How can I help a shy kid to feel empowered?

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

How to not force a kid to conform in a society of where extroverts are the stars.



School is a great place to learn how to socialize but it can sometimes be difficult for shy kids who feel uncomfortable amongst peers or other adults. School is far from being safe from other people’s judgments, criticism and finger pointing. It is also a common place for bullies to intimidate or ridicule others who are easy targets, such as people who appear to be shy or awkward.

In a society where social inclusion is highly praised and where popular kids are looked up to, shy kids may be perceived as social deviant, unfriendly or misfits (Scott, 2007). In 1982, a study found that 38% of fifth-graders identified at shy, 59% of them perceived it as an issue and they’d rather be less shy (Lazarus, 1982). Still today, shy kids pay the price of this social exclusion by isolating themselves and sometimes taking refuge on the internet. Researchers have analyzed the behavior of 286 young internet users and they have also found that shyness and loneliness was significantly and positively correlated with loneliness avoidance and internet addiction (Ang, Chan, & Lee, 2018).

Although the internet isn’t bully-free, it allows shy kids to express who they are more freely. The anonymity and the convenience of use allows this platform to exert social skills. The issue with internet addiction is that it doesn’t solve how a kid can thrive in a real-life social setting. Shyness can provoke physical reactions such as heart pounding, upset stomach or sweating and this doesn’t get solved by hiding behind a screen.

The truth is that besides the physical reactions, shyness is a useful and positive characteristic.


Shy kids are sensitive to details, approachable, and appear trustworthy.

Their calm and modest attributes are very likable qualities to build strong friendships. Parents and teachers also appreciate that they’re less likely to cause trouble and be rebellious.

So, let’s not change our kids’ personality and inner beauty. Let’s celebrate differences and empower them instead. Here are tips that won’t repeat the boring: have a confident posture and smile, or breathe deeply. Instead, let’s talk about empowering differences because not everyone aspires to become a public speaker.


Here’s what you can do as a parent because there is nothing wrong with your kid:

1. Emphasize the love and the feeling of belonging.

A kid will thrive if s/he is seen and encouraged in the discussions or activities they enjoy. As much as they do not like flamboyant attention, they’ll enjoy genuine connection. Promoting and encouraging their presence and participation in a group will help them familiarize with the people and the situation. They will feel more at ease and more likely to connect with the rest of the group. Engage in a small and controlled discussion about anything they like. They will enjoy sharing and listening!

2. Promote detail-oriented activities

Shy kids tend to be sensitive to stimulation, that’s why they prefer quiet settings with a smaller number of people. They’re also likely to get disturbed by loud music or too many flavors in a meal. Detail-oriented doesn’t mean that they want to escape chaos and live a bland life, it means that they pay attention to details that nobody else sees. Perhaps, try visual arts and photography where they can pick up on slight color nuances or programming where being meticulous is key.

3. Their communication skills are different from extroverts

Social situations can be draining for shy kids, but they are extremely good listeners and have a good ability to remember people’s names and faces. Although they would prefer not to be in a spotlight, it doesn’t mean that they’re disinterested by social settings. They actually enjoy analyzing and developing their emotional intelligence by knowing who’s more likely to get into what social group. Shy kids would benefit from not being pressured to show off their humorist talents in front of an audience during a family Christmas party, but they may be happier developing communication skills as a writer or podcaster.

4. Be patient and watch them grow

Kids that take a long time to go talk to peers will actually build the strongest and long-lasting friendships and be more fulfilled. Kids often don’t need a push to grow on their own, they are perfectly balanced when it comes to listening to their gut feelings. The pressure to form social groups in school is increasing, which makes shy kids a little insecure. Rest assured because everyone walks at their own pace and shouldn’t rush unnecessarily. Rushing a kid to make friends will be counterproductive and only build the blockage even further.

In conclusion, in a society where shyness can be debilitating, it is also important to encourage the positive sides of it. If a kid feels a great sense of belonging and connection, s/he will engage and trust the people. Shy kids have a beautiful sensibility to finer features and could thrive in detail-oriented activities such as engineering or creative writing. Shy kids will socially thrive in the long-term because they will take the time to hand pick their friends and not jump from group to group. They’ll provide a great ear to their peers and be reliable and trustworthy, thus building the deepest connections. Even if kids still don’t feel comfortable in social settings, it’s important to respect their boundaries. Their gut feelings and instincts tell them that it’s safer to take a longer time to figure out who to trust and to deal with their emotions. It’s okay, it’s best to encourage them and celebrate the person they are instead of pressuring them to comfort in a society that promotes popularity. Popularity isn’t necessary to long-term happiness, but deep connection is.

References

Ang, C.-S., Chan, N.-N., & Lee, C.-S. (2018). Shyness, Loneliness Avoidance, and Internet Addiction: What are the Relationships? The Journal of Psychology, 152(1), 25–35. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.2017.1399854

Lazarus, P. J. (1982). Incidence of shyness in elementary-school age children. Psychological Reports, 51(3 Pt 1), 904–906. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1982.51.3.904

Scott, S. (2007). Shyness and Society: The Illusion of Competence. Palgrave Macmillan.