Understanding The Shy Toddler
Kids come in all different flavors. Some are outgoing while others have a hard time engaging their peers and being sociable. It behooves daycare educators to gain some understanding of why some children are shy so that they can help timid children to be less afraid of social interaction.
Parents of such children tend to express concerns about their child's shyness. From the daycare worker's standpoint, the shy child is observed to be an outsider: he doesn't participate in group discussions, doesn't speak unless spoken to, and is a follower rather than a leader. What causes this behavior and is it unnatural?
According to Dr. Jodi Stoner, a clinical psychologist, shyness is several interrelated behaviors that involve the child withdrawing from social interactions with others while exhibiting limitations in social skills. The child will show discomfort when placed in a situation where he must make friends. He may hide, or cling to an adult. He plainly shows his discomfort and his reluctance also to engage in any new activities. Many shy children come from homes where they have been the subjects of much criticism. Shy children have difficulty talking about their feelings.
The trait of shyness is one that is usually acquired as a result of a child's environment. In some cases, shyness is cultural. Shyness in 6 month-olds is normal and the trait tends to resurface as the child turns 4. Such timidity may be attributed to feelings of social self-consciousness in combination with feelings of embarrassment. Such feelings tend to peak just before adolescence with self-consciousness being a hallmark trait for "tweens."
Another factor is that certain children have a genetic predisposition for shyness. It is just their nature to be quiet and observant and to keep their feelings in reserve. In other cases, shyness is the direct result of a very extroverted or imposing sibling or parent who tends to overshadow the child.
One very important piece of advice is to not allow your child to hear you call him shy. This will have the affect of labeling him and if you call him shy, he will respond by acting as you seem to expect. Hand and hand with this advice is to never make excuses for the child's shyness, "Excuse Billy for not thanking you. He is very shy." All this does is to perpetuate his shyness. The stereotype hurts the child's feelings on a certain level, as if this is the highest level of your expectations for him: that he is and always will be shy. This causes damage to his self-image and the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling. Don't discuss his shyness in front of him.
Instead, change the way you think about shyness. Shyness can be a strong, positive trait in which the child has a rich internal life, is a good observer, thinks before he speaks, and has no need to be at the center of attention. Shy children like to be prepared and if they are not labeled may mature to a place in which their shyness evolves into something else: good listening and thoughtful speaking skills.