding negative reactions to accidents are great behaviors to embody as parents. If milk gets spilled at dinner, hold your tongue and lighten the mood by saying, “No use crying over spilled milk! Let’s clean this up together,” rather than lashing out or yelling. Everyone makes mistakes and by not freaking out over them, we allow our children the freedom to be human. Teach your child that mistakes as well as problems are opportunities to grow and develop as people. If your child doesn’t fear making a mistake, they will be more likely to try new things. If they fear a harsh response from their parents every time they fail, they will not be comfortable with even making the attempt and will show more reservation.
Teach perseverance. If your child does fail at something, it will be easy for them to retreat into safety and never try again. Instead, show them you know they have what it takes by encouraging them to try again. If your child falls off of their bike, encourage them to pick it up and ride again. If they miss the winning shot at a sports game, practice with them later, help them build their skills, and praise them when you notice they keep attempting shots at the next game. One of the worst things to do for a child’s self-esteem and confidence is to let them give in to fear and avoid activities where they have previously failed. Their confidence will soar when they keep trying and learn that they can overcome obstacles that they previously struggled with.
Love unconditionally. As parents, part of our job is to love our children no matter what. They need to know that even if they make mistakes or don’t perform well, we are still in their corner and support them. A good skill for parents is to always try to keep a calm demeanor when interacting with your kids. If they mess up in a game you’re coaching, give them tips on how to be better and discuss practicing harder, but try not to let them see or feel your frustration at the loss, as children are prone to internalizing such behavior. Always be there with a hug, whether they knock it out of the park, or don’t even get on base. Children are going to struggle and make mistakes as they grow, and knowing that mom and dad are in their corner, whether they get A’s or C’s on their report card is crucial to the foundation of building their self-esteem.
Watch what you say. Your children will become the things they hear you say about them. If your child struggles with shyness and won’t greet a friend, don’t be so quick to explain it away by saying, “she’s just shy.” Your child will only use that as an excuse to be shy the next time you meet a new person. Instead, choose to only let your child hear you say positive things about them in front of others. Let them overhear you telling a friend how proud you were when they shared a toy or helped someone up off the ground during a football game. You help build their self-esteem when they hear about the good things they are doing, rather than the bad. When kids are young, they are trying to figure out who they are, and looking to you as parents as well as their peers to try to figure it out. Make sure the words they are hearing from you are healthy and up-lifting.
Help them find their passion. One way for your child to truly grow and build confidence is to find their passion. Give them opportunities to try activities that they are interested in. Allow them room to decide something that they like rather than choosing for them. Once they decide on an activity they are interested in, get them involved. You may notice some hesitancy at first, especially with a shy child. They may try to stay home from that first practice, or conveniently misplace their instrument the day they are supposed to go for their first music lesson. Remind them that doing new things is always scary and that once they go a few times, it will feel fun.
Be a model. Your children learn from watching you and they mirror your behavior. They are watching even when you don’t think they are, so be careful not to say negative things about your own appearance. While unhealthy for any age, we all have a tendency to point out our flaws. Instead, let your child see you engage yourself and others with friendliness and warmth. Demonstrate kindness to strangers by saying hello to people on the road or making small talk with the cashiers at your local grocery store. When your child sees that you are willing to open up to others, they will be more likely to engage in similar behavior over time.
Practice social situations. A good way to get over shyness is to practice speaking in social situations at home. This is particularly good for helping children with social anxiety. Act out conversations with your child that they may have with other kids at school, a new acquaintance, or even the mailman. By practicing what to say, they will feel more confident the next time they suddenly find themselves in such a situation.
If you plan to take your shy child somewhere that you think they may struggle, prep them beforehand. Let them know what the surroundings are going to be like and how many people will be there. Explain to them some of the conversations they may find themselves in. By letting them know in advance, you can go over what they will need to say as well as appropriate behavior. This also can alleviate some of the fear that comes from unknown social situations.
Encourage independence. Allowing your child to do things for themselves is a great way to build confidence in their own abilities. Ordering their own food at a restaurant, checking out at the grocery store, and doing chores around the house for allowance are great ways for your child to boost their self-esteem. If you see them struggling, resist the urge to step in and do it for them. This sends the message that you don’t think they can handle it. Instead, provide guidance from the sideline and allow them to take their time if necessary. Find local volunteering opportunities for you to participate in as a family. Giving back to your neighborhood is another great way to build your child’s sense of self and make them feel like part of a community.
Learning how to make a shy child more confident isn’t always easy, but being a positive role model, teaching your children self-love, embracing imperfection, and encouraging independence help lay the foundation in helping children overcome their fears and insecurities.
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