Many Who were Shy Once are not Shy Now

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

A century ago, an English scholar, Harry Campbell, had this to say about shyness or blushing:

…a feeling of heat all over the body with a sense of suffocation, pallor even to the lips, a sensation of cold water down the back; cardiac disturbances, such as palpitation, fluttering or tumbling sensation at the heart; faintiness, giddiness; perspiration, especially of the hands; dryness of the mouth, stuttering…"

The century old description of shyness is not outdated at all. Symptoms of shyness are actually the symptoms of stress, those bodily changes one goes through when one senses danger and feels threatened. This is how humankind experienced severe stress thousands of years ago, and will, thousands of years from now until human physiology is drastically altered.

Shy children experience social situations as stressful situations. "Facing" others amounts to facing a threat or a danger. Some children are shy from a very early age but eventually grow out of it. Some appear to be comfortable with others in early childhood, but they become shy during adolescence or adulthood. While it is true that some shy children may grow up to be phobic adults, it is equally true that some who are shy today, won’t remain shy tomorrow.

When "Robin," was a very young child, she used to hang to her mother’s skirt. Whenever she saw anyone coming in her direction, she would tightly grab her mother and try to push her mother between her and the approaching person. She did not want to interact with anybody except her immediate family and the kid next door. When other relatives or family friends came to her home, she tried to hide in her room or behind the furniture and wished they would leave.

Fortunately, Robin’s story has a happy ending. She had parents who understood her problem, supported her and whenever she faced a new situation, they found ways to make her comfortable. When it came time to admit Robin to kindergarten, her mother talked to Robin’s teacher in advance. On the first day of school, she and her mother stayed together in the classroom for just a few minutes and then the mother brought her home. Each day, they stayed together a little longer. This helped Robin to get used to the school. By the end of the first week, her mother left her there for the entire time.

Once Robin got used to the classroom, she became a favorite of the teacher’s because she worked hard to follow the teacher’s direction exactly. She then made a close friend. Having a close friend helped to take her mind off worrying about other children in the class. Fortunately, she was an athletic type, so her parents involved her in organized sports during the elementary school years. Participating in sports turned out to be an excellent idea. The structure of games made it easy for her to get along with other kids because she didn’t have to talk to others one-on-one.

Robin’s parents continually helped her to explore her strengths. They gently guided her into things that helped her to open up. Whenever they noticed an activity that Robin seemed to take to, they took active interest in the same and encouraged her to do it even more.

Today, Robin feels that she has almost overcome her shyness. She may still experience mild to moderate discomfort in some social situation, but she does not feel at all hampered by her shyness. For example, her heart races a little, sometimes, but she is able to walk up to strangers and initiate conversation.

Shy children can be helped to get a handle on their shyness. For 3 to 5 year old children, parents should watch for the following signs of shyness:

1.When in an unfamiliar situation or with unfamiliar people, crying, kicking, fussing or clinging to parents

2. when with other children, a preference for being alone or hanging back and watching other children play but showing reluctance to join them.

If you have a potentially shy child, try not to overprotect him or her. Make sure that your child has opportunities to interact with other children. If your child is to come in contact with other people whom he or she does not routinely meet, prepare him or her for the upcoming event. Prepare others as well, by explaining to them that your child is sensitive and takes a little more time in warming up. Ask them to be patient to gain his or her trust.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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