Being shy or withdrawn isn’t, in itself, a negative thing for children.
Some may choose to spend significant time away from others in order to focus on constructive or creative play or projects, while others may simply enjoy listening to or observing their peers as opposed to joining in with them.
In other words, as an exhaustive 2009 study put it, “It is not the display of solitude per se that may pose a problem; rather, the central issue is that social withdrawal may reflect [my italics] underlying difficulties of a social or emotional nature.”
Other studies have shown that children who were shy from early on, were at a higher risk of developing social anxiety, depression, disorders such as ADHD, or have a greater susceptibility towards addictions. So it’s only natural for parents who see symptoms of withdrawal in their children to want to address the issue.
Robert Street Clinic has specially trained therapists who can work with even the very youngest of children and their families – but, to start with, here are some basic starting points to help parents.
Set a good example
Children will interact more easily with others if they see their parents displaying positive social behaviour such as being friendly and outgoing. It’s also been observed that withdrawn children are far more judgemental of both others and themselves – a potentially negative reaction which can be reinforced if they observe it in their parents. So try to become a positive social role model for your children and, when you experience them interacting socially with others, praise them for that behaviour.
Positive talk and empathy
There’s often a stigma associated with shyness and withdrawal – even among young children – so try not to explain to them that how they are reacting is a negative because it can make it tougher to change the behaviour. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t address their withdrawal – often the only way to discover the trigger for their shyness (potentially anything from an unpleasant event to dealing with change or the loss of an important relationship) is to talk through their feelings. By discussing their feelings it becomes possible to use one of a parent’s most potent skills – empathy. By showing how you understand why a child would fear social situations, it opens up their ability to talk through the triggers and their emotions.
Give them space and skills
Although it seems counter-intuitive, studies show that the children of parents who overly comfort distress rather than provide coping strategies often develop shyness, withdrawal or anxiety. This doesn’t mean abandoning children, rather giving them the skills to develop relationships even from the earliest age. In young children, this can mean arranging one-on-one playdates – in older children it can mean giving them responsibilities: in either case it will build self-esteem and give the child the chance to respond positively to parental attention.
Understand development and seek help
Being able to gauge how your child’s social interactivity is developing means being able to measure their progress, praise achievements and provide realistic challenges. This provides two benefits: firstly that the child is able to react positively to parental attention and, secondly, the parent is able to react swiftly if little progress is made by contacting a specialist child therapist.
For more information on Robert Street Clinic’s range of family and child services, and a full list of our fully trained specialists contact us on 09 973 5950 or via email.