The 3-year-old boy hides his face in his mother's skirt when he's introduced to new neighbors. The 4-year-old girl blushes and opens her mouth wordlessly when a new preschool teacher asks her name.
We all can feel the pain of these shy children. Most of us have been shy at one time or another. But what exactly causes shyness? How can we help a child overcome these feelings?
Causes of Shyness
Researchers have found two apparent pathways to shyness. The first is biological: About one in five children seems to be born with a biological predisposition toward timidity. From the time they're toddlers — and sometimes even earlier — these children are uncomfortable with new people and new environments. Shy children tend to be finicky eaters who avoid trying new foods and who are reluctant to take on new challenges.
These kids tend to stay that way for at least a few years. Half the toddlers who show this pattern are still shy when they're 6 years old; a quarter are still shy as adolescents and are likely to remain somewhat shy their entire lives. For them, it seems to be a matter of temperament or inborn predisposition.
The other pathway to shyness is situational. For these children, shyness is a temporary reaction to stress. A parent's illness, a move to a new home, or a change in childcare can trigger shyness in a toddler or preschooler-even in an older child. Shyness usually disappears as soon as the underlying situation is resolved or the child becomes more comfortable.
Helping the Shy Child
Usually shyness is nothing to worry about unless it's part of a cluster of fears that cause repeated emotional distress or social problems for your child. Even so, shy children can benefit from a variety of things that help improve their self-confidence and social skills. Here are some suggestions: