We have a 16-year-old daughter who is very shy around people she does not know very well, even if she’s been around them occasionally. She seems content to just keep to herself in group situations, and does not desire to participate in any activity with anyone she is not VERY familiar and comfortable with. She will not reach out to others, and does not respond to others’ attention to her any more than mere politeness would require. She has said that at times she’s been asked questions in a group setting (church, enrichment classes) where she did not know the answers and was made to feel stupid in front of the others. These situations deeply hurt her very sensitive spirit, and therefore she continues to want to avoid all group situations (Bible study, etc.) whenever she can. At times, my husband and I have strongly encouraged or insisted that she attend various functions, but at other times we have let it slide. It is difficult to know when or if we should push, and if so, how hard. She does have a couple of friends and their families that she is comfortable being with, but has great difficulty meeting and getting to know new people. So, my question: What should be required of a shy child to participate in? Mainly, I ask this because I want to see her grow in her consideration of the comfort of others and dwell less on her own tendency to self-centeredness, which I see as a part of being shy. When and how, if at all, should we push her? How can we get her to grow in self-confidence in new situations, with new people? Will this come more with maturity? How can we address this issue sensitively and purposefully with our daughter? I was wondering if anyone had a similar situation with one, or more, of their children and would have any suggestions and/or words of wisdom for us. Thank you for your comments. Blessings, Janet
Responses from our readers
I was just like this daughter when I was growing up. I can’t speak for her, but when it all boiled down for me, the root of my shyness was pride and fear. I was too afraid of people thinking me any less than perfect, that I selfishly kept from engaging in conversations or doing things that I could not control the outcome – my appearing as “the perfect girl”, always saying the right thing, doing the right thing. I don’t know if this is her underlying motivation, but it was mine. As I got older (early teens I guess) I realized I did not want to be afraid of everything and I started pushing myself to talk to people I did not know well, and do things I had never done before. I also started completing projects I had left unfinished because I was afraid they would not be perfect. The end result was surprising to me – satisfaction of a job well done, though imperfect. Yes, I make many mistakes and feel awkward, and no one can accuse me of being perfect, but I am conquering the shyness because I have found things that are more important to me than preserving an (erroneous) illusion of perfection. My parents did not “make” me do these things. I don’t know if that would have helped or not. What I do know is that I had to work hard and be very uncomfortable at times to overcome shyness. I decided that I did not want to be the scared girl who missed out on everything because I was too shy to talk or participate. I still struggle with it but know the rewards far outweigh the challenge. I hope this is helpful. Blessings, Karen
I agree with Karen. I was just how she described herself, but decided I didn’t want to be that way any longer when I was in my mid-20’s. If this is the case with the girl in the question, then forcing her to do things out of her comfort zone will not help, it will only hurt. She has to decide to make it happen. If she is willing to at least attend family functions or church functions, that’s great, but forcing her to participate in discussions or groups and be someone whom she is not, or at least not yet, will only make it worse. Who is she harming by being quiet, anyway? I think you should continue with the way you are handling it, making the decision for her to participate on a case by case basis.
I would encourage and coach her to get over her shyness. Fear of rejection will only become worse and worse the more she avoids theses situations. Train her in theater techniques to lower her sensitivity and help her feel comfortable in her own skin. Give her safe situations in small groups to practice. Keep encouraging her, and help her progress to more and more situations. If this is not done she will be semi’ handicapped all her life.
I did the same. I started to decide that I did not want to be shy when I started working. I took a job as a hostess and that helped a great deal. My mother was often worried and tried to cajole me but it made me feel worse. Looking back I think I just needed the time to grow into my skin. Now with the confidence of age and God’s grace I am confident and talkative. I pray that for this girl too, in God’s timing.
I think it can be easy to lump behaviors together, as in “shyness equals selfishness” or “I was shy because of ________ so they must be shy because of __________,” when the reality is that each of us is a unique creation of God and needs to be handled as such. Children need to be taught to respond respectfully to others, speaking when spoken to, showing interest in other people, etc. And many may need practical helps such as those listed here. But perhaps this girl is just quiet. Maybe she even read some of the myriad scriptures which encourage us to keep our words to ourselves. I think the best thing to do would be to pray and ask the Lord to tell you what’s behind your daughter’s shyness, and how He wants you to deal with it. Sometimes He may wish you to press her, and sometimes He may think it’s fine that she’s quiet. There are very, very few hard-and-fast-directives in our Christian lives, though I certainly wish it were simpler than that! I pray for you wisdom and peace as you continue to parent your precious child!
The parents are very wise to see through the shyness to see the root issue. I know that every child is different, but I have been a part of and have witnessed many such situations and the root of shyness is self centeredness and pride (or fear of man). I think it’s important to know that the level of fear in many of these extremely shy children can be debilitating, yet as parents, we always have the responsibility to teach our children Romans 8:15 “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ” Abba, Father!” My closest friend has this same situation that she has dealing with for several years. Every morning, she is in prayer (of course) over how to proceed that day with her daughter. She then requires small (and safe) interactions with friends, neighbors, and branching out to eventually less familiar people. She requires it as part of her school work. For (as she says) when her daughter is no longer under her authority, it could potentially become a safety concern, not to mention letting someone you love dwell in bondage to this fear. Sorry to be long winded. My heart breaks for this girl and her parents, but thankful the Spirit of God is so loving in His guidance that has allowed her parents these types of avenues to live in fellowship with other believers to sharpen iron as they sharpen others.
Self-confidence comes with humility. Humility recognizes there’s no shame in not knowing an answer to a question; it’s not a moral deficiency, just a practical one that can be remedied if a person is open to it. After all, nobody knows everything. Pride, however, causes a person to be easily embarrassed and hurt. Therefore, it will cause a person to view others in a suspicious light, in terms of whether or not they will allow that person to be seen in the best light possible, in the light which best conforms to her self-defined identity. In this self-protection mode, barriers to forging new relationships are raised, a person can become isolated unto herself. This problem, as with character problems in general, won’t necessarily improve as she matures in age, but a person will demonstrate maturity as she begins to improve in dealing with her character problems. She must replace her self-defined identity with the identity that God has given her in Christ, having been lovingly made in God’s image to love and serve Him and others, no matter the cost. Then she will be able to reach beyond herself and into the lives of others. It’s worth mentioning that a truly sensitive spirit is attuned to the feelings, concerns, and needs of others, and a person who feels things deeply will be better equipped to turn those sensitivities outward and toward those who need the ministry of God’s people with God’s love. It may be helpful to appeal to your daughter’s sensitivity regarding her own feelings and nurture an ability to apply that sensitivity towards others in loving sympathy and empathy. Parenthetically, I think we as parents should be careful to not couch something like a hurt pride in such an accommodating term as a sensitive spirit. Because the label sounds nice, it becomes a quality which a person may come to embrace as part of her self-defined identity instead of submitting to God’s definition of her identity. As such it becomes an excuse; can you hear someone saying “I just have a sensitive spirit!” ? I think we all tend to do this in some way or another. Praise God, I write these things as one who has had to face such a pride through the disciplining hand of God in my life, not because I was shy, but because I had placed such a high stake in my self-defined identity (there’s that phrase again!) that I had closed my heart to others who unknowingly threatened to reveal the falseness of that identity. But God is good. He ever seeks His loved ones, and He will continue to form us into the very image of His Son. To Him be the glory!Blessings on your journey! Prayerfully yours, Pamela
It is good to read the suggestions of approaching this issue prayerfully but as parents we all need to be honest in seeing how our own pride affects our parenting. Often,if we look with honesty, behind a shy child is a (or 2) parent that demands perfection/is critical. Children internalize the reactions both spoken and unspoken of parents, often in ways we don’t anticipate. What we may think of as a helpful suggestion ”why don’t you use brown next time instead of green to colour a cow?” a child will take in as “you can’t draw”. This young lady’s unfortunate experiences that she has shared with her parents have clearly deeply affected her and yet she is still the one considered to be in the wrong. Are we not all created in His likeness? Perhaps just allowing her to be, while still kindly helping her to continue to be polite, etc., will show her that she is loved and acceptable just as she is, and then she will have a foundation to stand on when she is outside her comfort zone. And will be more likely to initiate contact/respond easily to people from that place of security. There are unfortunate accounts of parents getting prescription drugs for their shy children – as if it is a disease! What they need is to know that they are loved AS THEY ARE – shy, introverted or outgoing and gregarious (the child that everyone loves easily!) Another idea – ask her what she would value from you to help her be more comfortable in any situation. She is 16 and would probably appreciate being consulted in something that directly affects her. She may have some very concrete ideas that you could then help her implement or she may not, but still seeing that you value her input may help her believe in herself more. Keep on praying, (with an honesty that may be painful).